5 Reasons Not to Be Judgmental Though Many More Could Be Added!

Something that I say all the time is that when young adults think of Christians the most common word they associate with us is “judgmental.”

Not only do I say it…but I’ve written about many times and I’ve even recorded a podcast on it as well.

And add to all of that the fact that one of my favorite Christian authors and missional practitioners, Hugh Halter, wrote an excellent book on the topic called Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgment.

In other words, I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately.  And the question I’ve been pondering lately is this: Why should we not be judgmental, especially since we’re so tempted to be?

Defining “Judgmental”

Before we can really dig in, we must figure out what it means to be judgmental?

I intend for this post (and the blog generally) to be most useful for followers of Jesus, so my comments will be colored by this intention.

With that said, I think it will be helpful to say a few things that I DON’T mean when I use the word “judgmental.”

  • I don’t mean holding a fellow believer accountable if s/he has asked you to do so.  This arrangement is agreed upon by both parties and is intended for mutual benefit.  So it’s not judgmental to mention something about the actions, habits, and language of someone who has agreed to be held accountable by us.
  • I don’t mean having strong opinions about what is sinful and what is not based on various texts from the Bible.  That’s perfectly fine and it’s helpful for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus to know what may or may not please him (the key phrase there is “for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus”).
  • And lastly, I don’t mean observing cultural patterns and then identifying which ones are edifying for you and your family and which ones are not.  As a follower of Jesus, it’s your right (and duty even) to ensure that your family is exposed to the right sorts of things.  But, again, this sort of social sorting and labeling should be reserved for internal use as followers of Jesus.

What do I mean by “judgmental” then?

Being judgmental as a follower of Jesus is applying the expectation of obedience to biblical ideals that comes with following Jesus on those who do not yet follow Jesus and/or calling out the actions, habits, and language of a specific, fellow follower of Jesus without having entered into an accountability agreement.

Why Is Being Judgmental to Be Avoided?

While there are many, many, many reasons, here are five good ones!

  1. Being judgmental doesn’t work because we don’t have all the info. If someone is doing something that we deem wrong and we say something about it to them, whether they are not yet a follower of Jesus or not in an accountability agreement, then we are presuming that we know the whole situation.  We are pretending that we know their backstory and all the antecedent decisions that led up the current situation.  We’re also assuming that we know their intent, i.e., their heart.  Let’s be honest, the one huge problem with being judgmental is that in so doing we are presupposing a bunch of knowledge to which no human being has direct and easy access.
  2. Being judgmental is overstepping our job description as followers of Jesus.  Who told us that it was our collective and individual duty to pay attention to everyone else and be sure to point out all the things that we find wrong or inappropriate?  We do, however, have a pretty clear job description in the Bible.  Jesus tells us that we are to do three primary things: 1) love God, 2) love others, and 3) make disciples (Matthew  22.36-40, 28.19-20).  Nowhere in that job description exists the idea of being judgmental.  In fact, there is one who has the job of being the judge, and that person is Jesus (2 Timothy 4.1).
  3. Being judgmental fails the Golden Rule quite horribly.  In Luke 6.31 Jesus sums up much of his teaching in one tight little thought: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Thus, let’s ask ourselves this question: Do we want someone peeping into our lives like a creep in order to catch us in a mistake or sin, intentional or not?  What about this question: Do we want to be held to a standard we haven’t agreed to or be put under scrutiny that isn’t consensual?  Friends, if we don’t want these things done to us (and no one really does who is being honest!), why then do we feel we have the right to do them to others?
  4. Being judgmental breaks a direct command in the Bible.  In Matthew 7.1 Jesus says these famous words: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  So when we judge others we are actively going against a direct command from Jesus!  And besides that, we’re inviting the judgment of others on us as well (“or you too will be judged” and all of verse 2!).  So instead of breaking this clear command, wouldn’t it be better for all of us to zip our lips when it comes to judging others?
  5. Being judgmental really kills our ability to be and share the good news.  Think about it: If we want someone to respond positively to the good news of Jesus and his kingdom, wouldn’t we want NOT to judge them?  Because if we are judgmental, they will sense it, and just like us, they won’t like it.  And they ARE sensing it.  Remember that study I mentioned at the beginning of this post?  In it the researchers found that 87% of young adults thought that Christians were judgmental.  87%!  That’s insane!  If we keep it up at this pace we’re never going to be able to share the good news with anyone because they’ll be so tired of all the bad news we keep spewing!

 

What do you think?  Why shouldn’t we be judgmental?  Let me know in the comments below!

Cultural Assumptions

I learned something recently — it’s easy to make cultural assumptions.  The way this shows up in my life is that I assume my cultural norms are the cultural norms for everyone.

And assuming my cultural understanding is everyone else’s cultural understanding is a serious stumbling block to following Jesus actively in the real world.

Why?  What’s wrong with thinking one’s cultural norms are the cultural norms?

In order to answer this question, I want to tell you a story…

 

MEC Retreat

Me teaching at a college and young adult retreat.

 

A few weeks ago I had the great privilege of leading a retreat for college and young adults.  I really had a blast!  They coordinator of the retreat asked me to lead the group through a series on the seven churches from the first few chapters of the book of Revelation (the last book in the New Testament).

This was exciting for me because I had already done some work on the seven churches before, meaning that I could pull out my old notes and update them.  This is always a fun process for me.  It’s interesting to see how my thinking has changed and grown over the years.

But another reason why teaching this group was going to be exciting was the fact that everyone in the group was Egyptian or Palestinian.  I have several friends from Egypt (two of whom helped me score this opportunity!), so I felt ready to go!

I met with one of my Egyptian friends prior to the retreat and he gave me some helpful insights on the group and where they were coming from.  He reminded me that since the revolution in Egypt in 2011, many Egyptians, especially Egyptian Christians, have come to the United States.  In Southern California many of them find one another at the church that birthed this college and young adult group.  Therefore, according to my friend, their experience of the church, the gospel, and Jesus himself was very different from what I was used to.

I heard him but apparently his advice did not sink in for me…

 

Cultural Oops!

During one of the teaching sessions I was making a case I make often: Christians are perceived as judgmental and this is something that we need to make efforts to change.  Around the room I was receiving some nods of agreement and a few incredulous looks.  I shook off the latter and latched onto the former…I love affirmation after all!

Later, during the same session, I made the point again that Christians tend to be judgmental and Laura, one of the young women at the retreat, slid her hand up in the air.

“Can I respond?”

“Of course,” I answered.

“Well, in Egypt Christians are often hired to do jobs that require honesty, like a cashier.  In fact, among Muslims in Egypt, Christians are known for being honest, moral, and good people.”

“Hmm…,” was all that I could muster up to reply.

“So it may not be fair to assume that all Christians are judgmental.”

“You’re right Laura.  That was a mistake on my part.  I’m sorry…”

 

The First Moral of the Story

Why is it a problem to assume that one’s cultural norms are the cultural norms?

Because in so doing we can unintentionally and easily belittle and insult other people.  And, trust me, it is truly difficult to share and embody the good news of Jesus and his kingdom while being belittling and insulting!

What can we do to prevent committing a cultural faux-pas like I did?

Well, there are many things we can do:

  1. Learn about the cultural diversity around us.  Even if we live somewhere that seems to be more or less mono-cultural, every family has its own culture and the same sort of mistakes can happen at that level as well!  However, by educating ourselves about the people with whom we regularly come into contact, we may be little less likely to flub it up too bad from a cultural perspective.
  2. Beef up our filters.  If you’re like me and you talk as part of your daily and weekly routines, then it is likely that your filter needs to be changed!  Here’s what I mean: I can just talk and talk and talk without thinking much.  It’s in times like these that I find myself making the most cultural mistakes.
  3. Spend some time learning our cultural quotient and then to do something with this knowledge we gained.  We need to know our CQ — our cultural quotient.  There are some “official” ways of looking into this, but  an unofficial way would be to ask a trusted group of friends who you feel are more culturally savvy than you to give you an honest assessment of where you are.  Then the question is this: What will you do with this information?  What will I?

 

The Second Moral of the Story

Think about what Laura said to correct me — Christians in Egypt have a reputation for being honest and trustworthy.  But Christians in America, by and large, have a reputation for being judgmental.  What’s up with this?

The first way to think about it may be that people in America are giving us a bad rap and that we really aren’t all that judgmental.  But I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we know this isn’t true.  We make snide comments about the behaviors of our friends, family, and coworkers who are far from God, as if we do everything right.  We go on the warpath sometimes looking for ways to judge our national, state, and local political leaders.  And we give social media updates bemoaning the ungodly behavior of those crazy people in Hollywood.

We Christians are judgmental in America, by and large.

So a second way of thinking about it may be that Christians in Egypt are simply less judgmental than we are or that they are simply better known for things that they do well.  Either way, something must be different about them.  What is it?

Well, they worship the same Jesus American Christians do, they read the same Bible, they have similar community times, they pray in similar ways, etc., etc.  So what’s different?

Their context, that’s what’s different.  Here in America we believe (erroneously) that we live in a Christian nation and that everyone should abide by our rules, expectations, and assumptions.  But we don’t live in a Christian nation and many millions of Americans don’t even have a clue what our rules, expectations, and assumptions are!  The truth is that America is not a Christian nation and pretending like it is has done deep, deep damage to our credibility among those who are far from God.

Egypt is different, however.  Upwards of 90% of Egyptians are Muslim.  Egypt is clearly marked by an abiding presence of Islam.  And it is in that context (and an uncomfortable and scary context at times) that Christians in Egypt stand out.  Their kindness, generosity, joy, and honesty are obvious to many people.

 

So Laura was right — and the lessons we should learn from her are to do our best to be culturally aware and that those of us who follow Jesus in America need to work hard to become known for good things about us instead of bad things.

 

What do you think?  What can we learn from Laura’s insight?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

The Watching World

The World Is Watching

People are watching folks who follow Jesus.  They see what we are doing.  They’re watching how we live.  They notice us.

Why does this simple fact — that the world is watching — matter?

Well, it matters because our words communicate some but our lives speak much more.  Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, has studied this matter a lot and has determined that 93% of communication is nonverbal (body language, nonverbal vocal cues, etc.).  That’s crazy!

Think about that for a minute.  What we do and how we do it communicates a ton, way more than our actual words do!

So what does this mean?  Well, this is not a call to legalism.  You may be thinking, “But if what we do matters to people, then shouldn’t we always behave uber-properly, so that they get a good view of Jesus?

Here’s my short answer: “No” and “Yes.”

Here’s the longer answer: “No” because if we get focused on the details of doing what we think is right (or what we’re told is right) people see that too.  They’ll pick up really quickly that we care more about doing what’s proper than we do about people.  And “Yes” because behaving ethically and in ways that promote justice are centrally important.  Ethics and the pursuit of justice are different than following rules out of obligation.  Why?  Because ethics and seeking justice have to do with making sure that other people in the world are taken care of (Phil 2.3-4), whereas legalistic behavior is inherently self-centered.

People will see the difference.  They’ll notice if we’re following rules because doing so is right or if we’re seeking the best for others despite whatever personal cost there may be.

An Example of Living While the World Is Watching

Who can serve as a good example of living an others-centered life well while the world is watching?  None other than Jesus!

Check this out: “During the Passover feast in Jerusalem, the crowds were watching Jesus closely; and many began to believe in Him because of the signs He was doing” (John 2.23 in The Voice**).

Did you see that?  People were watching Jesus too.  They saw his life.  They observed the signs he performed.  They saw his love for his close friends.  They witnessed his miracles and concern for the marginalized.  And, of course, they heard his teaching.

And what did people see Jesus do in John 2?  They saw him turn water into wine, thus preventing a wedding party from being lame and bringing shame on the groom and his family, and they saw him exercise his passion for proper worship and justice when he cleared out the temple.

They saw Jesus’ actions, actions which were for the benefit of others.  John also says that people saw other signs he was doing, and if these unspecified signs were anything like all of Jesus’ other signs, then they too were done for the benefit of others.

Here’s the crux: People saw what Jesus was doing, and when the watching world looked at him they saw him living for the benefit of others.

What Does the Watching World See in Us?

The answer to this question has been studied quite a bit.  Here’s what researchers have found: When people are asked to describe Christians they saw we are judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%).

The fairness of the criticisms may be unfair.  But what is not up for debate is that these descriptors are what people see in us.  This is how the watching world describes us.

This situation is sad, of course.  But all hope is not lost.

One relationship at a time with people who are watching us, we can change people’s opinions.  We can be accepting the way that Jesus was.  We can be less judgmental and more loving.  We can learn to be shockproof when we encounter messed up stuff in the world.  We can be more open and honest about our own sinfulness.  We can stop pretending we have it all together and that we have all the answers.

In short, we can live others-focused lives the way Jesus did.  To paraphrase a theme from one of my favorite books, Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth, by one of my favorite authors, Hugh Halter: A follower of Jesus is a person who lives Jesus’ human life in his or her human life.

How do we live Jesus’ human life?  Well, we need to find out how Jesus lived by reading about his life in the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Then we need to gather some friends around us who also want to live Jesus’ life in their lives and start doing the things we see Jesus doing.  We need to pray for each other, celebrate together, hold each other accountable, and encourage one another.

I can’t emphasize this enough: DON’T TRY THIS ALONE.  Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, didn’t even try this alone!  What makes you or me think that we can do it?  Here’s a good place for you and your friends to start together: The Tangible Kingdom Primer, by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.

So, the watching world is watching us closely.  What are they seeing?  And what can we do about it?

 

** The Voice is a newer translation of the Bible that I highly recommend.  It was put together by a team of biblical scholars and artists, so it is faithful to the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) but it is written in very easy-to-read English.  This is a perfect Bible to give as a gift to someone who is part of the watching world who gets interested in Jesus!

 

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Judgmental — A Fair Critique?

One of the most common complaints about Christians is that we are judgmental in the way talk about and treat others.  In fact, in a recent study, the Barna Group found that 87% of people between the ages of 16 and 29 find Christians to be judgmental.  That was the the top characteristic on the list, just ahead of hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%).

What should we do about these perceptions?  Is there anything we can do?  Are we doomed to being poorly perceived or can we take steps today to improve the way people see us?

 

Mixed Messages

Part of the problem is we are sending mixed messages.  We say that everyone is welcome but when certain kinds of “everyone” come we treat them differently.  We preach that God loves everyone and then we treat people as if he doesn’t.  We believe in grace but act in judgment.

Recently my wife and I went hiking.  On the drive up to the trail head we drove by a strange drive way.  It caused us to do a double take, to reverse the car so we could look again, and then to take the picture you see below.

judgmental

Conflicting Messages

Let’s unpack this photo a bit.  There’s a beautiful arrangement of flowers just to the right of the driveway.  The flowers seem to communicate something like “Welcome!  We’re glad you’re here!”  But the sign on the post screams the exact opposite message: “KEEP OUT! YOU’RE NOT WELCOME!”

Friends, this is a perfect metaphor for what we are saying to the watching world today.  Some of our words, music, programs, etc. say to people who don’t follow Jesus yet that they are safe to explore and to learn and ultimately to meet Jesus and find meaningful community.  But some of our words, postures, attitudes, etc. say to people that people like them aren’t welcome here among the people who supposedly have it all together.

 

Judgmental: A Few Examples

You may be thinking, “No way!  I’m never like this!”  And you may be right.  But my experience and my own failures tell me that it’s likely that we’re all unintentionally being a bit more judgmental than we think.  Here are a few examples:

  1. Believing and Behaving before Belonging: This example is very pervasive; you’ll see it everywhere if you open your eyes.  We constantly communicate to people who don’t know Jesus yet that they need to think correctly about some things and to clean up their acts before they can be part of our community.  Stop and think about that.  What we’re unintentionally saying is that we believe everything correctly and that we behave perfectly.  And let’s be honest, we know this isn’t true; we aren’t perfect!  But by communicating in this manner we are telling people that they have to earn their place among us and by extension with God too.  Oops.
  2. Holding Non-Christian Organizations to Christian Standards:  This is another one that’s uber-common.  Here’s the best example I can think of: We get all up in arms when Hollywood produces a movie with bad language, violence, and nudity.  Should we keep track of the things that we consume as followers of Jesus?  Absolutely!  But why would Hollywood cater toward this desire of ours?  They simply want to make money; in fact, that’s their job.  And since most Hollywood production companies are not Christian organizations, why should we expect them to live up to our standards?
  3. Holding Non-Christians to Christians Standards:  We do the same thing with people too.  When we learn that one of our friends or family members who doesn’t follow Jesus has done something that the Bible calls sin, we act all surprised and we may even try to shame them!  Think about that for a second.  Why would someone who hasn’t agreed to a covenant with God be held to the covenant standards of a follower of Jesus?  That doesn’t make sense at all!  And yet we do this all the time…just ask someone you know who doesn’t follow Jesus yet.
  4. Not Controlling our Non-Verbal Communication: This one is a bit more subtle to notice on our side, but it’s obvious to the person observing us.  Imagine this scenario: You’re talking with a friend and she tells you that she’s living with her boyfriend.  You make a slight face.  She then says she’s pregnant.  Your face gets a bit more obvious.  Now she tells you she’s considering an abortion.  Your face shows shock and outrage!  Don’t get me wrong, it would be best for this imaginary friend to wait to have sex until she’s married and abortion isn’t part of God’s design when it comes to human reproduction.  But by being shocked while having the conversation, all we are communicating is judgment.  This same scenario can be played out in a thousand other situations: drug-use, teen pregnancy, criminal behavior, political choices, etc., etc.
  5. Speaking Christian-ese:  Here’s my definition of Christian-ese — the insider language that Christians speak among themselves, often incorporating biblical and theological terms (such as “repentance” and “sanctification”).  If there’s any chance at all that a new believer or someone who doesn’t follow Jesus yet may be hearing our language, we should leave these words out.  Why?  Because including them creates an “us” and “them” barrier.  And there’s little worse in life than feeling excluded!  Just remember back to being picked last in a game on the playground!

 

What Can We Do?

  1. Stop Being Judgmental:  This one is obvious but it needs to be stated plainly.  Here’s the biblical support if you need it: 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 “For what have I to do with judging outsiders?…God judges those outside.”  There it is in plain language — It’s God’s job to judge those who don’t follow Jesus yet, not ours.  Let’s stop trying to do God’s job!
  2. Create Belonging before Requiring Believing and Behaving:  What did Jesus say, “Follow me!” or “Think right and act right, then follow me!”  He said the former but we tend to say the latter.  How do we expect folks to learn what to think and how to act?  Here’s the truth: the best way for people to believe rightly and behave in godly ways is to be in community with people who are learning to do the same!  None of us will ever believe everything just so and none of us will ever behave perfectly.  So we MUST stop requiring “full” belief and “correct” behavior before we are willing to be in community people seeking to meet Jesus.
  3. Start Being More “Shock-Proof”:  If our postures and attitudes toward others whenever they reveal their lives to us sours them on the good news of Jesus and his kingdom, then we have to do something different!  Here’s step number one: we need to work at being “shock-proof.”  When we find out something about someone’s life that doesn’t line up with what we think is good or right, we must do our level best not to react negatively!  This is difficult and will probably always be so.  But the first step is awareness.
  4. Be More Hospitable in Our Language: When we meet and talk to folks who don’t know Jesus yet, we need to begin to use normal, human language.  We can’t use language that creates an “us vs. them” situation!  Instead let’s start doing the hard work of translating our Christian-ese into the vernacular so that people can meet Jesus in language that they can understand!

 

What do you think?  What can we do to be a bit less judgmental?