Churches may be emphasizing the wrong selling point of the gospel, suggests LifeWay.
Many Americans are more worried about their reputation than their conscience.
They worry less about guilt and fear and more about avoiding shame, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
Shame has become particularly powerful in American culture in the internet age, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. A single mistake or embarrassing moment posted on social media can ruin a person’s life.
“What’s our biggest cultural fear? Shame,” he said. “What’s surprising is not that personal freedom, ambition, and doing the right thing are valued by Americans. It’s that risk to our reputation is what matters most.”
Shaming has been a part of American life since the days of The Scarlet Letter. Set among the Puritans, the novel tells the story of Hester Prynne, a young mother forced to wear a scarlet “A” after committing adultery, considered a crime at the time. But Americans gave up on public shaming of criminals in the 1830s, according to journalist Jon Ronson, author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
Since then, Americans have been more concerned about issues like guilt over wrongdoing, said McConnell. That’s shaped how churches have presented their faith to the public, he said.
LifeWay Research wanted to know if guilt is still a major issue for Americans. That might affect how Christians talk about their faith, said McConnell, since Christianity also addresses needs such as shame and fear.
“We wanted to know: Are churches addressing the issues Americans care about most?”
Researchers asked 1,000 Americans three questions to discover their feelings about fear, shame, guilt, and other issues.
- Which of these feelings do you seek to avoid the most?