Earlier this year, Christian singer-songwriter Michael Gungor shared a brief manifesto of his theological convictions. In the blog post, “What do we believe?,” Gungor penned the following warning: “So be careful of labels, be careful who you judge as ‘in’ or ‘out’ of your camp. It’s a destructive way of seeing the world.” Little did he know that by August, his simple post would be part of a firestorm of controversy within the evangelical world questioning the authenticity of his faith. In a word, Gungor was shunned.
The word “shun” elicits a host of painful synonyms, such as “isolate,” “ignore,” “banish,” “spurn” and “reject.” Shunning is a holistic kind of discipline that affects people emotionally, psychologically and physically. In the American Experience documentary The Amish: Shunned, the producers examine the practice of shunning within the Amish community through the lens of seven individuals who have experienced it first hand.
To be shunned in the Amish community means complete and utter isolation. Those who remain in good standing are forbidden to speak to you, dine with you or even offer you something as innocent as a buggy ride into town. In the documentary, one member of the community acknowledges, “To the outsiders shunning seems harsh, and it can be harsh. We love to sit at the same table and eat and you cannot. You are not a part of the family.” Another speaks more candidly when he refers to shunning as “the New Testament equivalent of stoning someone to death.”
It could be tempting to dismiss such practices as outdated, medieval or draconian. And yet to do so is to ignore the reality that the evangelical community is just as apt to operate under the same principles, albeit disguised by different names. One need only remember John Piper’s now-infamous tweet, “Farewell Rob Bell,” to understand the contextualized form of evangelical shunning. Indeed, in just the last six months The Gospel Coalition parted ways with Tullian Tchividjian, Acts 29 dropped Mark Driscoll and now Gungor appears to be quickly slipping from fellowship.
While the Amish shun through the negation of fellowship, modern evangelicals seem more apt to shun through finances.
While the Amish shun through the negation of fellowship, modern evangelicals seem more apt to shun through finances. To be shunned by the evangelical world is to be prohibited opportunities to publish, speak or perform within a market which some estimate to be worth over $7 billion a year. In such an environment, where livelihoods are intimately and ultimately connected to public endorsements, the top evangelical leaders hold a great deal of power. Hence, it is appropriate to occasionally evaluate how well they are wielding it.
In his work Comfort for Christians A.W. Pink offers a helpful discussion of “Divine Chastisement,” in which he distinguishes punishment from discipline. While punishment is enacted with the goal of vengeance, discipline is done for redemption and rehabilitation. If punishment is about justice, discipline is about mercy. What’s more, punishment is reserved for the enemies of God, while holy discipline is granted only to His children.
Church discipline is a mark of the authentic church and preserving, promoting and protecting orthodoxy is one of its central tasks. Yet if any of our attempts to hold one another accountable fail to achieve the ultimate telos for each of our lives – that is, conformity to the image of Christ - then our “defense of the faith” will have the sound of a clanging cymbal or resounding gong.