By: Mark Nelson
As an 8-year-old, I asked my mom, “Where does Auntie El go to church?” We all loved Auntie El, who is my mom’s oldest sister. She and Uncle George ran a dairy farm in a small town. She was a lot like my mom, full of life, a no-nonsense hard worker, and had the best laugh ever!
“Auntie El doesn’t go to church,” mom said. When I asked why, she said that the one time she went, instead of being welcomed with kindness, some of the women at the church made fun of her for the way she was dressed and gossiped about her. That day she made a vow that, since the church was just “a bunch of “judgmental hypocrites,” she would never attend another church service again!”
And as far as I know, she kept her vow. As far as Auntie El was concerned, all Christians were hypocrites, and she wasn’t going to have anything to do with them. Aunt El’s experience had a strong impact on me as a kid, and still does to this day. I couldn’t understand it. My family went to church. Did Auntie El think that of us? Was I a hypocrite? I remember feeling angry with the women who had treated my Aunt so poorly. And then I remember feeling sad that Auntie El was turned off to God by church people.
Apparently, Auntie El is not alone. In David Kinnaman’s book titled “UnChristian,” his very first sentence states: “Christianity has an image problem.” His research shows that 87% of 16-29-year-olds in 2007 believed that Christians are judgmental, and 85% said Christians are hypocritical. The perception that “Christians say one thing but live something entirely different” is huge!
It’s a sobering indictment. How did we as followers of Jesus earn this reputation, and is there something we can we do to avoid contributing to it? I think there are a few things we can consider that may help.
Why do we judge?
One reason we are prone to judge is that we, as human beings, tend to see our world in a dualistic construct. Things are black or white. If I have an opinion, another opinion is automatically seen as opposite and opposing. We are compelled to choose sides. There must be a right and a wrong. Interestingly enough, more often than not this just isn’t true. The beauty of our world is usually found in a both/and, not an either/or.
Personality profile tools like Meyers/Briggs have really helped us realize this. One personality makeup is not better than another. It’s a both/and thing. Extroverts and introverts are both right. Intuitive personality types and concrete thinkers are operating in completely different processes that are not only appropriate but bring a diversity that leads to better decision making in the end.
It’s wonderful that God doesn’t exist in dualistic reality. From before the beginning, God has existed as three, not two. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Greek word that defines this relationship is “perichoresis.” It connotes a “divine dance” of three unique persons in a constant movement in and around each other in mutual submission and perfect unity.
When we judge we say it’s my way or the highway. I’m right. You’re wrong. There is not an opportunity of a dance of unity within diversity.
A second reason we can be prone to judging is that we are desperate for significance and value. If we are not secure in our identity as a fully loved and valued person, we often will condemn another to make ourselves look better. I take you down so I can move up. How could we do this to someone? It starts out more subtly than you might think.
There are two different types of judging. There is a judging that is a discernment of what is good and right and what is wrong or evil. This is not the judging that Jesus challenges us not to be a part of when he said, “Do not judge or you will be judged”. This is using wisdom and is important for all of us to practice regularly. The problem occurs when we move from discernment to condemnation. From perceiving some “thing” is wrong (an action, decision or policy) to declaring some “person” at their core is wrong (not valuable, less than me, disgusting, stupid). I’m still tempted to judge, but being aware of these two pitfalls have helped me do it less.
God has given us another amazing weapon to fight this heart flaw. It’s always available to us. You don’t have to be a genius to use it. It’s two simple words: be real. There is nothing more powerful in preventing us from judging than being honest about our own lives, shortcomings, and struggles. Sharing our weakness is the act of placing ourselves below the other. Instead of devaluing and condemning, we raise the other to a place of significance even when we disagree. Especially when we disagree.
The word “hypocrite” came from a Greek word that meant “an actor.” When we judge, we are “acting” like we are better than another. We are not being “real.” I think that’s why Jesus said:
“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?” Matthew 7:3
– Mark Nelson I Kensington Clarkston, Lead Pastor