A few days ago, I went to Mass and the Gospel was about fraternal correction. Our priest focused on what Jesus said about those who did not accept the correction:”Treat them as you would a Gentile or tax collector.” The priest stressed that though these people were pretty much shunned in the society of that time and place, Jesus hung out with them all the time. So the message of the Lord was really to stay open-minded about these people, to not close the door on them. Be available, be hopeful, be kind-continue to seek them out.
That brought to my mind an old blog article I’d read, extolling the “wisdom” of Catholics reviving the lost practice of shunning.The reasoning was that, in these days of people openly living lifestyles contrary to church teaching, shunning is an obvious way to point out their sin (or as seems to be the popular vernacular now-their ‘error in judgment’). The post cited this scripture-“shake the dust from your sandals”-as the Biblical basis for shunning.
Well, the blog post was one thing, but the comments were quite another. I was surprised at how many people jumped in the discussion with enthusiasm for shunning. Most worded their comments carefully, and avoided sounding impossibly self-righteous. Yet, as I read these words, I felt some disappointment that so many saw a special authority/wisdom/grace in displaying disapproval.
The blog discussed the merits of completely ignoring others, kind of a cold turkey cutoff of all fellowship, friendship, sharing.Whatever evil the sinner was practicing, that took priority over any vestige of goodness that they might possess. It seems way too extreme to me. I think, as hard as it may be to do, people respond better to direct address. No, not reading them the riot act, or lecturing them, but asking questions tactfully, expressing concern, being engaged, having a conversation. I envision it as a very kind confrontation. Cold turkey cutoffs are a step backward, cruelty disguised as bad manners.
Interestingly, thinking about shunning in the extreme gave me an insight into a practice that is far more common. It’s kind of like a selective shunning. People choose to selectively ignore something, a relationship, a person, an event, a conversation, that is an integral part of another’s life. They cut conversations off, they look the other way, they change the subject. And these folks who do this are not cold-hearted or mean. Normally they are kind, open people; some even claim to be friends. But something has convinced them to pass judgment on another . So they deliberately ignore this item of another’s life – something that is meaningful to that other person. Their logic and best judgment is ‘it’s for his own good. Don’t give it any respect or attention, better to ignore it’. And they actually believe that they are being loving. This is where I really appreciate the Lord’s advice-to personally confront the person. He doesn’t play any stupid games. He’s not into manipulation. He does not calculate. He states that He is always in our midst when “two or more” are gathered . Who wouldn’t want Him there? He wants us to talk.
But that takes courage, to be forthright and honest yet gentle in your confrontation. And it involves a real risk as you speak your truth to your friend. You could be wrong. Your view may be skewed. You may receive enlightenment from your friend that embarrasses you. But you also could be right. And you may enlighten your friend . It is also possible that when all is said and done, you may lose that friend.
Selective shunning is the manipulative tool of choice these days,especially by amateur psychologists. I can see where it is ideal because it will wear some vulnerable people out, those unable to assert or explain themselves . I can also see where those using it delude themselves that they are being kind and Christ-like. But I can’t imagine the Lord ever refusing to have the conversation….