Penance and Public Shaming

I was glad to get the chance to make my Bulwark debut with an essay on a question I’ve been wrestling with for some time: What do we do with people who have committed a wrong that they themselves cannot put right?”

Cycles of public shaming ebb and flow through our public discourse. Some implicate public figures in scandals or crimes, while others entangle formerly private individuals whose errors are placed before a national audience. We need a way to find an answer to the following questions: What do we do with people who have committed a wrong that they themselves cannot put right? And is it possible for me to make full amends for the wrongs that I’ve done, whatever their size?

As a Christian watching these cycles of shaming, I see half of the Gospel story. Secular culture agrees with the apostle Paul that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That truth is proclaimed not just in the controversies, but in more nuanced discussions of such subjects as racial reparations and structural sexism. The trouble is that secular discussions of justice and reconciliation necessarily stop before the next verse in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

By secular lights, we are sinners without a savior—an untenable situation. To avoid facing the full ramifications of this form of the Bad News, people often fudge the truth, making some combination of these three errors: We deny the universality of sin; we deny the seriousness of sin; or we admit both, but deny the possibility of full reconciliation.

Read the whole thing at The Bulwark