I was talking about the differences between American Caucasians and the Chinese with a fine Chinese-American brother. We discussed how the American culture has guilt as a critical part of personal identity: ones view of self is determined by meeting a self-approved standard. In Chinese culture shame is a critical part of identity however it goes beyond the self to include the larger circles of relationships. "Shame is far worse than guilt," he observed. I believe he is right.
The Caucasian thinks instinctively, "I have failed to meet my own standard, and I am guilty in this specific area within myself." Quite differently the Chinese thinks instinctively, "I have failed others as a person." It is one thing to fail oneself; it is much different to suffer shame with a crowd.
"At its strongest is the feeling of having a hei dien (stain) on one's face, such that anyone who sees one will immediately know of one's shame and condemn one" (Olwen Bedford & Kwang-Kuo Hwang, "Guilt and Shame in Chinese Culture, Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 33:2, page 137)
When a Caucasian becomes a Christian, he or she will instinctively carry over those guilt-based assumptions and project them on God or assume that God views his personal guilt the same way. The practice is naïve and unbiblical, but pervasive among Caucasian Christians. Ironically the Caucasians who become believers often say they believe in justification by faith. In actual fact they are often tormented by far more personal guilt after becoming believers than when they were not Christians. While having a theoretical knowledge of justification by faith, they also have an emotional and instinctive burden of unaddressed guilt.
When a Chinese national or Chinese American becomes a believer, she or he will instinctively carry over the shame/honor system into their Christianity. And normally because of the sense of debt that comes with Chinese Christianity so also a sense of shame and unacceptability comes too. In fact, I sometimes have the impression that the "Chinese Christian Cultural" expectation is that a Christian should be ashamed and that shame should be a powerful motivator to change. The problem is: complete change never comes nor shame ever seems to take the hint and leave.
We addressed these issues in Seattle at a family conference for a Chinese Church. As a result, one of the church leaders sent me a sermon he gave. He related how he was profoundly influenced by what we taught at the conference and by reading our books. In the sermon he used, and changed, the classic illustration of the old time train with the engine representing "facts", the coal car representing "faith" and the caboose representing "feelings". He said in Chinese Christian culture the "facts" really are Christian duties. When that is so, shame results. Since no one can perform well all the time, shame sets in or grows.
He said Becoming What God Intended showed him a new engine.
"God's overpowering love and acceptance is my new engine. God led me to have a more secure and loving relationship with Him. My emotions are more positive now," was what Fred L. said. He then illustrated the place of Christian works by placing them at the end of the train, but at the front, he placed "God's Love and Acceptance." He also realized his sense of shame diminished: "I notice I am more transparent and vulnerable to share my struggle."
As believers, either Chinese or Caucasian cast aside their cultural instincts that naturally happens. They find the virtue of transparency because they feel loved by God the Father. Acceptance means you are loved as you are. Through Christ God the Father has established a way of fully loving and delighting in us. As we accept His acceptance, it liberates us from shame and guilt.
Fred L.'s commentary on the train illustration was:
"For the train illustration, I also added a fourth cart....For the fact cart on love and acceptance, it is also based on what you said in the book Knowing the Heart of the Father, page 100...'Without a sense of being loved and liked by the Father, growth in spirituality is impossible.' A strong statement, but I wholeheartedly buy it now."
The Trinity has strongly and convincingly addressed the issue of shame. For example, Christ is not ashamed of us so we should not be!
10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to complete the originator of their salvation through sufferings.
11 For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, (Hebrews 2:10-11)
Nor is the fruit of the Spirit shame, guilt, and worthlessness. Justification by faith means that we are accepted by the Father the way Christ is accepted by the Father. Christ has no shame or guilt. So in the Father's eyes there is none with us because we are clothed in Christ, we are immersed into Him.
So both the Caucasian Christian and the Chinese Christian both have to repent of their cultural instincts of guilt and shame respectively and embrace the Father's delight in them!