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The Upside of Shame

As national director of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Asian American ministries, Joe Ho knows how honor and shame shape evangelism, fundraising, and family relationships. Ho, a Chinese American who grew up in Cincinnati, recently spoke with Andy Crouch about how honor–shame dynamics could shape ministry in the West.

What have you learned from ministry among Asian Americans about honor and shame?

It’s important to pay attention to the positive side of honor and shame. Honor is a kind of currency, strongly correlated with community and relationship. Majority-culture people don’t always pay close attention to that currency. In majority culture, much of life is guided by rules, and the rules describe reality. But there are times when you have to bend the rules in order to give honor to the right people.

For example, when a leader retires in majority culture, they are often expected to leave the organization and get out of the way. That’s the rule. But cultures that value honor often find ways to keep recognizing the departing leader—creating positions like “pastor emeritus.” It’s more important to keep honor intact than to follow a strict procedure of succession.

When considerations of honor bump up against rules, that doesn’t mean you automatically jettison a rule. But it’s good to take a second look. E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien’s book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, is helpful. They observe that in one sort of culture, the authority is the one who makes the rules; in another sort, the authority is the one who makes exceptions to the rules.

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March 2015

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