Reflection on “Sacramental Shame” article

This is my reflection on an academic article submitted with my Doctor of Ministry program application to Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. I begin this program in January 2022! #LeaveShameBehind

Sunsets and Solidarity: Overcoming Sacramental Shame in Conservative Christian Churches to Forge a Queer Vision of Love and Justice by Dawne Moon, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology, Marquette University & Theresa W. Tobin, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy at Marquette University, June 2018 Hypatia A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 33(1)

Abstract: Drawing from our interdisciplinary qualitative study of LGBTI conservative Christians and their allies, we name an especially toxic form of shame – what we call sacramental shame – which affects the lives of LGBTI and other conservative Christians. Sacramental shame results from conservative Christian’s allegiance to the doctrine of gender complementarity, which elevates heteronormativity to the level of the sacred and renders those who violate it not as persons, but monsters. In dispensing shame as a sacrament, nonaffirming Christians require constant displays of shame as proof that LGBTI church members love God and belong in the community. Part of what makes this shame so harmful is that parents and pastors often dispense it with sincere expressions of care and affection, compounding the sense that one’s capacity to give and receive love is damaged. We foreground LGBTI Christian movements to overcome sacramental shame by cultivating nonhubristic pride, and conclude by discussing briefly their new understandings of love and justice that could have far-reaching benefits.

When I discovered this article on ‘sacramental shame’ I was immediately drawn to the work Profs. Moon and Tobin are doing regarding this toxic form of shame within conservative Christian communities. Sacramental shame was a concept unfamiliar to me and has a direct connection to my ministry of healing shame. For an individual to be required to display chronic shame of personhood to be conditionally granted recognition and acceptance goes against the teachings of Jesus as I understand and utilize them in my ministry. In this essay, it is my intention to reflect on how this academic article connects to my personal and professional development and its relationship to interdisciplinary studies at Iliff.

The very nature of how conservative heterosexual Christians stigmatize and inflict traumatic shame upon members of their communities presents a contradiction to the commandment of love that is at the heart of what Jesus told his followers in Matthew 22:39 – “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The challenges Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual, and Intersex (LGBTI) individuals endure as they explore who they are as non-heteronormative individuals can be daunting and traumatic without the added framing of them being ‘monsters’ in the eyes of their faith community where they may be seeking connection with God and others. I can relate to the challenges of exploring my own non-heteronormative nature. However, I agree with the notion of any theology or church community that suggests that God receives some and rejects others is not reflective of the ministry of Jesus.[1] 

The unjust dispensing of shame within the conservative Christian communities outlined in the article illustrates the moral and ethical hypocrisy seen within the greater conservative Christian community. Offering forgiveness repeatedly to cis-gender heterosexual members who have committed sin, even of a sexual nature happens all the time within conservative Christian communities. However, any consideration for offering a similar forgiveness of LGBTI members is rejected due to their violation of heteronormativity and going against gender complementarity. The sanctification of heteronormativity instills a hierarchical nature of men being at the top of the order, followed by women and any below them can be considered the “other” or ‘monsters’ and undeserving of God’s love or acceptance. Only through sacramental shame, they can be accepted conditionally and contingent upon their maintaining dispositional shame. This perpetuates patriarchy and continues to foster an environment for the ‘otherization’ of gender and sexuality outlaws. This speaks directly against the work that my ministry represents.

The creation story of humanity in Genesis offers an opportunity to reflect on the notion that in “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis1:27). The author of this passage genders God with the pronoun of ‘he’, however the passage clearly states that humankind of male and female are created in God’s image. Using a queer theological lens on this passage can indicate that God is both male and female and neither, which could define God’s gender expression as being more a spectrum than an absolute. Looking to the image of God or Imago Dei, I agree with Marcella Althaus-Reid’s notion and believe that LGBTI need to find the holiness within a queered image of God. LGBTI people require something spiritual that is also seen as the Other.[2] 

Enforcing heteronormativity and gender roles also implies that God rejects men if they are not masculine or women if they are not feminine and maintain specific gender roles. This theology is a reflection of the 1950s television shows Ozzie and Harriett, Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best that illustrate representations of these gender roles in white, middle-class families. This subsection of the American population represents only a portion of a much larger diverse population found within our society today. Looking at these 1950s gender role boxes is what I use in my shame workshops and classes. The absolutism of conservative Christians does not allow them to blur the boundaries of creation and gender. I concur with their quoting of Eliel Cruz: “Can you stand with your feet in the muddy sand on the beach, waves crashing around your feet, tide slowly rising or falling, and honestly draw a clear line between sea and dry land?” Creation is not black or white, but various shades of grey and all the colors of the rainbow. Gender is not binary but a spectrum. This exemplifies the diversity of creation.

The relationship between fear and shame is exemplified in this article. Fear of being a failure in God’s eyes and not being loved is repeated to LGBTI individuals by their heteronormative community members. This perpetuates the continuation of sacramental shame for them. Fear is a powerful tool that religious leaders and communities have been using for centuries. Finding a way out of shame for these LBGTI individuals is to also recognize God’s love in unconditional, as Pope Francis said in 2017, “God does not love us because there is some reason that causes love. God loves us because He Himself is love, and love tends to spread and give by its nature. God does not even tie his benevolence to our conversion: if anything this is a consequence of God’s love.” [3] While I agree with Pope Francis’ message of God’s unconditional love, I do not condone the use of the masculine pronouns for God in my reference here.

I appreciate the authors connecting the healing of this traumatic shame through finding pride in oneself for who you are fully. Embracing their queerness as a nonheteronormative identity can help these LGBTI individuals begin to move away from this fear-based life of non-acceptance and sacramental shame. I also see the challenge that some conservative LGBTI Christians may have with embracing their queerness to overcome sacramental shame. I am curious to see what their research uncovers regarding these members of the LGBTI community.

The writers’ connecting to antiracists, feminists and other social justice communities represents to me the intersectionality of their research. This will also drive my studies and research while at Iliff. I found this article to be very informative about the concept of sacramental shame as a mechanism for conservative Christian communities to perpetuate their heteronormative theology and hold their LBGTI members in the constant state of fear that membership can be withdrawn at any time. The racially inclusive teachings of Jesus inform me to reject the notion of sacramental shame and inspire me to do the good works of bring healing to those who have been injured by this traumatic form of shame. 

[1] Yvette A. Flunder, Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion (Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press, 2005), 7.

[2] Mary Donovan Turner, The God We Seek: Portraits of God in the Old Testament (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2011), 121.

[3] Hannah Brockhaus, We don’t earn God’s love – it’s freely given, Pope Francis says (Catholic News Agency) June 14, 2017,