Justice and Public Shame

This story is not an isolated incident – judges in several states are using public shaming as part of the sentence.  Thieves are forced to carry a sign in front of a stores. Other convicted criminals carry signs with them wherever they go.  Others have to take out ads detailing their crimes.  A convicted murderer, in addition to serving time, was forced to carry a picture of the victim.

Some have called this excessive, others compare it to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘scarlet letter.’

Some, including the judges who hand down these sentences, defend this practice, saying it is a form of justice as well as a crime deterrent.  Is this biblical justice?  In the Old Testament law we do see public spitting as a form of public disgrace — usually for adultery, divorce, or not caring for a brother’s widow.   In some cases the offender was banned from the camp for a period of isolation.

Read this story and consider whether or not public shame is a just punishment for crime.

About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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6 Responses to Justice and Public Shame

  1. Zee says:

    I don’t disagree with the premise of public shaming for a crime, I just wonder if it can really be a deterent to crime. Clearly, well clearly for me, if someone has paid their debt to society (e.g., 6 months in jail and carry the sign for an additional 6 months), they should be allowed to live their lives free of any further ridicule. Also, the sign may be effective for first-time offenders but, for those who live a life of crime, I doubt that a sign would deter them at all. They would probably laugh at it and carry it as a badge of honor! We’ll see.

  2. Carol Childers says:

    I wonder why God put the mark (?) on Cain to protect him, again a question I have. My understanding is that this was to protect Cain from those who would know of his crime and perhaps kill him. Today we want to know if we live next door to someone who might be a threat to society. Shouldn’t we be concerned or should we just be trusting?
    ‘If one can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” Does not work for everyone, apparently.
    What if we ALL had to wear signs proclaiming to ALL the world our sins? Oh, boy!
    This is a toughie!

  3. Coale says:

    Could always bring back the stockade. It must have worked back in the day.

  4. Janice says:

    Reminds me of the Scarlet Letter. IMy opinion is that ridicule does not solve problems. We are all sinners and I sure don’t want to carry a sign to advertise mine, nor do I want to judge others. I am glad; however, that child abusers can be tracked in neighborhoods.

  5. Birdie Cutair says:

    How does this help anyone? How does this spread the Gospel? I don’t think ridicule and shame are helpful at all.

  6. Ann Denbow Simmons says:

    I write this message in regards to my area of concentration for the past 26 years plus.
    It has been my experience that ridicule and shame do not truly affect an individual who is committed to murder, rape etc. In fact by walking around with the picture of the individual they have killed they would probably perceive is an advertisement of their strength and capabilities. It often adds to their need to inflict fear and power. It is difficult to put logic into the thinking of a criminal and/or terrorist reasoning for they see life and the meaning of life different than you and I. I have also found in my work and research that many criminals etc. see Christians as weak and easy targets.
    I quote from Leo Roskin
    “It is the weak who are cruel! Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.”

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