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Damage of ‘toxic’ shame on society and communities of faith discussed at conference

06 November 2020

Nigel Roberts

The first event for the Transforming Shame Network was held online on 14 October

The first event for the Transforming Shame Network was held online on 14 October

A CONFERENCE has explored the effect of shame on society as well as on communities of faith, and was described as being about “healing and liberation” and enabling people to understand their own worth.

So said one of its organisers, Andrea Campanale, a mission partner with the Church Mission Society and a pioneer lay minister in the diocese of Southwark. She is a founder member of the Transforming Shame Network, which organised the conference, “The Gospel, Redemption and Shame”, held online last month.

“Many of us identified this issue through mission and trying to bring healing and liberation to those outside of the Church who are struggling to believe they are unconditionally loved and accepted.

“We encounter a growing number of people who believe they are not good enough to come before a holy God and be part of a faith community of successful and righteous people as they perceive them to be. Many of us are pioneers working on the margins and believe Jesus came to save the shamed, as well as the proud and powerful.”

Papers were given on racism and shame, by the director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture, Professor Anthony Reddie, and on the shame experienced by LGBT communities, from Jayne Ozanne, a member of the General Synod and of the Government’s LGBT Advisory Panel. The poet and artist Harry Baker read his new poem, “Unashamed”.

Professor Reddie said that shame was “toxic” and that the legacy of slavery had led to pressure on those from black Christian communities to embrace “respectability politics”. “Turning up in a black skin already makes you problematic; so one of the ways people respond to that is by being hyper-vigilant around how you police boundaries of who is acceptable and who isn’t. Anyone who is seen as ‘deviant’, especially in terms of sexuality, is seen as wrong.”

Ms Ozanne described the topic of shame and sexuality as “the perfect storm”, owing to the Church’s continuing to view gay people or trans-identifying people as being “the circle that can’t be squared”. “There is too much fear in how people understand God,” she said.

Ms Campanale said that the take-up for the conference showed a desire to hear new perspectives on the subject.

“I think, primarily, what we achieved was to draw attention to this issue, and, because we sold out the event with a fortnight to go, demonstrated how key this is for many Christians as the Church moves forward. This is not just about the pastoral issues raised by reports into abuse, although this is incredibly important. It is also how we present the gospel as good news in a society that no longer has a biblical understanding of sin,” she said.

The network plans to post videos from the conference online. It was set up 18 months ago by an assistant curate in the King’s Norton Team Ministry, in Birmingham, the Revd Catherine Matlock. It seeks to bring together clergy, laity, and academics on the topic of shame, and works towards changed understanding of shame, particularly in church settings. The network held meetings at the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, before moving online.


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