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Can a Christian Judge AND Love?

All Things Examined

Rating: 1.00


A meme has been circulating in the Christian community for some time now. It’s the curious notion that making judgments about the behaviors and lifestyles of others is unchristian.

Take singer Carrie Underwood, a professed Christian, who came out in support of same-sex “marriage,” crediting her faith for her position. In explanation, the songstress told the British press, "Above all, God wanted us to love others,” adding, “It’s not up to me to judge anybody.”

But judge she has, for by her very endorsement of same-sex “marriage,” Underwood made a moral judgment on the practice and its practitioners, as well as a moral insinuation, if not judgment, about its critics.

Regrettably, Carrie Underwood, like most “nonjudgmentalists,” is oblivious to the logical inconsistency. If we are proscribed from judging the wrongness of actions, we are likewise proscribed from judging their rightness. And either way we come down is a judgment on the opposing view.

We can’t not judge

Conformance with the “anti-judgment meme” requires neutrality on all moral matters, but humans are anything but morally neutral. Regardless of our religious or anti-religious sympathies, it is commonly held that a number of things are universally wrong, like cheating, rape, exploitation, and greed, and that a number of others are universally good, such as honesty, fairness, charity, and selflessness.

Furthermore, in a fallen world where virtue and vice exist side-by-side, everyone must judge whom they will trust, what ventures they will pursue, what policies they will support. (You can bet that when Carrie Underwood becomes a parent she will make judgments aplenty, sniffing around for any hint of child abuse, pedophilia, or other behaviors she deems morally questionable in the backgrounds of prospective babysitters.)

The person who can’t or won’t discern truth from falsehood, good from evil, and healthful from harmful is someone destined to be a victim of those who are adept at parading one for the other. Thus, abstaining from moral judgments is not a hallmark of Christian character, but of foolishness.

Rather, the signature of the Spirit-filled life is the ability to make correct judgments to prevent, as St. Paul warns, being taken “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Indeed, Jesus’ advice about “fruit” inspection was to help keep his disciples from falling in with bad teachers and their sophistry.

Specious reasoning

The popular meme persists, in large measure, by isolating what Jesus says a few verses up -- "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" -- from the rest of the chapter and coupling it with the second half of the Great Commandment.

The reasoning goes something like this: I know that I would be offended if someone pointed out my moral failings, so loving my neighbor as myself means that I shouldn’t point out his. In that way, I can fulfill God’s commandment, escape His judgment, and relieve myself and my neighbor of any awkward moments, to boot. It has undeniable appeal.

For folks bothered by any lingering notion that anybody is qualified to make a judgment about anybody else, there's Jesus’ piercing challenge to a murderous mob of moralizers: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Yet, there’s his equally piercing instruction to his disciples, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.”

Sounds like Jesus not only expects us to make moral judgments about others but, in fact, has authorized us to do so, as well as to confront them and invoke discipline when necessary. The apostle Paul had some sharp words for a congregation that failed to do just that.

It had come to Paul’s attention that the Corinthian church was ignoring an occasion of sexual immorality in its midst. Scolding the assembly for its moral complacence, Paul ordered the expulsion of the offender, warning, “Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?”

Paul’s instruction to turn the man “over to Satan” seems overly harsh and cruel – and certainly not loving -- until he explains, “so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” This is the same Paul who told the Galatian believers, “if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”

As taught by Jesus and practiced by the early church, moral judgment and church discipline are not about condemning people but restoring them, for their spiritual well-being and that of the Body.

Judging vs. condemning

In the Pharisaical sting operation that nearly led to the stoning of an adulteress, neither the morality of her deed nor the mob’s authority to judge it were at issue. The woman had sinned, plain and simple, a fact acknowledged by Jesus in his parting instruction: “leave your life of sin.”

Had the moral police done likewise, pointing the woman to the path to life, this biblical vignette might never have been recorded. Instead, they condemned her to death, and Jesus called into question their license to do so. Their response -- laying down their stones and walking away – was a reluctant acknowledgement that neither they nor anyone has the authority to condemn.

Condemnation requires more than just knowing when a moral standard has been breached; it requires knowing what is in a person’s mind (what did they know about the standard) and heart (what was their intent), places that no one has access to but God. And although those places were open to Jesus, even He didn’t see fit to condemn the sinful woman.

On the other hand, anyone can judge the morality of an act, knowing only the applicable standard. Applying God’s word, acts that are immoral at all times and circumstances include adultery, murder, slander, idolatry, and fornication (which, contrary to the moral lights of Carrie Underwood, includes same-sex couplings, committed or otherwise).

A Facebooker who was pleased with Underwood’s endorsement made a move -- straight from the social liberals’ playbook -- to silence moral objections by associating opposing viewpoints with hypocrisy. After duly lecturing Christians about sin in the camp, he trotted out Matthew 7:3 (“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?”).

While it is all too true that heterosexual sin is a problem in the church, the moral state of the pew and pulpit has no bearing on the morality of homosexualism and the novel institutions it promotes, or of any other practice for that matter.

What’s more, contrary to popular proof-texts, Jesus never said that one sinner can’t or shouldn’t judge the actions of another. Instead, in the context of Matthew chapter 7, Jesus teaches that we should be attentive to our own “specks,” so that we can “see clearly” (that is, discern readily and rightly) the specks of others and help with the removal process.

People who decline to do so -- particularly, who-am-I-to-judge Christians -- have much to answer for the moral pathologies of the church that they are quick to, uh, judge.

They are like the village physician whose patients are dying off, one by one, for his failure to check for life-threatening conditions he finds too uncomfortable to tell them about or treat. Or the mom whose child has become a tyrant because of momma’s fear that a “no” landing on her budding prodigy’s delicate ears would damage the sense of exceptionalness that she has worked so hard to nurture.

Loving my brother

Love seeks the supreme good for others. Above all, love desires them to become the persons they were created to be: children of God, being transformed in the image of the Son, and enjoying unbroken fellowship with the Son and Father through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Love means that I am my brother’s keeper, with the duty to observe, question, challenge, and, yes, judge his actions -- not to condemn, but to guide, coach and encourage toward life abundant. To do otherwise is not love but indifference or cowardice.

Carrie Underwood was right: “Above all, God wanted us to love others.” However, we love others not by never having to say they’re sinning, but by helping them with their “specks” and allowing them to help us with ours.

Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a BreakPoint Centurion. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at centurion51@aol.com.


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Comments:

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comment on homosexuality
Ed, I noticed your comments about how we seem to focus in on the sexual sin of homosexuality. That was such a side issue for me in this article that I didn't even give any attention to it. I was researching about "Judging". I think that focus alone is very telling. You are questioning why the church is focusing on homosexuality and not other sexual sins. The church if it is fulfilling its purpose IS teaching against other sexual sins, however, the spotlight politically is on homosexuality. So of course that is the discourse now. This article is actually about judging, but he introduced the subject with something that is "in the news". That subject has permeated everything. THAT seems to be the prevailing sin in the news. THis is a sin, but as with any other sin, people do have the free choice to sin. We, as humans, cannot get away from sin. Now, when it comes to "marriage", this is entirely different. Marriage holds a significantly divine symbolism regarding God and His church. It is difficult for someone outside the church, and many so-called Christians in the church to grasp the depth of this concept. But the constitution of marriage is the essence of God and His church, Christ and His Bride. It all started with Adam and Eve. There is significance in the fact that He made a Man and a Woman. God/Christ/Adam=masculine, Church/Bride/Eve = feminine.
Marriage = Masculine/Feminine. Because of this significance, it is one area that CHristians must stand against and protect the sacredness of that. Yes, people are free to live the way they want, we are free to live in rebellion to God. He did not make us robots. I may not choose to live a lifestyle in rebellion to God, but I do my share of rebellion. I have to consistently keep myself in check. So individually, we need to live peacefully with others, and we need to allow people to make their own decisions, but we need to protect what "marriage" symbolizes. As a side note-wow, man has messed up marriage. We haven't taken it as seriously as it is meant to be. That's all due to sin. The heart of man is sinful. That's why we all need to look to Christ for that restoration. Hope some of this makes sense.
Love/Tolerance/Judging
Thank you so much for your words. I wrote a blog yesterday about the mis-use of the word "Love" and how exposing sin is a part of love because it shows we care enough to lead others to restoration. This article shared some of my same thoughts. I am continuing the same idea with the mis-use of the terms "tolerance" and "judgment". Especially since I have been getting responses that I am being judgmental, angry, and resentful. This article helped encourage me to just keep writing on for what I believe to be the truth, and hopefully always do so with compassion. The culture likes to use terms such as intolerance and judging mainly to try to stop opposing views.
Timely article
This attitude and this approach of not only never "judging" anyone except fellow Christians who speak out about various issues is becoming (or has already become) mainstream Christianity. My error was not realizing it until I began speaking out on various issues, only to have fellow Christians come down on me, while refusing to speak out on the issue itself! I admit I was caught off guard. I just didn't know this now the standard response.

The explanation/reasoning behind it seems to be that if we say anything negative - even in a gentle, loving way - we have lost the hearts and minds of those we wish to reach with the gospel. It sounds good on the surface.

But if the people we are trying to reach don't know what they're doing is wrong (though they do, deep inside), what gospel are we offering to them?

Plus there's the idea of standing up within the culture as a whole. Issues like same-sex marriage and the mainstreaming of homosexuality affect society, not just a few individuals.

I could go on and on. Thank you for this article. It is desperately needed. I will pass it along.
Well-written...
For those who do not grasp absolute truth - or its Author, your words are reason for debate and dissension; but, for those who know there is - and always has been - absolute truth, your words are full of wisdom, blessing and confirmation. May God continue to guide your pen (or keyboard) strokes, when you share His love and concern with the world.
the greatest of these
"While it is all too true that heterosexual sin is a problem in the church, the moral state of the pew and pulpit has no bearing on the morality of homosexualism and the novel institutions it promotes, or of any other practice for that matter." We should be more concerned with the sin in the church for we are a reflection of Christ to the LOST! We should correct our brothers and sisters in Christ, to help them overcome sin. But are called to love the sinner/lost. How can they see Jesus in us if we are reflecting judgement without mercy or grace? We are saved through grace, then the Holy Spirit reveals sin to us. Don't confuse the saint with the sinner, we are to treat them differently. I have heard homosexuals say "your God hates me" I felt so sad because their hearts have been harden because of our "love" toward them. We are not winning souls in this debate. It is time to change the way we love the homosexual. If all sin is a choice and we are all born sinners, surely we can agree we all need the love, grace, and mercy of a Savior. My point is without love they will never see Christ and never receive his forgiveness. When saints stand before Christ we will give an account for our actions, but the lost will be judged for their rejection of Christ only, right? So a homosexual will not give an account for his actions, we will. I would hate to stand before Christ with the shame on my shoulders I reflected toward the lost instead of His love. Is homosexulaity a Godly lifestyle? NO, most sinners don't live Godly lifestyles. Jesus,friend of sinners...you wouldn't know it by listening to most Christians.
Cause the bible says so? Really
"Would that apply to fornication between consenting adults who practice “safe” sex? Or the married couple who mutually agree to adultery in an open marriage? What about the man who pleasures himself in front of his computer screen? Or the woman and john who engage in prostitution?"

So even if I go along with the totally illogical and just completely wrong notion that the biblical authors didnt extend the matters of individual conscience to sexuality (which I don't know where you decided this, but nevertheless we can accept this as true for arguments sake)...

Why is it that homosexuality is focused on? Why is it that churches call for and pray for passage of laws that prohibit homosexual marriage, but do not ask for laws that prohibit pre-marital sex, or divorce? Aren't those two things just as much a disgrace to the sacred instituion of marriage?

What would you rather have, a man and a man made a promise before God to commit to each other through thick and thin, and actually do it, or a man a woman who make that same promise before God only to break it a couple years down the road, as 50% of heterosexual marriages do.

and if we are going to be consistent in our thinking, shouldn't we outlaw all marriage that does not take place in a church? And then what qualifies as a Church? If I am baptist (which I am not, fyi) , I am baptist for a reason, and there is something about that denomination that I find over say Presbytarian or Methodist. So are baptists marriages more sacred to me? What about Catholics? Though they are followers of Christ, there are a good amount of Protestants that think they are not Christians, and vice versa... do the marriages in their churches not count?

I go to extremes, but the point is, why is it that homosexuality is focused on as a abomination to the "sacred instituion of marriage" (which Adam and Eve were not even married in the sense that we know it).

If we want to talk about what the bible says about sexuality not being a matter of individual conscience, then why don't we think about that. Why don't we think about it would be impossible to justify or denounce a man (or woman) for what they do in front of their computer, because there were no computers in bible times (remember, no individual conscience allowed... God definitly wouldn't want us to think).
You could however, note that God commanded the Isreali soldiers to "take care of themselves" by digging a hole away from the camp and then burying it. Does that mean as long as the computer is away from the home, it is ok?

Or what about when God was angry at Onan for spilling his seed on the ground? Does that mean human should only copulate to procreate?

My whole point is, if you want to believe that marriage is a heterosexual union because the bible says so, and it is clear that the bible does not include sexuality as matters of individual conscience, then I am totally fine with that. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and just because I disagree with you I am not condemning you.

I only that that your logic follows through, and instead of only calling for laws that prohibit homosexual marriage, but please require laws that take away any and all forms of birth control, as well as divorce. Also, polygamous marriages should undoubtedly be legalized, obviously only for men though.

Also, I might add, the bible only address male on male homosexuality (look at the original hebrew), therefore Lesbian unions should not be outlawed.

I don't ask for you to change the way you think, I just ask for consistency. God made us thoroughly, we all have it in us.
"cause...the bible sez so?
Ed,

So, as long as something is consented to by all parties affected and does not create harm, it should be morally acceptable? Would that apply to fornication between consenting adults who practice “safe” sex? Or the married couple who mutually agree to adultery in an open marriage? What about the man who pleasures himself in front of his computer screen? Or the woman and john who engage in prostitution?

As you rightly note, scripture (Rom. 14) has declared some limited practices -- food and drink (as well as “sacred” days) -- matters of individual conscience. Yet, as every “very ardent believer” knows, neither Jesus nor the biblical authors extended that to matters of sexuality. Instead, scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, consistently refers to marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution, and sexual behaviors such as fornication, homosexual acts, adultery, and lust as sin.
Why is it wrong?
Of course there are certain things that are always wrong. Rape and Murder are usually hard to justify, though if I had the opportunity to kill Hitler or Bin Laden I would not have hesitated, in light of the overall good it would bring to the world.

Before I ask my question, I think you should know that I am a believer as well, a very ardent believer actually, who you might group into this "who I am to judge" Christian category. I agree completely that humans are by nature judgemental, everything we do is based on a judgement that we discern from previous experiences. When I make a judgement, however, I am doing it for myself and my life, and I am not pompous enough to believe that because I believe that x or y is right for me, it is what everyone else should do. Now an instance such as rape, murder, or stealing, DIRECTLY affects another person against their will. The only difference between me taking $20 from you and you giving me $20 is the fact that you are ok with it. Same physical action, same physical result, but different internal processes.

That being said, my I believe that I can decide something to be right for me, and you can decide something to be right for you, and they can be totally different, and as long as my actions do not impede or prohibit your will or well being, then what's the problem. If I believe that pork is unclean and should not be eaten, as the bible tells me it is, and choose never to eat it, does that mean I am responsible for telling everyone in the church that it is wrong for them to eat pork, and all pork eaters should never be able to dine at my table or be the pastor of the church?

My transition is, why is it that same-sex couples can not get married? Why is it anymore wrong for two consensual adults to commit to each other than it is for an adult to make up his or her own mind to eat some bacon?
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