Recently my story group from my church met for our weekly meeting. And in case you’re wondering, Story groups are simply what we call our small groups. During the time of discussion, the topic of judging came up. The group sentiment was a familiar one here in our western context, “judging is wrong.” Seems pretty clear in our broader culture, but even within the culture of the church regardless of denomination, Episcopalian or Southern Baptist, liberal, moderate, or conservative, judgment is understood as reserved for God. Jesus even made this clear, that we are not to judge. Right?
Well like the radical I am, I chimed in during the conversation with the following comment, “Actually…(I could feel the hesitation in my voice) Jesus taught that we were to judge…” Immediately everyone was a bit shocked at what I had said. In fact not only did Jesus teach us to judge but the creeds witness to the reality that Jesus is coming back to judge the living and the dead. And I bet you as the reader might have just had a similar reaction. So let me plead my case as to why I think Jesus actually taught us to judge and why we as “Good Episcopalians” and all Christians should follow Jesus’ teaching on this.
But first, let me give us some context for our present situation. I think there are two things that need to be said. The first is that our definition of judgment in our culture is different from what I think judgment means in the creeds and Jesus’ teaching. When we hear the word “judge” we think “judgy.” Here is a scenario that I think illustrates what our culture thinks of when we hear the word, “judge.” And let me assure you this is not what I think Jesus meant by “judging.”
A woman walks by who is young, dressed rather provocatively, throwing herself at the surrounding men, and seems to be a bit drunk. A “good” (in reality bad) Christian walks by and turns up their nose. And in their own thoughts says to themself, “What a slut!” What this “Christian” doesn’t realize is that this woman has just been raped by an ex-boyfriend, was consistently physically and sexually abused by her father as she was growing up, and has been using these behaviors as a way to cope with the deep pain, trauma, and sense of worthlessness in her life.
This is I think what we mean when we say judgment is bad, and this is not the kind of judgment that Jesus teaches us to enact or that the creeds say Jesus will enact when He comes back. We will come back to what I think Jesus taught about judgment.
The second thing I want to say is that we actually make judgments all of the time, with no remorse in doing so. When someone makes the judgment President Trump is an immoral man they are in fact making a judgment. Or when someone, rightly so, makes the claim that it is morally wrong to keep children in prisons, they are making a judgment, a correct one at that. And just so no one thinks I’m singling out Trump, when someone calls out Bill Clinton for his adultery and says his behavior is immoral, they are making a judgment. When someone punches a baby in the face (my favorite example) and I say, “Woah bro, that messed up, you can’t do that!” That is a judgment.
So what did Jesus teach?
Let's look at his famous if not misunderstood teaching on Judgement.
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5
People tend to read or reference this passage as if Jesus is claiming it is wrong to Judge people. But a closer look at the passage reveals that he actually says the opposite! The problem isn’t that “log in the eye guy” is trying to take the speck out of his neighbor’s eye. The problem is that he has a log in his own eye that is preventing him from being able to see clearly enough to take the speck out of his brother’s eye. And this makes the “log in eye guy” a hypocrite. Jesus is pointing out this hypocrisy, and he instructs the hypothetical man to help his brother take the speck out once the guy can see clearly after he is no longer the “log in the eye guy.” So just to beat a dead horse, Jesus isn’t teaching us not to judge. He is teaching us to judge rightly, to not be hypocritical in our judgments.
Good judgment is calling something out as it is. And this is important, it’s not for the purpose of shaming, or making yourself feel better about your own sin. It’s for the purpose of bringing healing and restoration to the situation, to both the victims and the oppressor. This is the idea the creeds are getting at when Jesus is coming back to judge the living and the dead. It’s not the idea that God is going to come and wag His finger in people’s faces shaming them for all the wrong they do. It’s about God coming to call things out as they are not avoiding our sin and wrongdoing but doing so to bring us to a place of healing. Making all things new.
And lastly let me point out that the church as a prophetic witness to the world must judge. In order to participate in God’s healing of the world we have to acknowledge sin and wronging doing in order to actually seek to make things right. If you don’t acknowledge that something is wrong you can’t do anything to make it right, because you refuse to acknowledge it as a problem in the first place.
So Church of the spotless bride go forth and judge to make the world a better place!