Hooked by my relatives: Honor and Shame

After leaving the fundamentalist sect I was raised in years agofishing, I find that members of the sect, especially relatives, engage me in conversations about church that still hook me: somehow I am in a conversation or email exchange that I want out of, but I can’t leave, because my relative has gotten the last jab. I need to get the last jab in before I can leave the conversation.

What are my needs?  I need respect (from my relatives). I need to be heard (by my relatives). If I walk away in the middle of an argument about my faith, I lose respect, and my hard work on my faith has not been acknowledged. Yet I’ve been here before, many times. I already know I will not be heard, get respect or acknowledgement from this relative. But he has hooked me and is reeling me in. So how do I get off this hook?

I know the answer, it’s just not the answer I want. I have to ask myself, “If I weren’t hooked, what would I do?” The answer is usually, “Walk away. Drop the conversation in the middle, with my relative getting the last jab.”

This is the same advice given to people who have to live with people who have severe personality disorders or severe mental illness: When the person puts you in a no-win situation, do what you would do if you were not in the no-win situation. It’s a freeing perspective.

The reason it is so easy for my relatives to hook me is because I was raised by Shame. I don’t want to be unfair here, there were many good things about my childhood. But frequently I was scolded or ridiculed for having normal childhood needs: attention, comfort, acknowledgement, autonomy and information. This is standard child rearing in fundamentalist, alcoholic, military and mafia homes. Jesus never ridicules us for our normal needs.

RobRoySwordFightWhenever the Pharisees or Sadducees approached Jesus with a question they were challenging his honor, because they saw Jesus as a challenge to their honor. Honor, in this context, is the flip side of shame.

My relatives approach me to shame me, because I have challenged their honor. Shame is the most painful emotion to me, so I respond by defending my honor. Thus I am hooked. I cannot unhook myself until I accept that I am not going to defend my honor. I have to walk away from the conversation allowing them to shame me one more time, or I will never be able to walk away. Those are my choices: stay in the conversation defending my honor, but constantly being shamed, or walk away in shame.

Jesus honors us. Paul points out that while we were sinners Christ died for us. That he exchanged his seat of honor as the Son of God for the shame of the cross, so that we would not suffer condemnation, but be honored as sons of God. Jesus gives us His honor.

Whenever I am in a shaming conversation about religion, I can rest assured it is not a Christian conversation.


About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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5 Responses to Hooked by my relatives: Honor and Shame

  1. garycummings says:

    Good points, Mark. I will expose the errors and hypocrisy of the Churches of Christ, but I refuse to debate their practitioners.

  2. SteveA says:

    Great post. I wish I’d learned this many years ago, it would have been a help. Nowadays, it seems to me that the old Church of Christ that you describe in this blog is fading away. Perhaps its holding on here and there. I’ve visited thirteen churches, about half of them CofC, since moving to the Memphis area a year ago. The conservative CofC’s, for the most part, have an excess of older folks. The CofC’s with vitality and optimism and joy tend to be moving more toward a generic evangelicalism. I now realize that for most of my life, I’ve bought into the rationalism of our heritage and have had a hard time getting over the fact that when “discussing” religion and politics, it is not the facts that convince people to one’s view. It has to do as you state with honor and shame. It has to do with identity. To question one’s beliefs is to question who they are. Facts don’t matter. They can always be creatively interpreted and dispensed with. I found this article at Vox to be interesting. It apparently has been shown that providing a cold hard inexorable fact that contradicts such a person’s belief makes them dig in even harder. The article contains some tips that may allow for making progress with them:


  3. Richard says:

    Good luck Mark. I’m a third generation PK with other relatives preaching from my dad to his grandchildren. Just remember, our love for Jesus has to be greater than our love for family. Focus your faith in Him and abiding in His words of life – that’s the best any of us can do anyway! Don’t let their delusions prevent you from knowing and doing the truth. We can only love others as they will allow us to have our peace towards them returned to us. There have been times I’ve had to walk away a few years, but time helps – maybe they’ll learn in the meantime?

    Maybe my journey will encourage you or give you some ideas to use?


  4. bryan says:

    I got into a discussion with a CoCer the other day on FB (I’m an ex-CoCer myself). This guy had to get the last word in. I finally just quit. There’s one thing about CoCers – if you disagree with them on any point at all (not matter how small), they take it as a question of salvation. They can’t accept it that you have a different take on something. And they never, ever consider that they might actually be wrong. On the other hand, most of the rest of us in the world really don’t care if someone disagrees with our position on end-times or whatever (for that matter, most other Christians don’t discuss doctrine so much, and definitely don’t argue or debate it). But many CoCers seem to take it as some kind of personal attack if you try to point something out to them. It’s pretty much a waste of one’s time.

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