I’m sad to say that if there’s one thing that Christianity in general is notorious for in this time – and probably throughout most of Church history – it’s its Judgmentalism. The attitude that feels that a person or organisation has some sort of right to judge someone else.
Many people in the world make value judgments about other people on a daily basis, sometimes even hourly, and they do so verbally, mentally, in gossip and rumour, backbiting and slander, as partially described in Gal 5:19-21 as being fruits of the flesh. And it seems that, instead of being different from all that worldly behaviour, many Christians not only judge others just as harshly as do the world, but they do so with a sickening self-righteousness that comes from a perceived divine mandate to judge others.
Jesus said that people would know us by our love for one another, and I strongly agree that this does indeed happen, where Jesus is allowed to express Himself through the hearts of people who listen to His voice (Jn 10:4). It’s awesome to see. But sadly, it is also painfully true that Christianity makes more noise by judging others than they do about loving others. Granted, they will claim that they are exercising ‘tough love’; ‘pointing out people’s sin’ in order to ‘save’ them, and that by this they are being ‘loving’*. But nobody likes people pointing the finger of judgment at them, and that’s certainly not the way to ‘win converts’. This is not Good News; all it is is bad news that Christianity has sunk so far.
Jesus said many times not to judge others. In response to this, though, Religious hardliners will both twist Scriptures that say it’s not good to judge others so that those passages support their judgmentalism, and will also point out other places where Jesus purportedly said about it being ‘allowed’ to judge others. But given the context of such passages, and given the larger overarching context of the nature of Jesus and the Father Whom He perfectly portrayed, those passages must be read with the Good News in mind rather than the Bad. So, rather than saying ‘It’s ok to judge others’, we should instead not judge others at all, and, instead look at those other passages in their correct contexts and not simply accept them as ‘plain reading’ excuses/proof-texts to allow us to judge others. My position on judging others has always been clear: Don’t. Just don’t. I won’t proof-text this; I know that the Scripture is an excellent tool for the Rabbinic-style debate of putting together two polar-opposite propositions and arguing it down to a mid-point position, and gleaning truth in the process. That is good and healthy, but not all Scripture is suitable for that. The Scriptures on judging others are among those not really suitable for that kind of debate; suffice it to say that I simply believe that judging others is so harmful on so many levels, both to the one judging and to the one being judged, that it is unhealthy to do it.
I also think that if we judge others, we are putting ourselves on a pedestal and thinking of ourselves as being somehow better than those others. Disguise it or excuse it all you like, but that’s the reality behind it. In judging others, we are saying that we are somehow better than they are. And for those who hold the Bible as a Rulebook, I would say that they are conveniently ignoring one of their Rules: St. Paul’s injunction to ‘…not think of yourselves more highly than you ought…’ (Rom 12:3).
What do we do, then, when there is a judgmental prat on a forum – and we’ve all seen them – who is doing the judging? He’s sitting there traversing his guns left and right and shooting at all those who come along telling him to chill out a bit. We’ve all seen him; he’s just like a cornered animal. He has to tackle all comers. Every question and assertion has to be answered. Every point has to be addressed and (usually) refuted. Every bit of Good News shown him has to be countered with some Bad News from another Scripture verse. It’s a sign of the religious spirit that it always has to have the last word, and he does indeed do that. And yet there is a sense of defensive – but – still – aggressive desperation in his posts that suggests a deep insecurity in his relationship with God; that he seems to think that if he doesn’t counter every argument successfully, not only are his victims going to Hell, but he is probably going there with them (likely in a handbasket), for not ‘saving them from the fire’.
That’s no way to live.
I often despair over people like this. They come uninvited into others’ discussions and lash out with their flailing comments, and then suddenly they’ve moved on and they’ve forgotten all about it, but left a trail of damaged people in their wake. This indeed is an example of those who would ‘steal, kill and destroy’ (Jn 10:10) and is the exact opposite of the gentle Christ Who does not break bruised reeds nor snuff out smouldering flax (Is 42:3, Mt 12:20).
So, what do we do about them?
Well, I was involved in a great discussion about this sort of thing some weeks ago. One thing in particular that spoke to me was this little nugget from a lady called Sharon:
“The roots of judgment are firmly twisted around a bedrock of fear that is buried deeply within the souls of these people. I ache with a dichotomy of anger and desperate painful sorrow that battles inside me when I ponder this stuff .
“My belief in the truth of that statement is the main reason I am able to survive being surrounded daily by those who are trapped in that bondage; allowing me to function with love and prayers for their freedom instead of getting angry and frustrated to the point of despair, or lashing out and compromising my own commitment to peace while losing any position to influence change that I currently have”
Now that is profound. “The roots of judgment are firmly twisted around a bedrock of fear that is buried deeply within the souls of these people”. Maybe it looks something like this,
…but you get the idea. And I think Sharon is right when she says that these people need prayer for their freedom. Of course, such prayer would best be done secretly and without telling the person. Firstly, there is nothing quite so condescending as the offer of ‘I will pray for you’ when that offer is made to someone with whom you disagree. It makes it sound as if you want God to bring them round to your point of view, and actually hardens them to the freedom they so desperately need. Secondly, it is such a lovely thing to see when someone emerges into freedom without them even knowing you were praying for them 😀
So, not all Christians are judgmental. Those of us who do enter into ‘discussion’ with the desperately Religious do so not to judge or argue, but instead with a desire to bring freedom, but with no real expectation that such freedom will happen for those with whom we are discussing things, save for the direct intervention of Father, Who, let’s not forget, loves those people just as much as He loves us. What our real expectation is, however, is actually this: we remember that there are many, many silent readers who read our stuff, in addition to the judgmental person in his corner. Our hope is that that those others will see that there are gentle Christians who are not judgmental, and are accepting, affirming and inclusive. And that is one of the main reasons why we have to keep our conversations ‘full of Grace and seasoned with salt‘, otherwise, as Sharon hints, we lose our influence towards change. Don’t get me wrong; I am never out to ‘convert’ people. I gave that up a long time ago. But I am all for releasing words of freedom ‘into the wild’ so that people know how much God loves them, just as they are, with none of the conditions that Religion would place on our acceptablility before God. Each of us has to come to God in our own way, and this is why there is no pre-set ‘formula’ described in the Bible to enable us to do so. When preconditions exist for our acceptability before God, this inevitably leads to a whole entangling web of legalism and bondage which will only need to be left behind at some point in the future when we realise our true freedom. And that can be painful for us and others around us. I sometimes wonder if some of our ‘cornered animal’ friends are people on the cusp of realising how much bondage they are in, and are expressing the last of their deperation with their current belief system before they finally throw off their chains and walk free. Kind of like birth pains. I sincerely hope so.
Don’t just take my word for it, though. Do a Google search under ‘Judge Not’. You will certainly find many references where Christians are justifying judging others, as you might expect. But you will also find other Christians who believe that judging others is harmful and should therefore be refrained from. Not as a Law or Rule, you understand, but simply because it makes you look like a complete pillock.
Be prepared to believe that not all Christians are judgmental people like our ‘cornered animal’ friend described above. Note also that the weight of the hits you get on Google will be more about those who consider it ok to judge others. This is because it is, as we have seen, the predominant view in Christianity: judge away; it’ll be fine. As always, those who are listening to the Spirit of Grace will be in the minority – but those are the ones you need to listen to.
What I find funniest – and most annoying at the same time – is that when people tell the cornered animal that they are coming across as judgmental, they usually play the “Ah, but now you’re judging me too!” card.
Well, dear Judgmental Cornered Animal, I’m sorry, but if you are going to come into others’ conversations and judge people left, right and centre, then you don’t get to play the ‘You’re judging me!’ card. You started it, mate. And I would also add that Jesus warned you about this sort of behaviour. He wasn’t laying this down as a Rule, but as wisdom, and when He said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged”, for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Mt 7:1-2), just before He gave His plank-and-speck parable in v.3. So this is entirely about judgment. You see, Mr. Judgmental, what is happening to you is exactly what Jesus warned you about in His clearest statement about not judging others**. If you do this, then people will judge you back again, and then some. They are judging you back in full measure, pressed down and shaken together (in other words, fair measure) – giving you back just exactly what you deserve, which is exactly what you have given out in the first place, just like He said would happen. So it jolly well serves you right.
And you can’t say He didn’t warn you!
*But if what someone thinks of as ‘love’ does not match up with 1 Corinthians 13, then it’s not love.
**Of course, all judgmental Christians justify their ignoring of this wisdom of Jesus by making an exception for themselves, saying He didn’t mean not to point out sin, saying whatever they like, in fact, to allow themselves to judge others. And in some ways that’s fair enough, because they can interpret the Scripture just however they like. But it still doesn’t mean that they are exempt from being judged back again. That’s going to happen anyway!