“Non-Judgment”

When I first started following Jesus as a young teenager, my faith was overly simplistic.  Just like the paper and ink of my paperback Bible, my views were black and white.  My understanding of God was scripted; what I believed was almost entirely an adaptation of the views of the Christian authors I read and the sermons of my pastor, not based on vulnerable heart-collisions with God or personal experience.

Recently, I read an interview with Carl Lentz, the pastor of Hillsong Church in NYC. Hillsong Church formulates an orthodox Christian theology, but they have drawn public attention as of late because of the unique understanding of orthopraxy (right practice).  When asked if he would use the pulpit to preach against social issues, Lentz responded by saying,

“Very rarely did Jesus talk about morality or social issues … Often, people want to talk about behavior modification, and our church isn’t about that … We’re about soul transformation.  We have a stance on love, and we have a conversation on everything else.  We would rather be misunderstood and look ‘messy’ to some in the Christian community that do not agree with us and help some, than appease people that think differently and reach none.” [1]

His comments are directed, as you might have guessed, to some of the hot-button political and cultural issues that Christians and non-Christians alike encounter. I like a lot of the things he says here, but what I like most is his use of the word ‘messy.’ For me, ‘messy’ perfectly encapsulates the interface between my faith and my experiences.  Though God and truth are unchanging, appropriating these truths in daily life is anything but straight forward.

It was during my freshmen year at Williams College that I first noticed my cookie cutter faith from high school was insufficient for engaging the world around me.  My surroundings were less homogenous than I had previously experienced in just about every way—race, sexuality, religion, politics, you get the idea.  In addition, Williams fostered a climate of critical thinking—every statement was prodded, teased, rebuked until its first form was unrecognizable. This place became the perfect backdrop for my “one-dimensional, yes-or-no” faith to become something a little more. [2]  The reason: most people didn’t see things through the same lens that I did so I was forced to carefully evaluate everything I believed. More often than not, my non-Christian friends and I didn’t reach any easy accords as we talked over these controversial topics. But one thing was and is abundantly clear: regardless of where an individual stands on a particular issue, whether they consider themselves a follower of Jesus or not, no one likes to feel like the finger of judgment is pointed in their direction.

As you probably know, the Christian church has gotten a pretty bad rap when it comes to being judgmental—and understandably so.  Most Christians can themselves recall moments associated with Christianity that made them cringe a little bit, or a lotta bit.

This is the fine line that Christians have to walk: on one hand, God calls us to stand up in the name of justice, fairness, and mercy, against all evil and wrongdoing. Jesus was passionately against anything—personal or public—that separates people from God and one another. Check out John 2:13-22, for example. On the other hand, Jesus himself tells us in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge or you too will be judged.”

We have to avoid the two extremes. We can’t stand on the sidewalk with our megaphones, shouting against everything from Rastafarianism to rock-and-roll. But we also know that God commands us in John 22:39 “love our neighbor as ourselves” and that the truest form of love is not to say, ‘Do whatever you want, anything goes.’ So here’s the rub: how do we as Christians “walk the line of conviction and intention” without coming across as terribly judgmental and disrespectful? [3]

I have recently been reading a book by Hugh Halter that has helped me to approach this topic from a different angle. [4]  Halter addresses this question by looking at the life of Jesus as his model.  One of his central points is that snap judgments run contrary to the way Jesus modeled life.  In general, our judgments of others are often flawed because right judgment is predicated on deep relationship: “Poor judgment includes a judgement or opinion we craft without the context or full story of a person’s life.” [5] Repeatedly Jesus demonstrates readiness to walk alongside people, and asks us as His followers to do the same—this is how we get to know someone’s unique story.  Ultimately, this kind of relationship turns us from wanting to throw stones at someone and instead show empathy and compassion.  Jesus himself describes his mission in John 3:17 when he said “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” This means that God is “not counting men and women’s sin against them.” [6] So why should we?

Halter uses the story of the Prodigal Son to drive home this point.  In this story, a father gives an inheritance to his son who asks for it prematurely (custom dictated that the inheritance was bestowed upon the father’s passing).  The son ends up squandering all of the money on sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll and then returns, dragging his feet in shame and defeat and fully expecting to face the wrath of his father. But instead, the father sprints out to greet him, hugs and kisses him, and throws the biggest party you’ve ever seen. God is the father in this story, giving away the proverbial car keys to his teenager, knowing full and well that it probably won’t go well.  I’d even hazard that he knew his son was going to mess it up, but he let him do it anyway.  But isn’t this what love is predicated on?  It must involve free-will and choice.  The father doesn’t tell the son he was screwing it up big time (we all know what would happen because we’ve probably experienced this); rather, he let the son recognize it and make a decision on what to do next for himself.  On a daily basis, we will encounter people with views contrary to our own (just take a look at dinner table back-and-forth). But how do we treat people with opinions and choices different than our own? Halter would ask, do we dole out judgment or do we try and follow Jesus’ lead and give them room to choose?

The Bible consistently paints a picture of a God of justice who fights on behalf of the widow, orphan, and the oppressed.  But unlike us, His justice is righteous because He knows everyone’s complete story.  I believe that my responsibility as a Christian is to introduce all people to this God of justice, love, and mercy.  As pastor Rick Richardson says, “Today, people are looking for a community to belong to before a message to believe in.” The community that God wants us to create lets people know that first and foremost they are part of the family. My earnest prayer for myself and others is that we would treat people with the same dignity and tenderness that Jesus did.

[1] http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2015/08/10/carl-lentz-on-how-hillsong-church-is-becoming-gay-welcoming-without-compromising-their-convictions/

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/god-our-generation/be-known-what-youre-not-just-what-youre-against#9O4111vj05movlA7.99

[2] http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/worldview/christians-shouldnt-be-cultures-morality-police#mGoIthUv21Aemh1p.99

[3] http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/worldview/christians-shouldnt-be-cultures-morality-police#mGoIthUv21Aemh1p.99

[4] Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgment

[5] http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2015/07/06/judge-not-jesus-said-it-but-what-did-he-mean/

[6] 2 Corinthians 5:19

2 comments

  1. Woohoo! Well said! Amen! 😀

    Like

  2. Really great thoughts, Kelsey. Thanks for sharing. What you wrote reminds me of this article from a few months ago: http://www.worldmag.com/2015/09/relational_justice/page1

    Like

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