Category Archives: Shame, Grace, and the Cross

An Afghan Wedding

Over the past few days I have been posting about my wedding experiences in Uganda. Here is an example of what can happen at weddings in Afghanistan and the incredible costs that cultural expactations can lay on the groom! The risk of shaming is significant.

Karma Nirvana – Jasvinder Sanghera – 2

I have been reading books by Jasvinder Sanghera.

Firstly, her autobiography, “Shame” and her later book, “Daughters of Shame” – both published by Hodder & Stoughton.

I have found reading these both eye-opening and shocking. I have been aware for some time of the power of ‘izzat’ or ‘namus’ – the overwhelming power of ‘honour’ in some communities. Hearing people’s stories in some depth and engaging with the reality that for some people, some families, ‘honour’ is significantly more important that the life of family members.

It causes me to wonder just how significant these issues are here in Ashton-under-Lyne. It is good to know that there is an organisation to whom we can refer those who are trapped by these problems. Al;though, it is clear that as a white clergyperson, I am very unlikely to ever see behind the closed doors where these issues are a major problem.

In “Daughters of Shame”, Jasvinder says that “trying to explain the concept of honour is one of the hardest things … Asian people don’t question it: they’re swaddled in it from the moment they are born, it’s as though the absorb it along with their mother’s milk. Honour – izzat – is the cornerstone of the Asian community and since the beginning of time it’s been the job of girls and women to keep it polished. And that’s really hard because so many things can tarnish it.”[1] The stories that Jasvinder Sanghera relates are deeply disturbing, ultimately quite horrifying. She goes on to say that “wearing lipstick, owning a mobile phone, cutting your hair; any of those things could be said to bring dishonour on a family because those are all signs that a girl is getting westernised, which is what Asian families fight so hard against. They’d lock up their daughters for months on end rather than let that happen.”[2]

Would it be possible to get a better picture of the extent of these problems in a place like Ashton-under-Lyne?

(please also see my earlier post about Karma Nirvana – on 8th September 2014 and the website:

[1] Jasvinder Sanghera; “Daughters of Shame” Hodder & Stoughton, London: 2009, p27.

[2] ibid.

Karma Nirvana – Jasvinder Sanghera

I picked up the Church Times over the weekend and discovered an interesting interview. Jasvinder Sanghera founded Karma Nirvana in 1993 as a helpline for people in danger of honour abuse and honour kilings.

The article on the rear of the Church Times is an interview with Jasvinder.

She escaped a forced marriage but her sister Robin was unable to do so and committed suicide by setting herself on fire.

Jasvinder Sanghera, CBE was born in September 1965 in Derby and her parents originate from India, the Punjab.  Jasvinder’s family were Sikhs and she was one of seven sisters and one brother. She fled home when in her teens as her parents were forcing her to marry a stranger. She was disowned by her family, rejected by her parents and treated by them as an outcast. They regard her as having deeply shamed them. She has no contact with her past family today.

Jasvinder tells her story in her true story in Shame, published by Hodder and Stoughton. She tells more stories of British victims in her second book, Daughters of Shame. Both books have been translated into various languages including Japanese, Polish, Spanish.

She says that Shame, is her personal story: “I wished for it to be an honest account, because I felt the responsibility of telling a story that I knew was one of many. It took longer to write, as it was quite painful, but the whole experience has been cathartic, and it has helped shape UK policy and practice today.”

Karma Nirvana is now a national and international charity that has been instrumental in developing several refuge centres across the United Kingdom which serve as safe-housing for South Asian men and women fleeing forced marriages. Jasvinder says: “Karma Nirvana serves all those affected by honour abuse. The survivor stories are the most important ones to hear. No one can argue with the testimony of real-life experience. I feel that, in telling my story, it has given others the courage to speak out, and our visibility enables others to believe that there is life when you take a stand.”

Jasvinder had been awarded several awards in recognition for her contribution in the field of forced marriages and honour based violence including:

  • The Woman of the Year Award 2007
  • Pride of Britain Award 2009
  • Global Punjabi Society Award 2012
  • Cosmopolitan Wonder Woman Award 2010
  • Inspirational Woman of the Year Award 2008
  • Asian Woman Achievement Award 2007
  • Ambassador for Peace Award 2008

Jasvinder has been listed as one of the Guardian’s 100 most Inspirational Women in the World. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of University of Derby for her contribution to knowledge in the field of forced marriages and honour based violence.[3] This has led to providing evidence to several Government Select Committees and acting as an Expert Witness to Courts across the UK and internationally.

Shame Cultures and Abuse

The link below is to an article which was on the front page of the Saturday Guardian (30th August 2014) in the wake of the news coming out of Rotherham during August 2014. Bashir is the co-founder and CEO of

Perhaps the most significant statement is this:

“When I first told my mother about the abuse I’d suffered, she was absolutely devastated. The root of her anger was clear: I was heaping unbound shame on to my family by trying to bring the perpetrator to justice. In trying to stop him from exploiting more children, I was ensuring my parents and my siblings would be ostracised. She begged me not to go to the police station.”

Ruzwana’s family was trapped in a culture of honour and shame. And the small community to which they belonged was also trapped in a dynamic which forced them to shun the person/people who had brought abuse to the surface. That honour/shame dynamic focussed blame not on the perpetrator of abuse but on the one abused.

Ruzwana says taboos must be challenged, and in this particular context that seems to be painfully obvious. We need, however, to be very careful not to identify this kind of problem solely with cultures that tend to have strong honour/shame value systems.

The dynamic also exists in other communities. Very few of us like to see the status-quo challenged or disturbed. We have a natural tendency to want to hide difficult issues away. Often it is the whistle-blower, or the one to brings an issue to the surface, that is seen as in the wrong, rather than the one who committed the abuse (or the wrong) which has been uncovered.

We see this tendency in large bureaucracies and in small communities. Very few areas of society are immune.

While it is true that traditional conservative communities are likely to behave in this way and it is true that these communities have to find ways to address the desire to avoid shame. This is true too for much of society: shame is a factor that we all need to understand, and when it demands that we cover up things that are wrong, it must be addressed.



Shame in Hebrews

David DeSilva says that Christians who received this letter were “longing for honor and a place in the society’s ladder of status. While believers were once content to lose their place in society (with the confiscation of their property, their subjection to trial and disgrace, Heb. 10:32-34), with the passing of time these longings resurface and pressure some of the believers at least to withdraw from the associations that marginalise them and hinder their efforts to regain honor in society’s eyes. … This accounts for the withdrawal of some of the gathered worshipping community (Heb. 10:25) as well as the perceived need on the part of the author to reinforce the importance of showing solidarity with the imprisoned and tortured (Heb. 10:34; 13:3). The author solves this problem by holding up before the congregation an alternative system of honor – one familiar to them, but with regard to which they require reinforcement – which carries with it the promise of greater and lasting reward for those honoured according to its standards.”[1]

The only way to maintain peace of mind was to despise the opinions of those outside the Christian community.[2]  “Against the background of both the Jewish martyrological literature and the Stoic/Cynic treatment of honor and dishonour, the meaning of Heb. 12:2 becomes quite clear. Jesus was not merely ‘disdaining the shame,’ roughly equivalent to braving or being unafraid of enduring the shame, nor stoically disregarding suffering and death.[3] Rather, he was providing a paradigm for the Christian minority group of counting as nothing the negative evaluation of the outside world, thinking only of the evaluation of God (‘the joy that was set before him’). Jesus despised (i.e., considered valueless) the disgraceful reputation a cross would bring him in the eyes of the Greco-Roman world. His own vindication came afterward, when he ‘sat at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Heb. 12:2). While in the public court of opinion, Jesus took the most disgraceful seat – on a cross – in God’s court of reputation, Jesus was worthy of the highest honor.” [4]

DeSilva points to early Greek Fathers, “much closer in time and culture to the author of Hebrews, understood Heb. 12:2 in much the same way. Jesus, as ‘Lord of Glory’, despised the negative evaluation of human beings.[5] …  Jesus’ own attitude toward the negative evaluation of the outside world was a pattern for believers who wished to follow him and share in his honor and victory.[6][7]

The author of the epistle sets forward a number of examples of those who have despised shame, particularly:

  • “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Heb. 11:8-22. … Abraham left his homeland and embraced the status of ‘foreigner’ and ‘sojourner’ while awaiting the promise, but in so doing, he, like Christ, despises shame. In the Greco-Roman world, the sojourner or foreigner held a lower status than the citizen. … Indeed sojourning could be considered a reproach,[8] and the very terms ‘foreigner’ and ‘immigrant’ could be used as terms of abuse[9].” [10]
  • Moses, in Heb. 11:24, who “occupies a position of very high social standing. His honor rating by birth is very high, as well as by wealth, … (11:26). Faith expresses itself, however, not in achieving honor in society’s eyes, … but in achieving honor in God’s eyes. Before God’s court of reputation, the ‘reproach of Christ’ is of greater value than the ‘wealth of Egypt’, and the person of faith will evaluate the promise of society correctly in the light of God’s reward. Moses’ correct evaluation (Heb. 11:26) results also in a choice for ill-treatment now in the company of God’s people rather than temporary enjoyment of safety and security in the unbelieving society (Heb. 11:25; cf. 4 Macc. 15:8).”[11]
  • Other lower status examples in Heb.11:35b-38.

“Even if society ascribes disgrace to the believers, they are to despise a disgraceful reputation for the sake of gaining the honor and citizenship that God ascribes.”[12]

[1] David A DeSilva; “ Despising Shame: A Cultural-Anthropological Investigation of the Epistle to the Hebrews;” Journal of Biblical Literature, Volume 113, No. 3, Autumn 1994, p440.

[2] cf., Dio Chrysostom; Orat. 66.17-18, 24.

[3] These are the views of William Lane (Hebrews [WBC 47B; Word Books, Dallas, 1991], p414) and Harold W. Attridge (The Epistle to the Hebrews [Hermeneia, Fortress, Philadelphia, 1989], p358) respectively.

[4] DeSilva; op. cit., p445-446.

[5] Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunom.; Origen, Frag. In Ps. 37.12.4-5

[6] Origen, Exhor. ad Mart. 37.11-14; … John Chrysostom, In Epist. at Heb. 63.13-17, on Heb. 12:2; Macarius, Serm.

[7] DeSilva; op. cit., p447-448.

[8] Lucian, Patr. 8

[9] Plutarch, De Exil. 607 A

[10] DeSilva; op. cit., p448-449.

[11] Ibid., p449.

[12] Ibid., p450 and see Malina and Neyrey; ‘Honor and Shame’, p27; Neyrey; ‘John 18-19’, p7-8; Malina and Neyrey; ‘Conflict in Luke-Acts: Labelling and Deviance Theory’, in The ‘Social World of Luke-Acts: Models for Interpretation’; ed. J.H. Neyrey; Hendrickson, Peabody, MA, 1991, p101.

Shame in a Range of Paul’s Epistles

1 Corinthians 1 -4, 11 and 14, 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, Galatians 1 and 2, Philippians 3, and Colossians 2, 1 Thessalonians

Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 1:27 that God chooses the foolish things of this world in order to shame the wise. He takes the weak things of this world in order to shame the strong. Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection change the whole dynamic of authority, power and honour: those who are first (the place of honor) will be last (the place of shame), and those who are last will be made first (cf. Matt. 20:16). This turning upside-down of accepted norms continues at the cross. “At the very hour of Jesus’ public shame on the cross, he was actually in the process of shaming his enemies, disarming the powers and authorities and making “a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15). With these new eschatological realities breaking in on the present order, the only remaining “glory” (doxa) of the world, Paul declares, “is in their shame [aisxunh]” (Phil. 3:19).”[1]

Joeph Plevnik says that Paul set aside the kinship basis for honour in favour of a new standard (Phil. 3:7-8, 10-11). “Status in Israelite and local Tarsus society is no longer the apostle’s supreme value; now it is status in the Christian group: Christ is now his supreme worth. Instead of boasting of his own power and courage, the apostle now accepts weakness, lowliness, suffering, and fear (1 Cor. 2:1-5) for the sake of the gospel. Instead of seeking recognition in the eyes of others, he wants to be found in Christ, his Lord and his judge (1 Cor. 4:1-5; 2:1-5). He does not seek human approval (1 Thess. 2:4) but only God’s approval (cf. Gal 1:10). He insists on his status and role as a legitimate apostle (Gal. 1 and 2)”[2] (p99).

So, Paul was often in conflict with other apostles who “insisted that Greeks and Romans had to first be ‘in Israel’ before they could be accepted ‘in Christ’ (2 Cor. 11:5-6; 12:10). In Paul’s view, those ‘in Christ’ need to reassess what they once considered honourable in favour of a new set of standards. For example, when the Corinthians began to boast about their spiritual accomplishments, he reminded them that God called them when they were lowly, weak, and foolish in order to shame the strong, the wise, and the noble.”[3]

Wener Mischke also highlights 2 Corinthians 12:20-24 and asks us to “notice the emphasis on giving greater honor to those who seem honorless, because in Christ, all are ascribed honor by virtue of their being in Christ, members of God’s family, unashamed before / holy Almighty God. In this way it appears that community trumps individuality in the body of Christ—and that God wants our desire for individual honor to be in balance with—if not in submission to—the unity, honor and strength of the community.”[4]

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul “is at pains to make sure that this fledgling Corinthian community observes proper first-century social conventions in order to maintain their public honour.”[5]

In 1 Corinthians 14, “Paul’s overriding concern [is]about potential shame for the community. Paul claims that women’s speech in worship is shameful. We should … remember that a man’s honour was impacted by his wife’s public comportment … Once again, the issue is public order so that the community (an ultimately Paul) will not be shamed by negative publicity.”[6]

[1] Timothy C. Tennent: “Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church is Influencing the Way We Think About and Discuss Theology;” Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2007: p88. He also notes that Jude 1:13 describes the rebellious world as ‘wild waves of the sea foaming up their shame’.

[2] Joseph Plevnik; “Honor/Shame;” in John J Pilch and Bruce J. Malina eds; “Biblical Social Values and Their Meaning – A Handbook”; Hendrickson, Peabody, Massachusetts, 1993.

[3] Ibid., p99-100.

[4] Werner Mischke; “Honor and Shame in Cross-Cultural Relationships;” Mission ONE, May 2010. Web. 21st November 2103. Available from at p20-21.

[5] Carolyn Osiek and Jennifer Pouya, “Constructions of Gender in the Roman Imperial World” in Dietmar Neufeld, Richard E. Demaris eds. ‘Understanding the Social World of the New Testament’, Routledge, Abingdon, 2010, p50.

[6] Ibid., p50.

Shame in Romans

In the last post we heard from Robert Jewitt who is a scholar who has focussed much of his studies on the Epistle to the Romans. Another New Testament scholar, Halvor Moxnes, has argued that the entire argument of this, Paul’s most influential letter, is in the ancient context of an ‘honour society’ in which ‘recognition and approval from others’ is central, which means that the group is more important than the individual. Moxnes says that this “contrasts with the dominant concern of Western theology and its interpretation of Romans, in which guilt and guilt-feeling predominate as a response to wrongdoing. He notes that the semantic equivalents of honour and shame play important roles in the argument of Romans; these include: honour, dishonour, and the verb to dishonour; shameless, be ashamed, and put to shame; glory and to glorify; praise and to praise; boast, boasting and to boast.”[1]

[1] Robert Jewett; “Saint Paul Returns to the Movies: Triumph Over Shame;” Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1999; p18, quoting Halvor Moxnes, ”Honour and Righteousness in Romans;” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 32 (1988); p61-77.

Romans 5: 1-11

In his book, St. Paul Returns to the Movies, among other examples, Robert Jewett sets the film Edge of the City alongside this passage from Romans.

He asserts that: “while our traditional theologies and understandings of Jesus’ death focus attention on individual forgiveness of sins, this passage – like most of Paul’s letters – focuses on the deeper and broader dimensions of the human dilemma: the problems of weakness, alienation, and suffering. We see this in the references to ‘peace with God’, to ‘reconciliation’ with God, to ‘boasting’, and to ‘affliction’. Paul’s approach is grounded in the effectiveness of Christ’s death in behalf of the vulnerable and undeserving.”[1]

The Edge of the City is “a low budget film, made for television under the title A Man Is Ten Feet Tall. It appeared for a short time in 1957. It has been shown sporadically since that time. The film features Sidney Poitier has the friend who gives his life for Axel Nordmann, a neurotic army deserter on the lam played by John Cassavetes. In Arthur S. Barron’s summary of the plot, Axel “gets a job in a New York freight yard by ‘kicking back’ part of his pay to a brutal boss. The deserter is befriended by a warm and sympathetic Negro foreman. Under the impact of this friendship he thaws out and moves toward maturity In a vicious freight-hook fight, however, the Negro is killed by the bully. After a period of cowardly indecision, the deserter finally goes after the murderer and drags him to the police.””[2]

“This film has been cited as the first instance in American cinematic history for a black person to appear simply as a friend of a white protagonist.[3] However, this feature of the story eliminated the possibility of national distribution in the pre-civil-rights period of the 1950s. Thus a film that presents one of the most compelling Christ figures in American cinema, elaborating the profound theme of redemption through self-sacrificial blood, remains an unrecognized and largely unavailable classic.”[4] It is Jewett’s opinion that this is the only film he knows that rises to the level of a potential dialogue partner with the proclamation of the blood of Christ in Romans 5.

Jewett asks: “What is so wrong with humans that Christ had to die? The usual answer to this question makes little sense: he had to die to provide forgiveness for the sinful deeds that humans commit. One difficulty is that there is no reference to forgiveness in this passage in Romans, and very few such references in the rest of Paul’s letters. In addition, since the God of Israel’s faith was forgiving, and since there were institutions of forgiveness in temple and synagogue prior to Jesus’ time, one can hardly make a case that the Jewish religion was lacking in this regard.”[5] So, Jewett points us to expressions Paul uses in verses 6-10 to describe the human dilemma, “to build the case on this evidence rather than on the traditional viewpoint.”[6]

The first expression is in Rom 5:6: “While we were still weak,” Christ died for us. “Weakness is not used here in the sense of being unable to do the law and thus being inclined to mistakes and sins, as the traditional teaching has suggested. Commentators have been puzzled by Paul’s seemingly un-theological[7] and overly “mild”[8] choice of the term weak in this sentence, but it would have resonated powerfully within the honour-shame framework of the audience in Rome. Weakness relates to human vulnerability and affliction, which Paul elaborates in Rom 5:3-4.”[9] Jewett goes on to explain that Paul’s argument  in Romans 5 correlates with what psychologists say about human development –  “that humans feel vulnerable at a very early age, when already as infants they discover they are outside the womb and unable to cope for themselves. The terror and pain are heightened if loving care is not provided in a reliable manner. The feeling of not being loved at this basic level evokes primal shame.”[10]

This becomes a springboard for our later attempts to cover up shame and to escape its pain. “Some of us boast to cover up our vulnerability; some of us, to show we are more worthy than others. But most of the members of the early church in Rome were labourers, slaves, and homeless immigrants from the most marginal social circumstances.[11] Their weakness consisted in having little to boast about, and thus facing a chronic, collective shortfall in group self-esteem. In a basic sense, most boasting derives from weakness in one form or another: some seek to cover up painful circumstances, and others feel they are losers with nothing to boast about to bring them honour. The annals of group conflict from the beginning of recorded history reveal an infinite variety of strategies to overcome shameful weakness.”[12]

In Edge of the City, John Cassavetes plays the role of Axel Nordmann from Gary Indiana, a man on the run because of his shame and weakness. “He had joined the army in the hope of finding something to boast about so his family would love him. “I figured I could do something good” by joining the army he says, “… if I made sergeant, I could come home. The thing is … a guy’s gotta something before someone can love him.” But after being bullied as a nobody, Axel deserted. He gets a job on, a railway loading dock where his weakness is exploited by a foreman who demands a kickback from his salary. He is befriended by Tommy Tyler, played by Sidney Poitier. TT is another foreman on the dock, one who does not take kickbacks or bully his gang.”[13]  Tyler plays a kind of is playing a kind of Christ role in the film, struggling for the dignity of his young friend and ultimately dying in an effort to protect him from the murderous bully Charlie Malek.

The matter of human weakness in Paul’s thought is directly related to Jesus’ death. His ministry to the weak and dishonourable members of society was bitterly controversial (Matt 9:10-11; 12:9-14). He ate with tax collectors and sinners. “He was friendly to women of ill repute (Luke 7:36-50), to rough fishermen as well as to hated government agents (Matt 8:5-13; Luke 19:1-10). He opposed the contempt with which the weak and vulnerable members of society were treated (Mark 9:42; Matt 5:22; 18:10-14). His effort to overcome hostility toward outsiders culminated in the cleansing of the Gentile court of the temple, which led directly to his death (Mark 11:17-18).[14] He conveyed the boundless love of God to the weak and the lost (Matt 18: 14), and he challenged the presumptions of the strong (23:1-36), ending up by being crucified between two thieves.”[15]

“The second term used to describe the human dilemma is in the reference to Christ dying ‘for the ungodly” or “impious” (Rom. 5:6). … The word “impiety” should be interpreted in the light of Rom. 1:18-25, which shows that humans tend to be so obsessed with their own honour and the status of their groups that they make gods of and for themselves…. Impiety for Paul is not a matter of lacking religion. Rather, impiety follows a religion – whether secular or traditional – that is self-serving and thus idolatrous. Paul has in mind the aggressive ungodliness of those who “suppress the truth” (Rom 1:18) about their own shame while seeking honourable status that competes with the status of God. In fact… ,  only God is finally worthy of honour. … When we seek this for ourselves or our group, we are usurping the position of God. As Paul writes in Rom 1:25, people tend to “worship and serve the creature rather than the creator.””[16]

Only after Paul understood the gospel could he begin to understand that his own piety had been an assault on the honour of God, that he had in fact been impious, despite his extraordinary adherence to the law.

The third reference to the human situation in our passage comes in the statement “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Jewett says that “in a basic sense, the status of sinner has a double connotation: it refers to the strategy of covering up shame through seeking godly honours and lying about our true situation; and it refers to the evil actions that flow from such a deception. But note that it is the actions of humans in a collective sense that are in view here: Paul refers to “sinners” in the plural and includes himself among the “us,” which should lead interpreters to think of the behaviour of groups rather than isolated individuals. Romans 1:18 refers to sin as “suppression of the truth” about who we are and who God is. Since human weaknesses and the vulnerability of our groups are too painful to bear, we try to cover them up.”[17] So people who have been shamed seek to shame others (see later in Romans 1) and the injured try to injure others, so that by doing so they might show that they are better, and gain self-respect. Thus “guilty deeds arise from shameful status, making all groups of humans sinners, a status which each group desperately seeks to disguise.”[18]

In the film, Axel Nordmann is covering up who he is and this is the second time he has used a false name. He did so to get into the army. His youthful indiscretions led to the death of his brother and alienation from his family. The alienation gets worse when he deserts the army and begins running. “The opening of the film shows him running through the loading dock area, barely making it through a closing gate. He is a kind of prodigal son, unable even to communicate with his family. But in this case, his crime, desertion from the army clearly derives from his shame. In contrast to the usual Christian paradigm of individual sin and forgiveness, in which evil deeds lead to shame, this is a story of original shame resulting in evil actions. The crime is an acting out of much deeper pain of shameful status that is unavoidable. This story resonates at a profound level with the honour-shame paradigms of the ancient world out of which our biblical texts arose.”[19]

Jesus had a particular affinity for the outcasts that ‘holy’ people kept at arms length. “But it was not until the crucifixion that the full dimensions of his campaign to overcome shameful status became clear. On Calvary human running and covering up and boasting and shaming led to the death of this man who took the side of the shamed. This death demonstrated the final measure of redemptive love that is capable of curing the shameful void from which evil actions spring.”[20]

“Like Tommy Tyler [TT] in the film, Jesus dealt with outcasts simply by accepting them. TT shares his food with Axel, and then takes him to the neighborhood where he lives and begins to share his life with him. Later, when the evil supervisor finds out who Axel really is, threatening to expose him to the authorities if he does not return to the kickback scheme, he is inclined to begin running again. TT convinces him to stay and face the consequences. … It was this kind of friendship to outsiders that got Jesus crucified, just as it gets Tommy Tyler killed at the conclusion of this powerful film.”[21]

The fourth description of the human dilemma is this: “As enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his son” (Rom 5:10).  “The cross reveals all humans as God’s enemies, as those who crucify the Christ to avoid the exposure of their own shame, to retain their status of honour in religion and politics.”[22] Jewett says: This is the opposite of one of the traditional doctrines of the atonement, which supposed that God was the one who needed to be reconciled, paid off by the blood of an innocent victim in order to overlook the sins of the guilty. Although widely believed, this explanation of Christ’s death gets things completely backward, if our text is to be taken seriously. Instead, the cross exposes the enmity of the human race against God while at the same time offering unconditional reconciliation. The blood of Christ says, ‘The fight is over, so you can come home again.’”[23]

“The story of the redemption of Axel Nordmann by the death of his friend and protector Tommy Tyler also ties in with the theme of boasting, which runs through the text of Romans 5. Paul urges that we should “boast in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:2). The glory is what was lost in the garden of Eden and in every person’s replication of the fall, as we deal with our vulnerability and seek glory for ourselves. We either want to boast in the glory we have achieved, or we want to run away because no glory seems possible.”[24]

“But now, in Christ, we boast in the hope given to us through the death of Christ, a hope that by grace we shall all participate in glory that we shall find our proper task that God intends for us to do. For Paul, this is a “hope” rather than an accomplishment, because he is convinced that none of us can ever achieve enough to boast.”[25]

“At the end of the passage, Paul returns to this theme of a new form of boasting, not in our own accomplishments but in Christ, who sets us free from our escapist tendencies ‘Let us boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ’, … (Rom. 5:11). … We now [can] boast in the God who triumphed through weakness, who uncovers and overcomes our enmity by the blood of the cross. And so our salvation takes the form of reconciliation. It produces a new identity leading to peace with God”[26]

Jewett’s summary of the message of the film and Romans 5 is that “Some of us have been running away from our true selves, and others of us are fleeing from afflictions; all of us remain uncomfortable with our vulnerability and weakness; we try to accomplish something in life so people will love us, not realizing that this motivation just leads us into forms of boasting and hiding that make our situation more dishonest and more difficult to bear. We take refuge in our group identity as members of an allegedly superior nation, or an allegedly righteous church, but our uneasy feeling of vulnerability remains. The Spirit is inviting us shameful deserters to come home again and to face mature responsibilities as we hear the admonition with ears made sensitive by Edge of the City: ‘Let us have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ!’”[27]

[1]  Robert Jewett; “Saint Paul Returns to the Movies: Triumph Over Shame;” Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1999: p124.

[2] Ibid., p125 quoting Arthur S. Barron, “Murder on the Waterfront,” New Republic 136, 4th March 1957, p22.

[3] See Robert Hatch, “Films,” The Nation 184 (February 9, 1957): p125; Barron, “Murder on the Waterfront,” p22: “Here…, an entirely new pattern has been introduced. In this picture Negro and White appear as full equals, as close friends …. all without a shred of self-consciousness. The relationship is entirely spontaneous and open. For the first time, Hollywood has given the Negro the role of a warm, uncomplicated and natural human being.” Bosley Crowther in New York Times, 30 January 1957, p33 agrees that this film comes “close to some sort of fair articulation of the complexities of racial brotherhood.”

[4] Robert Jewett: p125.

[5] Ibid., p125-126.

[6] Ibid., p126.

[7] James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary 38a (Dallas: Word, 1988), p254.

[8] John C. O’Neill, Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975), p93.

[9] Robert Jewett: p126.

[10] Ibid., p126.

[11] See Jewett, “Ecumenical Theology for the Sake of Mission: Rom. 1:1-17 + 15:14-16:24,” in D. M. Hay and E. E. Johnson, eds., Pauline Theology, Vol. 3 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1996), p93-97 and chapters 5-6 of Jewett, ‘Paul the Apostle to America: Cultural Trends and Pauline Scholarship’ (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994).

[12] Jewett, “Saint Paul Returns to the Movies;” p126.

[13] Ibid., p126-127.

[14] See Marcus J. Borg, Jesus A New Vision: Spirit, Culture, and the Life of Discipleship (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), p175-84; idem, Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1994), 1 p12-16. For a discussion of the role of the cleansing of the temple in the sequence of events leading to Jesus’ execution, see E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (Allen Lane: Penguin, 1993), p254-62, p272-73.

[15] Robert Jewett, op.cit., p127.

[16] Ibid., p128.

[17] Ibid., p128-129.

[18] Ibid., p129.

[19] Ibid., p129.

[20] Ibid., p130.

[21] Ibid., p130.

[22] Ibid., p130.

[23] Ibid., p130.

[24] Ibid., p131.

[25] Ibid., p132.

[26] Ibid., p133-134.

[27] Ibid., p135.

Shame in Paul’s Letters

I have really enjoyed reading Robert Jewett’s book, ‘Saint Paul Returns to the Movies, Triumph Over Shame’.[1] In this book he takes passages from Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians and places them in dialogue with a movie. In each case the main themes are based around honour and shame. For example, he places 1 Corinthians 11:17-18, 20-26, 33-34, where the poor in Corinth are being shamed by the wealthy in their love feasts, alongside ‘Babette’s Feast’; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, where Paul is arguing that love, agape, transcends the honour system alongside ‘Forrest Gump’; 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, where the shameful secrets of a visitors heart can be exposed by the prophetic word, alongside the ‘Prince of Tides’; 2 Corinthians 3:1-3, where Paul  suggests that written letters confirming status and honour need to be set aside in favour of letters written on the Corinthians hearts, along side ‘Mr Holland’s Opus’. Nothing would delight me more than to spend time covering each of these passages and the others in Jewett’s book, but one example will have to suffice (see the next post). 

[1] Robert Jewett; “Saint Paul Returns to the Movies: Triumph Over Shame;” Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1999.