by Rev. Jeffrey Dock, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
One of the most frequent charges laid against the Christian Church is that we’re too judgmental. Which I find to mean, as I talk with people, that we’re too eager to condemn what we see as wrong behavior in others. Rather than let people live as they wish and make the choices they want, we’re seen as intolerant because we believe many of those actions are dangerous and sinful. The consensus seems to be that rather than being judgmental, the Christian Church needs to be “loving” (which generally seems to mean allowing people to do whatever they want without guilt).
It’s an interesting standard, one you don’t see applied to other organizations and institutions. Rarely do you see the court system or police department accused of being too judgmental. There’s an expectation that laws will be upheld, and the guilty will be punished in some way. We’re fine with all other professions (accountants, lawyers, mechanics, etc.) having standards of conduct and advising on things we should and shouldn’t do; but when it is the Church doing the advising, suddenly everyone is wary and offended. Perhaps because, deep down, we’re a bit more concerned about our souls than cars and taxes.
The idea that love is just letting someone else do what they want is fascinating to me. Because it seems we don’t normally operate that way. If I come across my four-year-old daughter playing with matches, it is not a loving response to shrug my shoulders, think “kids will be kids” and move off to make myself a sandwich. True love would require getting down on the floor, taking the matches away from her, and teaching her why playing with matches in the living room is a bad idea. It may require discipline to enforce that lesson, especially if she goes after the matches again after my back is turned. Shrugging and ignoring it may be easier, but it is not love.
Love does not allow those we love to indulge in self-destructive behaviors. It seeks to protect and help others. The idea that we can’t warn anyone about the dangers they face, or yes – even judge their actions, is not love. Such a warning may be received warmly, may be brushed off, or may be responded to with anger. But that doesn’t excuse us of the responsibility (if we love someone) of attempting to warn them.
Which is what God continually does in the Bible and is the primary reason that Christians can come off as judgmental. It is because God has revealed in the Bible certain attitudes and behaviors (sins) that are dangerous. Deadly in fact. The problem is mankind enjoys them so much, and thinks so little of their danger, that without being warned about them by God we would continually indulge in and commit them. Therefore God gives His church the responsibility to speak against those things and to warn people of the risks.
And that includes ourselves. Christians who tell you they are not tempted, or do not sin, are lying. We preach God’s law because we ourselves need to be warned. Every Christian’s prayers should include (to quote Jesus) “Forgive us our trespasses… and lead us not into temptation.” Because we all sin and are weighed down by temptation. Such warnings, along with the equally important assurance of forgiveness through Christ, form the basis for every sermon I preach. Some would call that judgmental and non-loving. I think true love requires it.