That homeless preacher story and obesity


There is a little story (factual or not) going around Facebook these days about a new preacher who "disguised himself" as a homeless person and slept on the steps of the church the night before his first Sunday in the pulpit. As people gathered for worship, no one assisted the homeless man and everyone was shocked when the reveal came. The preacher, still in rags and unclean status, tells the congregation they are just a collection of people and not disciples of Jesus since they did not love their "homeless" neighbor. The preacher dismisses the congregation until next Sunday. 

Some find it inspirational. Others feel justified in their thoughts that Christians are hypocrites who say love your neighbor but ignore the homeless. Others feel justified in their thoughts that Christianity is more about doing rather than worshiping.

To add to the mix of emotions, I will echo others who have expressed a sadness in the preacher of this story.  Primarily how the preacher uses shame to "teach" the congregation. 

We like to think that shaming people works to change behavior. It has been my experience that those who think shame works are those who have never been shamed in any real or lasting way. It also seems that the times when I fall into thinking shaming works it is when I am at my most arrogant and self righteous moments. Shame is generally only invoked by those who not only feel they are in the right and that others are in the wrong but that those in the wrong need to be made feel less than human.  

Shame is the tool we use when we are our most self centered.  


Take for instance a different example of shame in our culture - shaming the obese in order to get them to "get in shape". Whelp, it turns out shaming the obese actually backfires according to a new study. Taken from the abstract: 

Participants who experienced weight discrimination were approximately 2.5 times more likely to become obese by follow-up and participants who were obese at baseline were three times more likely to remain obese at follow up than those who had not experienced such discrimination. The present research demonstrates that, in addition to poorer mental health outcomes, weight discrimination has implications for obesity. Rather than motivating individuals to lose weight, weight discrimination increases risk for obesity.

It is worth going on record to say that shaming is not a tool of a disciple of Christ. Shame creates division and resentment. Shame hides our own self-righteousness. And, at least when it comes the helping people to move toward greater health, it is counter productive.