Thou shalt be JOYFUL, dammit!
Theme: Identity, Image, and Impressions
Author’s Note: Joy Shaming was originally published at Lexet Iustitia on (2020-1-24). This revised version with images added is coauthored with Jack.
Length: 1,350 words
Reading Time: 4.5 minutes
Psalm 126:5 (NKJV)
Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy.
Joy and Sorrow
Joy is a product of salvation (Psalm 35:9) and contentment (Psalm 63:5). Romans 15:13 associates joy and peace with trust in the lord (sometimes translated as faith or hope). Joy comes when justice is served (Psalm 67:4) and mercy is granted (Psalm 106:1). Galatians 5:22 sets joy in a list of fruits of the spirit that contrast with the deeds of the flesh.
There is a common assumption that the “appropriateness” of one’s joy within a specific social setting directly corresponds to one’s confidence and social efficacy, and to a large extent, this is true.
However, it is a mistake to judge one’s salvation, contentment, and trust in God by the intensity or frequency of one’s joy. The saints in scripture were joyful at times, but also full of sorrow and suffering in others. Think of Job, the Psalms, or the origination of “the man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3).
You will not find “sorrow” or “pain” among the list of deeds of the flesh. Those who pursue the desires of the flesh don’t do so for the sorrowful ħә11 of it, but rather to avoid the same. There are immediate motivations for sin and disobedience that carry rewards that are quite pleasant and satisfying. Sometimes even redemptive!
In essence, Joy Shaming is when someone takes issue with the fact that another person has a different expression or intensity of joy than their own, and subjects that person to shame for this reason.
Joy Shaming comes in two varieties, positive and negative.
- Negative — Mocking and teasing a person for being enthusiastic, open hearted, and overjoyed, as though the person is a naive imbecile or has gone mad.
- Positive — Objectifying, ostracizing, and/or rejecting a person for not being as upbeat and enthusiastic as they would like to see.
Taken to the extreme, it can break down trust and goodwill between parties.
Joy Shaming — Negative Type 1
Type 1 is most often seen in the world, when cynical, jaded people taunt or tease those who are more expressive of their emotions, especially those who are idealistic, inexperienced, or pure of heart.
To offer some examples…
- When upper classmen haze their juniors.
- When seasoned coworkers play practical jokes on new employees.
- Those who have bad habits single out those without bad habits, making them out to be arrogant, “goody-two-shoes”, or “too good for us”, when in fact, they are more healthy.
- When promiscuous women joy shame chaste women in an effort to pull them down to their level, instead of chaste women shaming those who are promiscuous.
Of note, Type 1 is the social tool most often used to pressure others to join in on the race to the bottom.
Joy Shaming — Positive Type 2
Type 2 is often seen within, but certainly not limited to, evangelical circles.
- When Christian laymen who lack joy are questioned and treated cooly.
- When pastors and elders who lack joy are faced with criticism of their ministries.
- When bible teachers, elders, or pastors demand joy from certain people in the congregation.
- When specific individuals are avoided or shunned simply because they are uncomfortably honest and serious.
I have even seen people going so far as to deny the title “Christian” or “brother” to those they deem to lack joy.
The remainder of this essay will focus on Type 2 Positive Joy Shaming within the church.
Reasons for Joy Shaming
There are several reasons “teachers” employ the joy-card, but the basic running theme is that they refuse to engage with someone on a personal level.
- Arrogance: Teachers won’t acknowledge a point or question brought up as being legitimate. “You are just angry / bitter / mad / etc. and lack joy. End of discussion.”
- Deflection: It deflects the inquisition, changes the subject, and redirects focus so now they ask the questions. “Having another bad day, eh? Let’s try not to bring everyone down for once.”
- Manipulation: It causes those who have questions or criticisms to doubt themselves, and/or makes them afraid of speaking up. “If you were a true believer / more mature in your faith / etc., then you might see things differently.”
- Shame: It is a shaming tactic in order to appear morally and spiritually superior. “I’d hate to be you.”
It should be obvious that “joy” in this context is being misused, or rather abused.
Such tactics are often employed on social media, where a false authority faces an information imbalance – a person knows more about them than the teacher knows about the random person. The teacher then coopts this criticism (any criticism) from a random person to make themselves out to be a victim. That is, the random person is made out to be spiritually wrong or weak by criticizing his moral superior.
Their false demand for an ambiguously defined joy is, in essence, a demand for people to not ask questions or levy any complaints their way. Taken to its logical conclusion, however, demands for joy are essentially a demand for conformity / “works” in order to achieve acceptance, righteousness, and salvation.
Joy Shaming is Intellectual Dishonesty
Wherever there is criticism, there is often the question of whether it is justified. An honest person who is troubled by unfair criticism would acknowledge the criticism and address how the criticism creates division, enmity, etc. But the fact that these teachers resort to accusations of joylessness is interesting. By deflecting and shifting the matter to a person’s alleged lack of joy, the criticism is never acknowledged. That deflection is an expression of arrogance — a trait any “teacher” or “elder” should NOT have. (Read Training Pastors and Elders in the Church.)
Joy Shaming is Spiritual Abuse
If a joy shaming tactic is ever used against you by a person claiming to be a church authority, you have encountered a spiritually abusive person. Spiritual abuse is a topic assiduously avoided in church circles, but I’ll suffice it to say that it is a fruit of an evil spirit. I encourage all to read The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen.
I have yet to see a person employ this tactic (pulling the joy-card) who isn’t later revealed to be a false teacher. Red flags should be present whenever a “reformed” person pulls the joy card.
There is a significant difference between Joy and comfort/Peace. Expressing joy is a fruit of the spirit and an expression of contentment and peace. However, Joy can very well be experienced by those who aren’t saved. Those who are saved typically have few moments of happiness in their life. Persecution… *cough*.
It is theologically problematic to associate any criticism of a “teacher” or ministry with joylessness, just as it would be problematic to associate all criticism with several deeds of the flesh. It is especially problematic when the ministry or teacher regularly engages in criticism of others themselves (such as feminism).
Spiritually abusive types tend to focus on the feeelz goods, and avoid criticism and honest discussion entirely. They thrive on ambiguity and habitually toss up word salads. If you see “teachers” exhibiting intellectual or spiritual fragility online, stay away from them.
In dealing with those who truly lack joy, instead of questioning the authenticity of their faith, we should be praying for that person to receive the joy of salvation (Psalm 51:12).
Don’t get caught up in the fear-inducing demands for works, including the emotion work of expressing joy, and extra-biblical mantras such as “Christian hedonism,” etc. If a person chooses to express an inauthentic joy requiring emotion work, then it should be done in faith for the inspiration of others. Authentic joy cannot be demanded of others, and if it is, then this can be abusive.