|Graphic from honorshame.com|
God’s view of honor and shame is not limited to specific verses, but pervades the entire narrative of scripture. God has been working throughout human history to redeem people from shame to honor, so that He may be glorified as the source of honor. The Bible portrays God as the greatest advocate of our shame-removal and honor-restoration.
The Bible does not disregard honor-shame cultures as morally inferior or undesirable. Christians should not dismiss sentiments of honor and shame in cultures, but work to redefine what is honorable and shameful according to God’s code of honor. This is possible because Christ’s death saves us from our shame.
Explanation of the 5 Regions of Honor-Shame
- Western shame tends to be more private and personal. It is an internal, psychological emotion. Shame is not so much community scorn (though social media is bringing this aspect out more), but low self-esteem.
- Latin notions of honor, at least for men, often depend upon being macho. Honor-shame are uniquely linked to race and economic class in South America. The countries of southern Europe are Latin-based, so share some similarities.
- Islamic culture highly esteems the Koran, Mohammed, the ummah (community), and even the Arabic language, as symbolic representations of honor. Muslims feel personally disrespected if any of these are disgraced. Middle Eastern cultures tend to compete aggressively for honor, so can feel justified using violence to defend their honor (ex: honor killings, terrorism).
- African cultures give a high value to ancestry and have a strong community orientation. Properly honoring the living dead is a crucial part of African religion and culture.
- Asian cultures, have the notion of “face” being paramount. One can lose, keep, save, and gain “face.” People’s response to shameful situations tends to be more passive, because shaming someone else brings shame upon oneself, hence the extreme politeness.
They are societies that use the moral values of honor and shame to regulate behavior. People’s primary response to sin is shame and disgrace - not guilt. The primary motivation in social situations is avoiding disgrace and maintaining harmonious relationships. Life is viewed through the prism of acquiring honor for the community.
Honor-shame cultures value hospitality, family, respect, community, generosity, purity, loyalty, and patronage. Honor and shame are present in all cultures, but especially the cultures of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
Why is it valuable to understand honor-shame?
About 90% of unreached people groups and 65% of the world’s population lives in honor-shame contexts. Despite the global prominence of honor and shame, Christian workers are often unsure how to fruitfully and biblically engage those cultural dynamics. Despite its primary importance in global cultures, honor and shame remain blind spots in Western Christian theology and ministry. Awareness of how God removes our shame and restores our honor in the Bible greatly impacts Christian ministry.
[Above paragraphs taken from - http://honorshame.com/types-honor-shame-cultures/]
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[The following are excerpts from Martin Munyao's article concerning Kenya's profile in this approach to the differing key values in the world]
What does honor and shame look like in Kenya?
People seek their family’s honor and seek to avoid shame. In case of a shameful act one risks being rejected from the community. When one receives honor, the entire community is honored. The elderly are respected people. Justice is not pursued through punishing the lawbreaker, but by purging/excommunicating the offender to deal with shame. Life’s purpose is to harness relationships with members of one’s community. Patron-client relationship is the currency with which transactions are done to gain favors as well as give honor in exchange of favors.
- “Better hunger than disgrace.”
- “Old people’s speech is not to be dishonored — after all, they saw the sun first.”
- “The key that unlocks is also the key that locks. Honor a child, and he will honor you.”
Swahili terms for honor and shame
- Mheshimiwa means honorable or the honorable one.
- Jina is one’s name. Names are used to communicate honorable status.
- Nifunike uchi means “cover my nakedness.” For example, children are raised to conduct themselves in a manner to cover their parent’s nakedness or shame.
Some years ago when I worked as a local church pastor in Kenya, we hosted a delegation from United States. Our conversation led to a potential partnership between us and our guests’ organization. While our friends from America insisted on us signing a partnership agreement, we maintained that our relationship should be based on mutual respect and trust. None of the parties were willing to embrace the other’s opinion on the matter and eventually we had no deal.
Our guests concluded we were dishonest and the Kenyan hosts concluded that our brothers from the US were self-imposing and acting superior. Western cultures prefer a written document or contract to establish partnerships. On the other hand, African cultures trust a person's word. His honor or dishonor depends on whether or not he keeps his word.
How honor-shame has impacted my ministry
In my ministry in Kenya, I found a fitting link between the pivotal values of the ancient Mediterranean cultures and the pivotal African values of honor-shame. The honor-shame passages in the Bible speak to the worldview of the Kenyan people. I mostly preach sermons from the gospels since they are full of honor-shame stories.
For example, Jesus’ healing and feeding miracles, public teachings, beatitudes, parables, and his interactions with sinners and Pharisees penetrate the heart of Kenyans more than any other parts of the Scripture. During my early ministry days I could not understand why my congregation didn't understand the gospel with an emphasis on forgiveness of sins. I learned about honor-shame, and started to explain sin as shame, and salvation as being honored by God.
Advice for newcomers to Kenya: 3 aspects that are important to understand
SIN - Do not to be surprised by the lack of any sense of guilt for sin. Even though sin is shameful, it doesn’t hurt as deeply as the shame that is caused by that particular sin.
COMMUNICATION - What you see at the surface level will most likely be very cosmetic. During conversation with people, what appears to be agreement might actually be disagreement. For example, a student may agree with the lecturer even when he disagrees. Quite often, meaning is hidden in what is not being said. This is because Kenyan cultures tend to be more indirect (as opposed to the directness of Western cultures). Disagreement with a visitor is considered rude.
HOSPITALITY - Kenyan cultures are extremely hospitable. Refusing to be served a meal can potentially ruin a good friendship. Accept what you are given, even if you don’t need it. Accepting a gift confers honor and acceptance to the giver.
Author's score for Kenya (www.TheCultureTest.com)
80% shame // 16% fear // 4% guilt
Martin Munyao (Th.M., Daystar Academy of Nairobi), is a former pastor and theology teacher in Kenya. Currently earning his Ph.D. at Concordia Theological Seminary.
Much of the above text is an edited version form his article: