Devin Dwyer, a councilman in Huntington Beach, Calif., has failed in his efforts to shame DUI suspects by placing their photos on the police department's Facebook page. For me, the debate evokes the words of an old hymn:
"On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame..."
I wonder how often we think about the dreadful shame Jesus bore in our stead when he trudged his way to Calvary. When we look at the mug shot of a DUI offender, do we merely see the face of a dangerously irresponsible person who deserves our scorn and abuse? Or do we find ourselves instead confronted by the bleeding head of a Savior who beckons us to love a fellow sinner?
Shame has its proper place, of course. Until we experience shame, deep remorse for our deeds is impossible and enduring reform is unlikely. But shame as a noun is quite a different thing from shame as a verb. The former is not induced by the latter. Good shame is advanced through acts of love, not acts of retribution.
I am therefore highly skeptical of whether publicly shaming DUI offenders will actually save many lives. Even supposing such a measure might prove effective, though, I fear the collateral damage done to offenders' friends and family may be too high a price to pay. And from the sounds of it, a "party city" like Huntington Beach would not be able to maintain a shame culture for very long. Within months there would be dozens or more photos posted, and it is difficult to publicly shame someone when his face becomes lost in an ever-widening crowd.
Aside from these concerns, Christians do well to remember the words of Paul: "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong" (1 Corinthians 1:27). We might recall how even the righteous Joseph balked at publicly exposing Mary when she turned up pregnant before the wedding (Matthew 1:19). We may consider Jesus' admonition to the crowd: "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7). And we might consider that it was a thief on a cross who was among the first to join Jesus in Paradise (Luke 23:40-43).
I certainly do not want to sound callous toward the victims of alcohol-related crime. But before we endorse such virtual stone-throwing on Facebook, perhaps we should all hear the Master's call to soberly examine ourselves. Is there really not a better way to fight this cause?
Nathaniel Hawthorne's inimitable "The Scarlet Letter" teaches readers how the weight of public stigma is often lighter than the burden of unconfessed sin. Bearing the lurid mark and prejudicial abuse of the exposed adulteress may be more tolerable than thinking about one's own yet-undiscovered crimes and hidden, deeply shameful thoughts and desires. So there is one thing I find encouraging about this whole story. The more Dwyer and others of his persuasion succeed in exposing the shameful acts of others, the sooner we all come to realize how many of those faces belong to people just like us.