Vol. 3 - Do Not Be Ashamed

by Josh Skaggs

Last week I was on my couch watching YouTube when the Verdict found me again. The comedian, a young woman, opens her standup routine by saying how terrible it is to be a straight woman in 2019. In her words, to love men is like going to a restaurant that keeps giving you food poisoning. “Turns out, boys, you’re no good. You’re no good.”

Cue uproarious laughter. It’s common knowledge that men are terrible. You can read the Verdict in a friend’s Instagram story or hear it from your college professor. You can find it on the news and in your favorite comedy. (If you haven’t noticed the upward trend in vitriol toward men — you lucky guy — watch any SNL episode from the past couple years.)

The Verdict is: It’s time to give up on men. We’ve had our chance at power, and now it’s time for someone else to have a turn. Men are no good.

The past few years have given us little reason to think otherwise. We’re living in the era of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, of abusive Olympic doctors and deviant Catholic priests. Last year I followed the news about men until I couldn’t anymore. Men have done terrible things. Reading the news, I felt a cry for justice rising up in me, alongside a deep sadness that any court ruling would be too late and insufficient to repair the wrongs that have been done.

As trials are settled and various men are ruled guilty or innocent, I am aware that another important deliberation has left the courtroom. Men — no longer individuals but all of us — are on trial. And things don’t look good.

When is the last time you heard someone affirm men? Not statements about how much money men make or the advantages we have in Hollywood. When have you heard men affirmed — as a state of being? Men are good. Men contribute to our society. Men are essential to the future of our nation.

The growing consensus in our culture is that men are bad. Enough men have been exposed as monsters that we must be wary of all men. If we were to defend ourselves, the Verdict would oppose us: After all the wrong that men have done, do you think you have any right to state your case?

Wendell Berry, my favorite poet, writes about the experience of accusation. He describes a nighttime scene: You are walking peacefully in your backyard, when suddenly a spotlight shines upon you, and your guilt overtakes you. 

Though you have done nothing shameful / they will want you to be ashamed.

He describes the horror that befalls you if you succumb to this accusation.

Then such light as you have made

In your history will leave you.

They will no longer need to pursue you.

You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,

And they will not forgive you.

If we submit to the Verdict, we lose our light. Look around and see it happening in real time among your friends and family.

Most of us are becoming passive. We avoid risk and back down from conflict. Disempowered in our relationships, we fight virtual battles and take solace in video game wins. Unable to trust the value of our identities and callings, we tally sports stats and follow other men’s successes and failures. Like Winston Churchill, we still get pumped up by the man “in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.” But we find ourselves on the wrong side of the equation; we are the critic, “the man who points out how the strong man stumbles.”

Meanwhile, frustration simmers just beneath the surface. Seemingly calm men explode in fits of road rage or kitchen screaming matches. Scroll through YouTube comments for 60 seconds (or, if you value your peace of mind, don’t) and find men who are making their voices heard in the only way they know how. Scattered across the internet you’ll also find INCELs, “involuntary celibates,” who respond to perceived rejection with threats of violence and hate speech against women.

As the most extreme example, consider the baffling fact that thousands of men from the western world were recruited by ISIS in the past several years. Recruiters spoke to their identity, wooing them with promises of belonging and a higher calling. They responded in droves.

The Verdict has reached us, and it demands a response. Fight or flight. We either double-down on our power, or we fade into passivity. If we choose the former, we reinforce the Verdict by reacting to it as a threat. We cling to what’s ours, downplaying victims’ voices and sounding an obnoxious rallying cry for our rights. If we choose the latter, we sink down and float life’s lazy river on our backs. Either way, we end up hating ourselves.

Wendell Berry offers another option:

When their light has picked you out

And their questions are asked, say to them:

“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon

will come around you. The heron will rise

in his evening flight from the hilltop.

There’s a reason so few of us choose this third path. Secretly, most of us fear that the Verdict is true. We aren’t good. We have ample reason to be ashamed. Whether in secret or in public, each of us has aligned with evil. Each of us has betrayed our identity and used our power for our own gain. If we say, “I am not ashamed,” we say it in a whisper, for fear of being exposed. We cannot make too big a deal of our shamelessness because the devil has dirt on us.

This is when we must align with the Gospel. All of us have fallen short. There is none righteous, not even one. Jesus carries our Verdict into the grave and raises us up with him in new life. It is only when we remember our identity in Christ that we are able to say, “I am not ashamed.”

This declaration has vast implications for men and women. To be clear: Women are not our accusers. The devil — literally, “the slanderer” — is. Our enemy will do anything to steal, kill and destroy us. He will even co-opt women to his strategy, exploiting their victimhood to reinforce his narrative.

But we are not unaware of his schemes. We see through the lie that life is a zero-sum game in which men and women contend for a narrow platform. Men don’t need to be silenced so that women can have a voice. And women don’t need to be suppressed so that men can hold on to power.

The Verdict has hurt men and women alike, and we as men can help repair the damage by standing in the fullness of our identities. Women need men to be strong and alive. The fatherless need a father. The powerless need men who use their power for good.

In Jesus we see the way forward. He understands power dynamics better than we do. When he is accused before Pilate, the man who will decide his fate, Jesus is able to stand without defending himself or kowtowing to lies. He understands reality: “You would have no authority over me unless it was given to you from above.” Jesus rejects the narrative of accused and accuser. Instead, he lays down his life so that he can take it back up again. He lets go of his reputation so that he can embrace his identity.

When I look at where our culture is heading, I am concerned that men will fall under greater shame and accusation. But that doesn’t have to be our story. Jesus was accused, despised and rejected, yet he knew his identity and leveraged his power to bring a new kingdom to earth.

In Christ we can do the same. We can be fathers, brothers, husbands, friends. We can bless women to rise. We can advocate for justice. We can be good men. Under accusation, a verdict that says that we have already been ruled guilty, we can stand and say, “I am not ashamed.”

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