Wondering Wednesdays – why I study shame

EveI can still vividly remember the shame I felt as a nine year old in a Maths class where we had to work out the average weight of the class and as a chubby little girl I had no desire to say how much I weighed so I feigned illness and said a false weight later. This picture of Rodin’s Eve powerfully communicates how I felt that day. Most of my memories of shame are associated with institutions rather than my family.  Church has been a place of shame for me at various points over the years both feeling shamed myself and feeling vicarious shame on behalf of other people.  I can still remember being told about a reference written by a leader of a now dead church and feeling shame at being misunderstood and misrepresented.  I still feel shame about the ways friends with mental health problems have been treated by various expressions of the church.  Those of some of the reasons I embarked on researching institutional shame in the church as part of my ordination training.  This week I am analysing data from over 200 anonymous questionnaires and am feeling the privilege of people’s honesty and vulnerability but also sadness that a church which should reflect a God of love so often seems so unloving.

Paulo Freire talks about conscientization, raising people’s awareness.  For many people shame is a shadowy concept that it is hard to really define.  The shorthand version is that shame is about who you are whereas guilt is about what you have done.  You have some idea when you experience it but not many people talk about it because that can be a little painful and exposing.  I want to raise an awareness of what shame is in the church, how people are shamed and try to explore how we can minister in such a way that mitgates against shaming.   I look back at some of the things I did much earlier in my ministry with deep regret.  I was only trying to be faithful to what I felt God had called me to but my understanding of what that means now is very different. From those I may have inadvertently shamed I ask forgiveness.


Freire, P. (1996). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.


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