Late Thursday night last week as I was about to fall asleep, my wife showed me a post that my friend Pastor Courtney Lewis had on Facebook. We could tell from what was said that he had posted engagement pictures from a young couple, and had chastised them for holding hands in their pictures. Pastor Lewis led off his commentary on the picture with a quote from I Corinthians 7:1-2, which says,
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
By the time my wife showed me the post, Pastor Lewis had taken the pictures down, but left the post up. My wife began reading some of the more than 500 comments on the post. Suffice it to say, we were horrified, both by the comments that were being made and by the use of a couple’s engagement pictures to make a point about purity.
When I had a few moments on Friday morning, I took a look at the post for myself. By this time, the post had more than 650 comments, many of which I would characterize as flaming. I scrolled through the comments to get a feel for what people were saying, and then I started typing a message to Pastor Lewis to ask him to remove the post altogether. As I was typing the message, I saw that he in fact had removed the post and replaced it with another. You can read the replacement post here.
In the second post, Pastor Lewis doubled down on the couple he used as an example, naming both the young man and his brother and expressing his disagreement with the engagement pictures each young man had published. In particular, Pastor Lewis pointed out that the older brother had posted similar pictures, and that since nobody opposed him for it, now the younger brothers thought it was okay. Pastor Lewis also took to task larger churches with more influence who could speak out on this. He didn’t name the larger churches he had in mind. I can only think of one larger church that he might be thinking of, but I won’t speculate about whether he thought they should have been the one to shame these couples.
I absolutely agree with the standard Pastor Lewis holds. My wife and I did not so much as hold hands until we met at the altar on our wedding day. We have taught this same standard in our church and to our children, and we would not approve if they went against it. Because many of the vitriolic comments Pastor Lewis received focused on the standard itself, I made the choice to support him on the standard, and to publicly express my concern for the way many had responded.
Later that afternoon, I received a call from a pastor friend who had read my comment and wanted to know if I also supported the tactic Pastor Lewis used to make his point. He made it abundantly clear to me that he agrees with the standard – several of his children have married, and they followed that standard as well. But he was concerned about the tactic of publicly shaming a young couple, using their engagement pictures. After hem-hawing around for a minute, I had to agree. The tactic was wrong. I was disgusted by it from the moment my wife brought it to my attention. My pastor-friend (who mainly knows Pastor Lewis through Facebook), pointed out that my comment left it unclear where I stood on the tactic. I agreed with him.
Later that evening, I typed a second comment, in which I expressed my agreement with the standard and my disagreement with the tactic. I commented that, if one of my own children were to publish engagement pictures that went against our standards, I would hope that the first response would be to pray for them, and the second to contact me to see if there is a problem and what can be done to help. I would hope that the first response would not be to publicly shame them. Far too often, when a young person does something wrong, we trample them under foot rather than address the problem Scripturally.
I sent Pastor Lewis a message prior to posting my comment, and I offered to discuss any disagreement with him. He replied fairly quickly with a simple “No” to my offer for a discussion. I posted my comment, went to bed, and the next morning, I had a message from Pastor Lewis that assured me of his friendship despite our disagreement. I didn’t think much of the reassurance until another friend contacted me to ask why I took my comment down. Since I didn’t take it down, I asked Pastor Lewis if he did. He told me, “Yes. Feel free to post it on your account.” Thus, this rather lengthy post.
Before I wade into the issue here, let me make a few preliminary points.
First, I am disagreeing with the tactic being used to address a difference in standards, and not with the standard itself. Second, I recognize my own past failures in this regard. I have in the past engaged in public shaming to make a point. At the time, I did it sincerely, believing that I needed to take a public stand on an issue. I concerned myself with the point I wanted to make and I didn’t concern myself with the people I was using to make that point. I am grateful to those who rebuked me for it. Third, if my comment had been left on the post, then I would not be writing this response. Since it was removed, many saw my comment in support of Pastor Lewis but did not see my comment opposing his handling of the couple, I believe I need to clarify (and elaborate) my position. Unfortunately, I have a very modest Facebook following while Pastor Lewis reaches nearly a thousand people. So, it would be impossible for this blog post to reach all those affected by his public shaming of the young couple in question. Nonetheless, I will put this up and invite anyone to pass it on if you feel the need.
That being said, here is how I want to navigate this particular dust-up. First, I want to address a philosophical point that I believe underlies this “shaming” tactic. Second, I want to show from Scripture that this tactic is wrong. Not just wrong, but sinful and odious to God. Third, I want to plead with all who read this – particularly pastors – to consider your ways. I trust that God will correct us where we ought to be corrected.
On the Wussification of the Pulpit
Someone described preachers as “the third sex.” We have a regular pandemic of wussy preachers in our day. Nothing rips out a man’s spine quite like stepping into the pulpit. I believe we need an infusion of backbone in our pulpits.
But I also know that in our circles, when someone really torches the tent, the people who bring the fire extinguishers will be charged with wussiness. I anticipate that some will accuse me of being “soft” or perhaps even a “woman.” I’ve been called these things before. And if the point is to be the roughest, toughest, orneriest preacher in the room, well then, I’m not playing that game.
I’m speaking here especially to my fellow Fundamentalists. Since I was raised an Independent Baptist, I’ve heard all the sermons and own several of the t-shirts. I know that “hardness” is considered a virtue above all the others. We measure a man by how “hard” he preaches. And we despise those we consider to be “soft.” If a man isn’t a little harsh in the pulpit, he is a compromiser.
And there are two problems with this goal of “hardness.” First, it is completely arbitrary, and second, it has no basis in Scripture. Since it isn’t a Scriptural virtue, “hardness” can’t be defined in any kind of Scriptural way. So often, the default setting is to your local IFB bigshot, the one who can really pour out the fumes from the pulpit. We like to hoist him up as the paragon of pulpit hardness, and attempt to model ourselves after him. Hardness is measured then by men, and Scriptural standards forgotten.
Now, I believe that a man ought to be strong. But strength has to be measured by something that would resemble a Biblical standard.
Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. (2 Timothy 2:1-5)
Strength isn’t measured by one’s ability to throw an elbow, or check someone into the wall. God has called us to fight, but He has also given us rules of engagement.
And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26)
The preacher ought to be strong. But he ought to be strong for his people and not against them. He ought to use his strength to build, not to tear down. He ought to strengthen his people, not run them over. Hardness is not a fruit of the Spirit. And when we begin elevating hardness above the genuine fruit of the Spirit, we end up trampling people we ought to be helping. A hard heart is not a spiritual grace.
I believe a preacher should be strong, should have some fortitude, some backbone, some hardness to him. I don’t have any use for the spineless wonders who jell in the modern pulpit. But strength, fortitude, backbone is seen in one’s commitment to the Word of God, to conduct their battles according to the Bible, with a right demeanor and a right approach. Scriptural strength is seen in gentleness, in humility, in graciousness. Shaming is a bully-tactic, not a Scriptural way of dealing with sin.
On to the Problem
What has motivated this article as much as anything is the promise that there will be more of this sort of thing, Quoting from his Facebook post,
In the future, I plan to make comments on things about which I strongly believe. I will use pictures. When I see compromise in our ranks, and if the Lord leads, I’m going to call it like it is and not be afraid of naming names.https://www.facebook.com/courtney.lewis.90663894/posts/306122901084950
So, I guess we can expect more Facebook shaming in the future. Everyone might want to pause for a second, casually scroll through past Facebook posts, and make sure you don’t have anything posted that might get you shamed. You might be okay with what you have posted, but if some zealous pastor sees it as compromise, you might get shamed.
Clearly, at least one pastor believes that more of us should be doing this kind of thing. Nothing personal, mind you, if you find yourself the target in a future Facebook post. Just know that the standard is more important than you. If it is posted publicly, it is fair game.
Keep in mind that we aren’t dealing here with institutional compromise. We are speaking of a young couple, about to launch into marriage together. Given that this is the first of what promises to be many such posts, we now know that even the nuanced disagreements about standards are fair game for this “gotcha game.” So, if your daughter wears too much makeup, you might want to find some way to conceal any pictures. You probably shouldn’t post any pictures of movie nights, as someone might object to your selections. For that matter, if you have a TV in your house, you should probably scrub those pictures. Make sure everyone has a fresh haircut in every picture posted. And if your daughter has a culotte problem (say a little culotte drift, or improper style), delete those pictures too. Oh, and make sure all your verse signs are strictly KJV. No paraphrases or word changes. One never knows how the standard might be applied. But if it shows up on Facebook, then it is fair game.
Now, let me pull my tongue out of my cheek and talk about this seriously. Considering the young couple and their engagement pictures as a primary example of these shaming tactics…
Problem #1 – Facebook shaming isn’t a Scriptural way to handle a church member
If this couple did in fact belong to Pastor Lewis’ church, Facebook shaming would not have been the appropriate way to deal with their breech.
Matthew 18 is dealing with the matter of church discipline within a local church. Our Lord was clear in that passage that if there’s no repentance, the offender should be taken out of that church fellowship.https://www.facebook.com/courtney.lewis.90663894/posts/306122901084950
Matthew 18 teaches us to tell a brother his fault “between thee and him alone” as a first step to correcting a problem. “…if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” So, within a local church, Facebook shaming would be a violation of Matthew 18 and therefore sin.
Problem #2 – Facebook shaming isn’t a Scriptural way to handle your neighbor
In fact, Facebook shaming isn’t an act of friendship or love. It is a hostile move. But consider what is stated in the Facebook post:
These young people are not members of my church and I have no authority to discipline them. There is no divine mandate to approach first before commenting first on something they have publicly displayed.https://www.facebook.com/courtney.lewis.90663894/posts/306122901084950
Oh, but by shaming them, he most certainly has disciplined them. That is the point, in fact. The use of Facebook shaming is intended to punish the breach, and also to warn others that they will be disciplined the same way if they follow in this couple’s footsteps. The question is not whether the couple has been disciplined. They most certainly have been. The question is whether this use of discipline follows a Biblical method. And on that question, if the appropriate passage is not Matthew 18, it certainly is Galatians 6:1, written to the churches of Galatia.
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
Let me politely point out the key word in this verse – restore. When a brother or sister in Christ are overtaken in a fault, our first concern is not with pointing out the fault. Our first concern is with restoring the brother. Galatians 6:1 teaches us to do so in the spirit of meekness, and as we restore, we are to consider ourselves. Shaming does not qualify as meekness, and it certainly doesn’t take into consideration one’s own fallenness. Our own sinful tendencies ought to temper our response to the sins and failures of others. Public shaming does not do this.
Suppose this couple is in grievous sin. I don’t think they are. I disagree with what they did, but it hardly qualifies as fornication. I’m not the only one who sees it this way either.
The truth is, these young men are pastor’s sons and have been raised in a very good Christian home and I have no reason to question their morality. I understand the young lady to be of the highest morals as well. I do apologize if I gave anyone the impression that I was accusing them of gross sexual sin. In no way do I believe that to be the case.https://www.facebook.com/courtney.lewis.90663894/posts/306122901084950
But, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose they are in grievous sin. Do we have any duty to pray for them? To plead with them? To address their sin privately? In other words, before we take a public stand against the people, should we be a friend first?
Pastor Lewis believes that the public nature of Facebook releases him from the duty of approaching them as a friend.
When you post a picture on Facebook, it is because you want other people to see it. It is because you are proud of what you are showing. It is because you want others to think well of what they see. Well, I don’t think well of what I saw. And I would suggest that if you don’t want people to comment negatively, then maybe you should not post that particular picture.https://www.facebook.com/courtney.lewis.90663894/posts/306122901084950
On that note, let’s be clear: if you think a Facebook post involves a person in compromise, you are free to comment on their post. We certainly shouldn’t “like” a Facebook post that flaunts sin or involves people in compromise. I’m not against negative comments on Facebook. On Pastor Lewis’ initial post, the negative comment trucks backed up to the docks and unloaded for a few hours.
But these comments weren’t made on the couple’s Facebook page. The offending pictures were copied from their Facebook page and posted on the pastor’s, where the couple was then chastised publicly. That is something very different. A person doesn’t do this in the interest of restoring the couple. This tactic is about making a point, not correcting a problem.
If one of my own children did something wrong and posted it on the Internet, I would hope that the first response from my friends would not be to re-post it and chastise them for it. That would be the behavior of an enemy, not a friend. I would hope that the first response would be to pray for my children. I would hope that the next response would be to call me to see if anything can be done to help my children. I’m not actually certain that Facebook shaming should ever be in our arsenal. But if it is, look at it like an atomic bomb – only to be used in the direst of circumstances.
Problem #3 – Facebook shaming isn’t consistent with local church autonomy
I don’t know this couple well. The young man attended a week of camp with our church a number of years ago, and I do not know the young lady personally. But as far as I know, both these young people belong to a church where they are accountable.
With that in mind, consider what has been done here. A pastor apparently believes that their churches have not been strong enough in teaching or enforcing a standard. Because he doesn’t trust their church to deal with them, he has taken it upon himself to do so.
Now, I won’t deny this pastor his ability to make these kinds of judgments. But I object to his inserting himself into the matter in order to correct those churches in the way they discipline their people.
If I don’t think a pastor is disciplining church members appropriately, if I think he should be more stern on the one hand or practice more charity on the other, I suppose that I can approach him as a friend. But I do not have a Scriptural warrant to chastise him publicly. God gave him oversight of his church, and me oversight of mine. We don’t believe in a “universal” church. And yet, this tactic of Facebook shaming quickly lends itself to popery. Pastors aren’t doing enough to discipline their people. Their standards are slipping, and so I have to correct it. And since nobody invited me to come preach it to the church, I’ll take it to the Internet where I can preach against the sins of another church.
Clearly, at least one pastor believes that the pastors of these churches have compromised. They aren’t taking a stand. So, he has used this young couple as a means of drawing attention to their compromise.
I would never object to a pastor using stock photos to illustrate the compromise and call it out to a general audience. He could post the stock photos and he could write everything he wanted about touching before marriage, about engagement pictures, about whatever compromise or slipping standards he sees. He could point out that standards are slipping, that a growing number of couples post engagement pictures that violate this standard. The point would be made. Couples would be given space to repent. Pastors would take note. And the message would be conveyed.
“But,” it will be objected, “people will ignore a stock photo. Posting pictures of a familiar couple draws attention to the problem.”
That brings up the next point…
Problem #4 – Facebook shaming is carnal weaponry
Shock sells. That’s why Phil Kidd and Stephen Anderson have their gigantic followings. But God calls us to preach the Word. Facebook shaming shouldn’t be equated with preaching the Word.
The tactic itself is Pharisaical. Jesus identified the heart of the Pharisees, who elevated the standard, and especially their applications of the standard, above the people they claimed to serve.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (Matthew 23:23)
Facebook shaming is a blatant display of self-righteousness. Nothing says, “my standards are higher than yours” like using someone’s own pictures to shame them. Let’s be crystal clear on this point.
Pastor Lewis said that this was nothing personal against the couple. I take him at his word. They were the props for the larger point, which is that at least one pastor is taking a stand. But as I see it, this thing was never about the couple. It was about saying to the world, “my standards are higher.”
Facebook shaming smacks of pride. It puts yourself forward as the arbiter and enforcer of good standards. We have been promised more to come, so we are all on notice now. Our Facebook pictures better fit his standards, or else.
Facebook shaming is not a display of Christian charity.
Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: (I Timothy 1:5)
And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. (I Peter 4:8)
Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins. (Proverbs 10:12)
Facebook shaming is not an example of kindness or forbearance.
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. (Colossians 3:13)
Facebook shaming is malicious.
Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
The fact that, in our zeal to apply and enforce the strictest dating standards, we discard these and other plain, Biblical commandments to love, forbear, respect, and care about each other, demonstrates that these are carnal weapons.
Problem #5 – Facebook shaming doesn’t allow for repentance
Public humiliation isn’t about correcting a problem. It is about smiting the scorner. And if we treat every sin as if we were dealing with a scorner, we shouldn’t be surprised that eventually, people rise to our expectations.
Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware: and reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand knowledge. (Proverbs 19:25)
If pastors began using this method of Facebook shaming to call out sin, the question is, what would the sinners do? Supposing they do recognize their folly, how do they go about making it known that they have repented? They have been publicly shamed. Will they be given the opportunity publicly to confess that sin and seek forgiveness? And do we even want this kind of mess?
But in this case, we aren’t dealing with gross sin. I asked how a couple in gross sin goes about repenting because I want to illustrate the absurdity of what was done in this case. Here we have a couple who, for their engagement pictures, held hands. As I understand it, their parents were part of this photo op, which means the couple wasn’t sneaking off for some hanky-panky. If, as a result of what was posted on Facebook, the couple thought better of what they did, this was hardly the kind of thing that would require a serious apology. We’re talking about hand-holding during engagement pictures, for crying out loud. We aren’t in deep sin here.
But we treated them like scorners to be driven out. We treated their sin as if it were fornication. The later admission that this couple is not involved in fornication doesn’t undo that.
Problem #6 – Widespread Facebook shaming would be a disaster
Are standards slipping? No doubt. Will this tactic produce a long-term correction? Absolutely not. Supposing that this tactic became the norm, and preachers everywhere banded together to shame any young person with the audacity to publish engagement pictures where they are holding hands. Would the result be more fear of God? I say, not at all. The result will be the fear of man at best. And that will produce a snare.
IF – and this would be a stretch – but IF this tactic brought an end to the posting of compromising pictures, and produced a return to high standards, it wouldn’t be the result of sanctification. It wouldn’t be a work of grace in the heart. It would be produced by the fear of man.
This is the heart of the shaming tactic. Shaming is never about producing genuine repentance and a heart for God. Shaming is always about putting everyone else on notice, that if you do something wrong like that, you’re next. It is meant to cow people into submission, rather than to build them in their Christian faith.
When we use this tactic, we give the world legitimate grounds for blaspheming the name of Christ. Because, though the world holds the truth in unrighteousness, that doesn’t mean they have no sense of justice. As every man is created in the image of God, we all have an innate sense of right and wrong. And any worldling knows that cyber-bullying is a great injustice. This is not friendship. This is not the way we show love for each other. Even the unbelievers of this world can see when we don’t care about each other at all.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:35)
On the Use of Shame
Finally, I want to plead with all who read this – particularly pastors: please, consider your ways.
When do we have a warrant to shame a person publicly? Surely this isn’t a tactic we would use on our friends or people we love. Public shaming is the spiritual equivalent of a nuclear bomb. We might use it on a scorner (Proverbs 21:11). We may use it on the unrepentant, if we have approached them Scripturally (Matthew 18). We should use it against false teachers, when they have ignored clear and graciously presented warnings about their doctrine or manner of life (Jude 1).
In other words, shame as a tactic should be used sparingly at best. Yet, this has been a storied tradition among Independent Baptists. For far too long, this has been Standard Operating Procedure when dealing with what we consider to be a “wayward” person – especially a young person. We trounce them for it, shame them and humiliate them. This is not God’s method for bringing young people to repentance (Romans 2:4). In far too many cases, we have driven our young people to the world by these tactics, and then condemned them for their worldliness.
I hear plenty of people protesting our standards as “legalistic.” I disagree that rules and strictness and standards are the problem in the IFB. The problem is our demeanor; not the standards we hold, but the attitudes with which we hold those standards. It is Scriptural to say that a man who loves God’s law is no legalist. Legalism is hatred of the law. Jesus taught us that “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” God’s law teaches us how to love one another. Not how to shame one another.
If you, having read this lengthy post, find yourself concerned about me, please don’t worry. My standards haven’t changed. My love for the IFB hasn’t changed. I’m done with cranky, crotchety fundamentalism. My tolerance for the “burn the house down with the kids inside” IFB has ended.