Judging: it is the Christian thing to do

money changers

There is a saying among theologians and those who use theology in their arguments that “text without context is a pretext.” The Bible if full of “proof quotes” that the mostly Biblical illiterate use to make what they think is a killer point when arguing with a Christian. Here are a couple of the favorites

From the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8:6-7):

They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.[d] [e]But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

And Christ’s admonition on judging (Matthew 7:1-2)

“Stop judging,[b] that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

These are often taken as stand-alone proofs that we are to just shut up when faced with misbehavior or sin. I mean, beam in the eye, first stone, etc. virtually cries out for tolerance. This is how “proof texts” are used to bastardize Christianity and turn it into a tool to support any social pathology or sexual deviation that comes down the pike. If you can’t judge and be a good Christian then your only course of action is to be quiet and go along.

To understand the Christian position on rendering judgment there are two things to keep in mind. The Old Testament is the foundation for the New Testament. Before the first Gospels were set down, the Early Church relied entirely upon the Old Testament and the teaching of the Apostles. They saw Christianity as the fulfillment of God’s covenant as set out in the Old Testament. If you are, like most Christians, a Trinitarian then you know that Christ is God, not some kind of a mystical guru or a creature of God, and that God does not lie. As such, when Christ speaks in the New Testament it is in the context of what his audience already knew because they were Jews.

With that in mind, let’s take a trip:

Ezekiel 33:7-9:

You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me. When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life.

The idea that “I’m OK, You’re OK” is Christian is just nonsense. Just as God gave Cain short shrift when he claimed he was not his brother’s keeper, so too will we if we see others persisting in sin and don’t speak up. Silence is not an option. See how this dovetails nicely with Christ’s actions with the Woman Caught in Adultery:

Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.”

Christ doesn’t affirm her feelings by saying, “Hey, go back to what you were doing; you were consenting adults and all.” He calls what she was doing a sin. He tells her not to do it again. His judgment is less brutal than that demanded by the village elders (and their violation of Rabbinic law is actually one of the teaching points of the story and explains why they melt away when asked about their own sin) but it is no less final.

The Acts of the Apostles has two great examples of Peter and Paul being very judgmental.

Peter and Simon the Magician (Acts 8:20-23)

But Peter said to him, “May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money. 21 You have no share or lot in this matter, for your heart is not upright before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness of yours and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your intention may be forgiven.23 For I see that you are filled with bitter gall and are in the bonds of iniquity.”

Judgmental? You betcha.

Paul and Elyas the Magician (Acts 13:8-11)

But Elymas the magician (for that is what his name means) opposed them in an attempt to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, also known as Paul,[e] filled with the holy Spirit, looked intently at him10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all that is right, full of every sort of deceit and fraud. Will you not stop twisting the straight paths of [the] Lord? 11 Even now the hand of the Lord is upon you. You will be blind, and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately a dark mist fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.

Ronald Mann writing in Crisis Magazine has more examples:

Here are some excerpts from the epistles that illustrate judgment:

“[W]hen Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he clearly was wrong” (Gal 2:11).

“[B]rothers, even if a person is caught in some transgression, you who are spiritual should correct that one in a gentle spirit…” (Gal 6:1).

“[T]ake no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them…” (Gal 5: 11).

“[R]eprimand publicly those [presbyters] who do sin, so that the rest will also be afraid” (Tim 5:20).

“[T]herefore, admonish them sharply, so that they may be sound in the faith…” (Titus 1:13 – 14).

“[E]xhort and correct with all authority…” (Titus 2:15).

“I am convinced about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another” (Rom 15:14).

“[I]t is widely reported that there is immorality among you… A man living with his father’s wife.… The one who did this deed should be expelled from your midst. I … have already, as if present, pronounced judgment on the one who committed this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus…. You are to deliver this man to Satan for the distraction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5:1 – 5).

 

So, far from being called upon to simply avert our gaze, as Christians we are compelled to point out errors in behavior to brothers and sisters in Christ. If you are, like me, a Catholic you are familiar with the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. The first three of the Spiritual Works of Mercy are:

  1. To instruct the ignorant.

  2. To counsel the doubtful.

  3. To admonish sinners.

To do any of these you have to render a judgment. To fail to do these and you fail in your duty to God and to your neighbor… sort of a biggie in the context of Matthew 22:38-40:

This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 The second is like it:[w] You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 [x]The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

A few years ago, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, when he was then at Denver, made this observation on judgment:

We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue.

Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honesty — these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it’s never an end itself. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of serious evil.

Likewise, democratic pluralism does not mean that Catholics should be quiet in public about serious moral issues because of some misguided sense of good manners. A healthy democracy requires vigorous moral debate to survive.

Tolerance, he said, is what evil uses to survive until it is strong enough to vanquish good.

Judgment is not bad. Judgment, in the context of what is objectively right, is not only good but it is required for a morally healthy society to flourish. As Christians, we can’t be cowed into silence on the serious moral and ethical issues of the day because someone accuses us of judging.