Social movements have been intriguing to me ever since I became a part of one. The evolution from shame to pride is fascinating – we see it in race, in sexuality, in gender, currently in issues like abortion and adoption.
It seems to me that human nature can’t resist extremes: minorities or outcasts are made to feel subhuman, excessively demonized.
They’re taken advantage of and fall victim to abuse, murder, suicide.
Somewhere along the way, there is a turning point. Maybe enough anger or enough fear or enough exposure to those of their community that they begin to stand up and rally for support.
Shame turns to anger for being made to feel ashamed.
As what was once private becomes public, anger turns to pride, the identity is rooted in the cause, in the community.
Pride, pleasure, celebration all abandon anything that sounds remotely similar to the accusations that used to shame them. They can’t admit any good in the opposite position because it’s too closely linked with the abuse, and it feels like justification to give approval to anything that comes from their mouths. You can likely think of several movements that fit the pattern.
I’m thinking of the evolution of adoption and the current birthmom pride, since that’s relevant to me.
The truth is, the first cause and the end result are both misguided.
To abuse, hate, oppress, or take advantage of someone because of prejudice, because of difference, or even because of sin is wrong, ineffective, equally sinful, and probably always backfires.
Birthmoms (if you can call the earliest mothers who were forced into adoption something so quaint as “birthmom”) were manipulated, shamed for their pregnancies, lied to, condemned to hell, mistreated, abused, and discarded.
Today birthmoms are hailed as heroes, elevated above moms who choose to keep their children, the adoptees viewed as gifts, adoption referred to as destiny, adoptive parents as saints, those who were once shamed and quieted are now filled with pride and celebrate their choice.
To me, the latter lacks sense. It’s yet another example of the pendulum swung too far in retaliation.
The truth is that adoption is not ideal, it should be a last resort, it is trauma and will forever effect the adoptee and parents and grandparents and future children. The truth is that adoption often involves selfishness and sin and mistakes. That birthmoms are not any stronger or more worthy of praise than any other kind of mother. That adoptive parents are not better than other parents or people. That there can be self-interest as motivators on both sides.
The truth nearly always lies in the middle ground. There is always fault on every side, and when neither can see or admit it, there is polarization, irrational thinking, a loss of real dialogue and real progress…kind of like politics.
But we can’t see that because when it comes to issues that are rooted in deep emotions like shame, it’s nearly impossible to divorce your identity from them. In order to have peace and confidence in ourselves, we cling to the all-good versions of the story. We can’t reconcile that there is good and bad.
I couldn’t live with the thought that people were right, that I was selfish-even just a little bit- that I had put my wants above my child’s needs (regardless of whether there were good reasons for the choice as well), that I was immature rather than wise. How easy it was for me to soak up the glory and showers of affection and praise instead. How much better to believe that I was exceptional rather than mediocre. How much easier to adopt an air of flippancy and confidence than listen to the objections of others or admit that I cared what people thought.
Two things are working to change that pride. The first was a change in identity. The second was open-minded education; listening to other perspectives and stories, especially ones I didn’t agree with.
Most importantly though, what kept me from simply switching to the other team and becoming proud in that instead, was the first one: finding an identity in someone other than myself. In Christ. What kept me from needing to believe in my ultimate goodness was seeing my absolute brokenness that went far beyond a few decisions several years ago. Seeing the glory and mission and story of God which far surpassed my own. Becoming a Christian hasn’t dissuaded me from being an advocate where I see necessary-in fact, it has empowered me to be an advocate-but it has allowed me to see things without bias, without fear. Sin and failure and condemnation by others doesn’t plunge me into shame and depression because I have confidence and an advocate in Christ. Because I have forgiveness and a greater purpose. And it doesn’t shove me into delusions of grandeur or retaliation or arrogance and pride either, because I know my sinfulness that requires a Savior. Because I know there is something and someone greater than me, and that everything and everyone hangs in his hands.
Similarly, my identity in Christ and my realization of my sinfulness keeps me from putting too great a burden on others. On the outcasts. People who have found solace and much-needed comfort from communities, people who are somewhere in that journey we so often see in pride movements, need to see love and compassion and real, agenda-free, God-glorifying friendship. The gospel is good news. The burden of justification and acceptance and community doesn’t belong on our shoulders, but on Christ’s.
Have we communicated that to those who have been damaged by the other extreme side of the pendulum?