Monica Lewinsky recently gave a TED Talk that cast her story in a whole new light. Lewinsky revisited the aftermath of her affair with President Bill Clinton and the personal toll that our collective judgment had on her. In her words she was nearly “humiliated to death” — literally — as she considered suicide.
She recounted the cruel jokes, media images, soundbites and labels. She says she was “branded” (think about the violence of that word) as a “tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and of course that woman.” Hearing Lewinsky recall the way she was personally attacked made me think deeply about judgment, shame and human nature.
For the sake of others and for the sake of our own souls, we need to substitute judgment with loving compassion.
Judgment, Shame and The Church
Fear of judgment may be the single biggest reason that people avoid church.
I recently had a conversation with several friends who echoed that sentiment. They stayed away from the church for years because they felt like they weren’t worthy enough to attend. They believed that “churchgoers” would judge their unworthiness, so it was better to just stay away.
I wish I could say they were wrong. But more than 40 years of church attendance has shown me the best and the worst examples of Christian behavior. Although good examples outnumber the bad, the damage done by a few, judgmental hypocrites is astonishing. That kind of judgment reinforces the shame that individuals already feel and pushes them away from the church.
More than 150 years ago Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter to expose the hypocrisy of the church and 17th century “slut shaming.” Hester Prynne is not the only participant in the affair, but as the woman who bears a child out of wedlock, she alone was forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” for adultery.
Unfortunately, I witnessed 20th century “slut shaming” as a teen when young pregnant women were brought in front of our entire congregation to confess their sin under the guise of preventing gossip. What did that do to prevent judgment and shame? What did that do to show love and compassion? Nothing. People still judged and the women (who already felt shame) were humiliated.
What if Christians abandoned judgmentalism in favor of compassion? What if we truly took the words of this passage to heart? What if we loved more than we judged?