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The Shameful Art of Public Shaming

I’m not sure when public shaming became the new vogue passive-aggressive way to express to others one’s disapproval of who they are, how they act, or what they do but it has. I don’t care if you are scrolling through Facebook, glancing through Twitter, or listening to a PRESIDENTIAL (come on folks…really!?) debate, public shaming is the new “thumbs down” from society.

Reteengirlscently, I saw a picture posted of a few teen girls who were taking selfies in the bleachers at a baseball game, with captions that ranged from “Is this what society has become?” to “Why even bother coming to the game? All you care about is yourself!”  Wide-sweeping judgment of these young ladies, who reminded me of my own daughters, spread like wildfire across the internet, earning them a place of “shame fame” (yes, that’s an actual term nowadays) and the public scorn of the social media world.

Of course, once the whole story came out, it was clear that we had overstepped a bit. In truth, the girls were participating in a selfie challenge hosted by the baseball game to win free tickets. In reality, they were only doing what EVERY SINGLE OTHER PERSON in the stadium was doing in that moment. And these young ladies showed their huber by using their “shame fame” to raise awareness about domestic abuse and donated their free tickets to a domestic abuse shelter. But that story has received only minimal coverage while the original photo continues to be posted, and judged, and they continue to be publicly shamed.

So what do I mean by “public shaming?”  

To be clear, I’m not referring to sharing with others what personal beliefs about God, your political stances, or your concern for society, in a respectful and thoughtful manner that invites dialogue and further conversation. On the contrary, I think that is exactly what we should be teaching our children. It’s what I hope to accomplish when I blog, when I talk with others about my beliefs, and when I share an article or start a conversation on social media. That’s healthy interaction even if what you are saying is potentially controversial.

I’m talking about something far less inviting and far more harmful.

A photograph of a single moment with a caption loaded with accusation and disapproval of a generation or person with no regard to their entire being.

A meme maliciously making fun of a political party, a group of people, or a way of life with the intention of saying, “Look how wrong/stupid/ridiculous they are and how right/smart/perfect I (and others like me) are.”

Sweeping judgments made about entire societies, classes, races, and peer groups based on single observations or just something another person doesn’t like.

Mean-spirited in nature. Out to prove a point and walk away. Taking the art of bullying to a whole new level.

People’s lives have been ruined because of this; absolutely destroyed because of one mistake, thoughtless misstep, or simply doing something that someone else finds abhorrent or objectionable. And often, later, when the whole story comes out, we find out…oops, we were wrong. What was so self-righteously declared “wrong” was actually “right” or at least not wrong and those lives destroyed on social media, network media, and people media are forever ruined.

You know, Paul had his own public forum. In Acts 17, Paul sat in Athens, in the public square, under the shadow of the Parthenon, temple to the goddess Athena, surrounded by “a city that was full of idols,” in a place where “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest idea.”

I cannot help but see the comparison to our social media platforms today. Is that not our public square, full of idols, where people spend their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest idea?

So we must ask, how does Paul act in this situation? As God’s messenger to the Gentiles, this was exactly the group he had been sent to with the gospel. Surely, he in this situation, he went in guns ablazing right?

Nope, not at all.

Paul was “greatly distressed,” but when he spoke to the people gathered there, he did so with utmost respect and in a conversational tone. He quoted their own authors, referred to their own gods, observed that they were “very religious” and invited them into a longer conversation. When the some in the crowd sneered at him, he didn’t lash out at them, but he left the public forum and continued speaking with those who wanted to hear more. Some of the people there ended up becoming believers; some did not.  Paul moved on to Corinth but left a legacy of Christianity that remains to this day.

Personally, I think we as Christians have a lot to learn from Paul in this instance.

What if we modeled this behavior for our children in the interactions we have in our public forum?

What if we observed people’s desire for “more” in this life and invited them into a conversation about where we have found it, instead of posting an article lambasting them for being wrong or a meme that passes judgement on them from afar?

What if we invited thoughtful discussion instead of public shaming?

And what if, instead of battling things out in 144 characters or less, we took the conversation to a new level of actual discourse and when some sneer, invite the ones who want to know more to continue the conversation in another arena?

I often share that as adults we must realize that everything we do, even the unintentional and accidental things, are teaching our children what are good, right, and normal ways of acting and interacting.

Social media has the potential to be a place of great discipleship for our children, a place where we can teach them respectful and generous ways of living out our faith.

One day, they will be our friends on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram, or join our circle on whatever new frontier of social media awaits. They will have access to all we’ve said, done, and posted.

Let’s be sure that what they see there will teach them to love God and love others.  Public shaming has no place in that way of life. Let’s disciple them well even before they get there. 

Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused, intergenerational ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at and is a contributing blogger at, Seedbed, and D6 Family.


  • Rhonda
    Posted October 29, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Well said! In so many areas of life the discussion degenerates into accusations and shaming. It is difficult to not respond in kind, but we are called to a higher level of discourse.

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