“You’re so judgmental!” someone cries out.
“You’re not meant to judge!” another person hollers.
I’ve heard these statements many times before. Take any issue and someone will yell out, “You’re not meant to judge”.
For example, here are some issues:
Should Americans be free to have multiple guns in their personal armoury?
Should rich people distribute more of their profits to those less fortunate?
Can you change your gender when you so choose, and are their consequences to such choices?
Are you free to rally people together to storm the nation’s capital?
Can anyone become a minister of religion?
Are you able to hold someone accountable for poor behaviour?
These are provocative questions, and I don’t intend particularly to know the answers (though I could make some qualified remarks if I wanted to). But that’s not the point. These questions about morality, ethics, business, religion, etc., need to be discussed. We need to be able to debate these questions (and a squillion others) so that we can wrestle with the implications of our answers.
The problem we have is that we’re not very good at civilised discourse anymore. And I don’t mean to judge. I just think, we could do better at disagreeing and still get along. I think we could do better at having rigorous debates, using intelligent arguments, without all the emotional baggage that generally goes with it.
In Christian circles, I think it boils down to this verse:
Jesus says in Matthew chapter 7, verse 1, ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged.’
That’s potentially where the conversation stalls. You and I, are not called to judge. Right? I mean, that’s what Jesus says. Right?
Or should we delve a little deeper into what Jesus is saying, before we make too strong a judgment of what we think he’s saying?
What’s he really saying?
Let’s look further into the Matthew chapter 7, verses 1-6 passage. This is the whole passage in its context:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Now clearly, we need to examine our own lives, lest we be hypocrites. Do I have a plank in my eye? Am I calling someone to account when behind the scenes, I’m no better? There’s a personal, kind of holiness challenge here. To get ourselves right before God.
But there’s more to this passage. So, first take the plank out of your own eye (deal with yourself first), then you will see clearly… and then you can remove the speck from your brother’s eye. That’s intriguing to me. And that seems to go against current popular opinion. Is not Jesus saying, that once you’ve dealt with your own lack of right-living and your own hypocrisy, you can then judge others?
This isn’t about being judgmental. It’s about making judgments. This passage in Matthew, when read in its context, surely allows for judgments to be made.
Can we live a good and proper life without making judgements? We need to! We have to. We make judgments all the time. We judge people. We judge things. And that need not be negative, it’s just a matter of fact.
Is that person fit enough to be a police officer?
Is that person good enough to be a barista?
Is that person’s character above reproach and should they get that promotion?
Should we vote that person into office?
Does that individual have a calling on their life for full-time ministry?
So, my proposition is this. Jesus calls us to deal with the junk in our own hearts first, lest we be hypocrites. Though, at some point, we can legitimately, and compassionately make judgment-calls. Otherwise how would anyone make any decision at all?
The next time you hear, “Do be so judgmental”, I would question whether this is unwittingly a strategy to suppress debate on contentious issues. We are called to, at some point, make judgments about the world we live in and how best for humanity to flourish within it. A naïve belief that anything is permissible simply because we cannot judge, is ill-informed and certainly not the teaching of Jesus Christ.
Pete Brookshaw is the Senior Minister of The Salvation Army Craigieburn. He has a Bachelor of both Business and Theology and is passionate about the church being dynamic and effective in the world and creating communities of faith that are outward-focused, innovative, passionate about the lost and committed to societal change. He has been blogging since 2006 at http://www.petebrookshaw.com about leadership and faith and you can find him on:
Peter Brookshaw’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/peter-brookshaw.html