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You Can’t Judge and Love at the Same Time?

You Can’t Judge and Love at the Same Time?

Anybody heard of Caitlyn Jenner?

Of course you have, because it’s almost impossible to not see her, now. The world is in fervor over former Olympian Bruce Jenner now coming out as a transgender woman. Although personal reactions from people have been all over the board, the predominant cultural response to Caitlyn Jenner is approval, and even, to some extent, veneration. Those who question the personal, relational, and societal ramifications of a man choosing to alter his appearance and body to look like a woman usually receive swift condemnation for being judgmental. Although I am saddened for Bruce Jenner personally, and for what the whole situation means for us culturally, this story brings up an issue that has become the center of our cultural understanding:

What it means to not judge.

This is not an article about transgenderism. But the Caitlyn Jenner hype is illustrative of a phenomenon that has become part of our societal fabric – the cultural disapprobation against making moral judgments. You will find it in personal conversations, in op-ed pieces, in social media posts: “It’s not my place to judge.” “You’re being totally judgmental!” Or, even better, the coup de grace: “Jesus said not to judge”. It’s what every millennial doesn’t want to be, and what our world navigates, at all costs, to avoid. The message is crystal clear:

Judgment is bad.

Even worse, the powers that be let it be known that you simply cannot judge and love, both.

But is it true?

There are two issues that come up with respect to this whole idea of not judging. The first is the difference between judgmental condemnation and appropriate discernment. The second is the difference between hypocritically judging an individual person and discerning between right and wrong and advocating for that which is right for society.

Condemnation vs. Discernment

There is an important difference between being judgmental (which scripture condemns) and discernment of right and wrong (which scripture calls every Christian to do). Jesus’ admonition against judging was directed at hypocritical condemnation of others that raises oneself into a moral superior position over another. He, of course, never insinuated that His followers should never make any judgments about what is right and wrong; on the contrary He made it abundantly clear that we are to “Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment” (John 7:24). The whole of scripture underscores the importance of discerning between what is God’s will (righteousness) and that which is contrary to God’s will (sin) in ourselves and in our world.[1]

We are not to criticize others out of a misplaced focus on their problems over our own; we are to make discernments about that which is right and that which is wrong. Also, when it comes to our relationship with individuals, there is also a different responsibility to Christian brothers and sisters than to non-Christians: while we do not judge non-Christians by the truth because they do not possess it, we are responsible to hold each other, as Christians, accountable to living by God’s guidelines. Certainly our culture does not understand the differences between judgmentalism (for lack of a better term) – which we should not do – and discernment and Christian accountability – which we should.

Our culture rightly denounces hypocritical judgment. Pointing the finger in moral condemnation of others is the antithesis of love, respect, and care for others, and Jesus soundly forbade it[2]. I have no doubt that some of the criticism of Caitlyn Jenner is grounded in I’m-better-than-you judgmentalism.

But there is something more fundamental going on here. This situation is illuminating about how our culture understands morality, and our responsibility to it – and, increasingly, that understanding is greatly flawed. Most specifically, it demonstrates the way our culture confuses discernment for what is right and wrong for society with judgmentalism toward individuals. And there is a very big difference.

That is to be expected, to some degree. Of course non-believers would have no means for understanding of the concept of holding someone else accountable to God’s standard when they do not possess or adhere to God’s truth. However, it does not require Christian commitment to recognize the difference between hypocritically criticizing or condemning a person’s actions and making discernments about what behaviors are right or wrong for our culture according to some outside standard. After all, every law that exists serves as evidence of people’s discernment of right and wrong for our culture.

Individuals vs. Society

This is what is most surprising, and concerning; the fact that our world has become basically incapable of discerning the difference between condemningly judging the actions of a person, and making discernments about what is right and wrong for society. And if we cannot get that understanding correct – the future of our world will be dark, indeed.

We humans always struggle against pointing the finger in order to feel better about ourselves. The wrong kind of judging is self-focused; it derives a sense of esteem (noticed, or subconscious) from the moral failings of others.[3] It is the focus on others’ wrongdoing, with blindness to our own. Without a doubt, Christ condemned improper judging (Matthew 7:1-5), and taught the principle of tending to one’s own house, when it comes to sin (Luke 6:37-42, 18:9-14). This hypocritical judging should always be called out and condemned, and Christians, especially, must be held accountable to Christ’s command to take the log out of our own eye before pointing the speck in someone else’s. Christians are to, as 1 Peter 1:22 says, “purify yourselves for sincere love of the brothers”, before seeking to love someone by calling attention to an issue of sin in his/her life. However, judgmentalism toward another person is very different, not only from making discernments about what is right or wrong in principle, but from pointing out wrong and standing up for right within the culture around us.

Biblical Figures Engaging the Culture

Scripture is replete with admonitions from God to discern right from wrong[4], and makes it clear that we are to be advocates for that which is good and just in our world[5]. We are to be in the world but not of the world,[6] ready to speak the truth lovingly[7], and are to rebuke, correct, and encourage according to sound doctrine[8]. Scripture also boasts numerous examples of persons who spoke out about and stood up for God’s moral principles in the culture in which they lived. For example:

  • Moses led the Israelites according to God’s words to not imitate the customs of the pagan nations when they came into the Promised Land, but to walk in His ways when they entered their new home (Deuteronomy 18:9-14, 30:11-20).
  • Joshua led the nation of Israel, at God’s command, to conquer those pagan nations who had not repented (Joshua 1-3, 6).
  • Joseph provided a plan to Pharaoh for the shrewd political administration of food during the time of famine, so that the nation of Egypt would not starve (Genesis 41).
  • Esther risked her life speaking out to the king about the political decree he had endorsed which would exterminate the Jewish people (Esther 3-7).
  • As a slave in Babylon, Daniel stood up against the nation’s pagan diet by compelling the guard to let him and his friends eat kosher food commensurate with their faith (Daniel 1). Later, Daniel confronted the Babylonian King Belshazzar on his pride and apostasy – letting him know that God was bringing his kingdom to an end (Daniel 5).
  • Jonah proclaimed God’s message of repentance against the wickedness of the Ninevites (Jonah 1:1-2, 3:1-3).
  • John the Baptist confronted Herod, the Tetrarch, about the immorality of taking his brother’s wife – and paid for it with his life (Matthew 14:3-12).
  • Paul, troubled in spirit by the cultural idols in Athens, preached a sermon of repentance in response to their altar to an unknown god (Acts 17). He later questioned the Romans’ decision to scourge him, a Roman citizen, which was in violation to the law (Acts 22:22-29).

Christian responsibility involves lovingly yet honestly engaging the culture in which we live, as advocates for God’s truth. While sharing the truth of the gospel is obviously a significant part of that engagement, believers also have a role in advocating for God’s moral truth within the society around us.

Jesus prepared his disciples for what this would mean:

16 “Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves. 17 Because people will hand you over to sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues, beware of them. 18 You will even be brought before governors and kings because of Me, to bear witness to them and to the nations. 19 But when they hand you over, don’t worry about how or what you should speak.” Matthew 10:16-19

“Then they will hand you over for persecution,and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 Then many will take offense, betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. – Matthew 24:9-13

It is pretty clear that the disciples would not be flogged and killed by the political authorities simply because they talked about Christ’s love. The disciples’ testimony inherently involved (and still involves) a confrontation with the morality of the world around them, as they presented the truth about God’s call for righteousness. It is not possible to share the gospel without addressing the matter of sin. And Christ made it clear that doing so, on a cultural level, will mean persecution.

Everybody Judges, and Should

Even non-believers should be able to understand the importance of advocating for that which they believe to be right, and condemning that which they believe is wrong, on a socio-political level. And, on many fronts, they do. People generally have no trouble speaking out about the importance of not discriminating against people of color. They struggle no difficulty advocating for laws that protect animals from unnecessary cruelty. The cultural conscience applauds those who enact justice for child victims of physical abuse. Even for those who claim they do not ascribe to any higher sense of objective morality live, very clearly, as if there is, in fact, a standard of morality that everyone else should follow: It is wrong for people to not recycle to take care of the earth, it is wrong to deny women the right to choose what happens with their bodies, it is wrong to not equalize the systems of oppression that prevent people from achieving the American dream.

Clearly, there are many things our society deems it perfectly appropriate to “judge”, on a cultural level – there are quite a good number of things that are perfectly fine to call wrong. The “Do not judge” admonition, for example, is not ever thrown around when progressives declare that traditionalists are wrong to “deny” gay persons the “right” to marry.

And that is where the hypocrisy lies. Americans “judge” what is right or wrong for society all the time – as they should. That is part of our responsibility as good citizens: to determine what is best for the world in which we live.  The question is not whether or not it is ok to discern right and wrong in our culture (it obviously is, and everyone does it); the question is what standard we will use to make those determinations.

A New Standard of Discerning Right and Wrong

Traditionally, the understanding has been that since human understandings of morality vary greatly and often conflict, it is necessary to appeal to a standard that is outside of human invention – one instituted by God. The Judeo-Christian moral core has guided societal moral principles in America since its inception.

That is changing.

As secular values become predominant, the objective Judeo-Christian standard for morality is giving way to subjective guidelines determined by cultural popularity. The current adage of cultural wisdom is that one does not want “to be on the wrong side of history”. In other words, if societal momentum understands something to be “right”, then it is right at that time. If Bruce Jenner feels that he is a woman, then that is what is right for him. If Rachel Dolezal identifies with the African-American race even though she is Caucasian, that is right for her. What is right and wrong changes according to personal and cultural understanding and applicability, and situational context.

Except, it doesn’t.

Claiming that right and wrong are subjective doesn’t change the consequences that happen in reality from violating the standards of the One who made us. It doesn’t change the reality that Bruce Jenner’s children have to deal with the confusion and fallout of losing their father to a new identity as a woman. It doesn’t change the betrayal to hundreds of students (and NAACP members) who believed Dolezal’s claim that she was representing them in the fight against racism from her own experiences with it. And the world, on some level, knows that there is objective, actual truth (and, as a result, real world consequences), independent of our experience or understanding of it. Hardly anyone would question the wrongness of murdering someone in cold blood, recognizing that allowing rampant murder would bring catastrophic consequences to society. Few would dissent with the idea that it is wrong for people to lie and cheat as a way of life, because deception hurts relationships and culture. So the Judeo-Christian standard of morality is still accepted, culturally, in most areas of life, because, of course, it corresponds to reality. It is primarily in one area that Judeo-Christian morality is rejected:

SEXUALITY.

Our culture, as a whole, simply no longer recognizes a legitimate right to critique what is right or wrong for our society when it comes to sexual morality. Or, to be clear, only most aspects of sexual morality. We can still judge child sexual predation and bestiality as “wrong” for society, for the most part (usually only because of the issue of consent). But virtually everything else is off the table for judgment.

Where does that leave us, as Christians, who have a God-given responsibility to advocate for that which is right in our world, when scripture gives us a picture of sexual morality that is contrary to our culture’s understanding of it?

It means we are not going to be popular.

Facing the Lynch Mob

I struggle – struggle – with how to speak out against the changes in political policy around sexuality.  There are so few voices sharing a reasoned, biblical perspective on this issue, with incessant screams and shouts resounding non-stop, from media, pop culture, and academia, the refrain to do what feels good and fulfill the desires to which you have a right. Sexuality is an issue that impacts our physical, emotional, relational, psychological, and spiritual well-being – and its consequences are great. Christians cannot simply sit quietly as cultural sexual norms shift further away from their created intent – a situation that not only detrimentally affects people individually, but devastates the world in which we live, through its impact on children and families.

So I do speak. And, let me tell you, it’s not any fun. I have discovered, very clearly, that advocating for scriptural moral principles in public policy means I am viewed as hateful. No matter how kindly it is couched, no matter how well crafted the arguments, no matter how logically or theologically sound, any word about traditional biblical moral guidelines will be met, at best, with the accusations of being judgmental, and, at worst, with a contemporary form of the lynch mob. It is much easier to throw spears at a person’s character and intentions than to engage with the truth of someone’s claims, and the “You’re a hate-filled bigot” or “You’re a judgmental, narrow-minded Pharisee” ad hominem attacks are exceedingly effective for silencing people. I have learned the hard way that there is simply no way to advocate for biblical sexuality within our society without enduring a metaphorical beating from someone. As my father has told me, “If you try to say things a prophet says, be prepared to get what a prophet always gets.”

I’ve learned to expect it, now – but it doesn’t make it any easier.  As frustrating as it is to be called judgmental, to be thought of as hateful, and to be derided as a fundamentalist nut-job, probably hardest of all is when I am told that I cannot stand up for Christian sexual principles on a cultural level while simultaneously loving those individuals who do not live by those principles.

I’m sorry, but it just ain’t true.

You Can’t Do Both?

I believe scripture makes it clear that no woman has the right to take the life of her unborn child. I am vehemently against abortion, and publicly address my concerns about pro-choice laws, the actions of abortion clinics and practitioners, and the philosophy of those who advocate for a woman’s “right to choose”. I post information about the sanctity of life, try to illuminate the horrors of abortion, and make arguments for the damage abortion does both to children and women.  I debate pro-choice persons related to their intellectual reasoning for their position, write blog articles on how the experience with losing my son has impacted my understanding of the value of the unborn, and annoy the heck out of my Facebook friends with my pro-life politics.

Yet I also volunteer, every week, to work with women who face unplanned pregnancies, who are considering abortions, and who have already had abortions. Never do I condemn them for their choices, nor do I try to manipulate them into choosing life. I simply meet them where they are, let them know they are loved and cared for, and minister to whatever needs they have. I offer them the love of Christ, provide resources and hope, share with them the truth about options they have before them so they can make truly informed decisions, and help them identify sources of support and strength they have available to them. Some of them choose to abort their children. That grieves my soul, and I know it grieves God’s soul, but I still care for these women and seek to minister to them – even if that ministry means holding their hands and listening, later on, to their pain and regret after the fact…or even if it means praying for them when they walk out the door to make an appointment with Planned Parenthood.

I can, in spite of what our culture tells me, both fight against abortion, on a policy level, and care for and minister to women who have abortions, on a personal level.

And I believe we, as Christians, can (and should) do that for issues of morality in our world. Even sexual issues. We are called to discern truth, live according to it, and advocate for it in the culture around us. And we are called to have personal connections with people who struggle, to empathize with their pain, to let their suffering impact our hearts, and to minister to them as persons with inestimable, God-given worth and beauty.

These are not mutually-exclusive things – in fact, scripture calls us to both.

Loving People AND Standing For Truth

Certainly, the personal touch with those struggling with moral issues should impact our approach to addressing that issue on a policy level – it should make us gentler, more compassionate, and more informed. I think we have a responsibility to personally get to know and minister to those who struggle morally with the very things upon which we seek to take a stand – to let their world impact ours, so we feel their pain, hear their troubles, and come to understand their hearts. Ministry does not happen through sound bites – it happens through touching people’s lives. The personal connection takes off the edges to our black-and-white tendencies; it broadens our understanding, helps produce compassion, and germinates Christ-like love. We cannot live the gospel if we do not love, and we cannot love if our beliefs do not bring us to serving real people.

34 “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

10 Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. 16 Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. 18 If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:10, 15-18

15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.” James 2:15

Where the world is off base, though, is that we are also called to discern right from wrong, as we minister. We may never criticize or condemn, and we must always be sure our discernment is based on the best interest of the person in front of us rather than ourselves, but we cannot love unless our love is based on truth – and what is good and true will always be that commensurate with the nature, will, and intent of God. This means we cannot minister effectively unless we are clear what right and wrong is, according to the Standard of the One who made us. We must know who God is and what His will is as revealed by His Word. It means that affirmation of a person’s actions that violate God’s standard is not loving and, ultimately, will not be good for that person. We have to navigate the very rocky path of letting the struggles of another person impact our heart, without letting it change our truth.

“Walk as children of light— for the fruit of the lightresults in all goodness, righteousness, and truth— 10 discerning what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them… 13 Everything exposed by the light is made clear, 14 for what makes everything clear is light. Therefore it is said: Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you. Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise— 16 making the most of the time,because the days are evil. 17 So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” – Ephesians 5:15-8-17

19 My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2

21 Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” Romans 12:21

Appropriate theological stances without personal empathy and compassion become militant. Personal empathy and compassion without appropriate theological stances become enabling.

“Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth.” 1 Corinthians 13:6

“But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ.” Ephesians 4:15

“By obedience to the truth, having purified yourselves for sincere love of the brothers, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,” 1 Peter 1:22

Condemnation vs. Discernment

My position is not popular. I will continue to be told, increasingly, that I cannot both stand for biblical sexual morality and care for those who do not live according to that standard. I will be called “judgmental”. And if, along the way, I slip into a sense of feeling self-righteous because of others’ sin, they will be right. But they will not be right, simply because I advocate for biblical sexual morality within our culture. And they will especially not be right if I do it while simultaneously making sincere efforts to seek out, understand, care for, and serve out of love the very persons struggling with the moral issues I speak about – because I know that I, too, miss God’s moral mark every single day.

Do not judge?

No.

Don’t condemn, criticize, focus on the faults of others more than your own, or put yourself in a position of moral superiority over others. DO discern God’s will, walk in the light, expose the darkness, and proclaim God’s moral truth.

Love people personally, and advocate culturally for that which is right.

And as for me?

I don’t care about being on the right side of history. I care about what will be said about me when I finally am able to stand before the right hand of God.

Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new.They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths. But as for you, be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. – 2 Timothy 4:2-5

“For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” 2 Timothy 1:7



[1] 1 Corinthians 2:15, 12:10, 5:9-12, Romans 12:2, Ephesians 5:10, Philippians 1:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, Deuteronomy 30, Job 34:4, 1 Kings 3:9, Zechariah 7:9

[2] Matthew 7:1-5, James 4:11-12

[3] James 3:14-17

[4] Deuteronomy 30, 1 Kings 3:9-10, Romans 12:2, Ephesians 5:15-18,1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, Hebrews 5:14, 1 John 4:1

[5] Isaiah 1:16-17, Micah 6:8, Proverbs 31:9, Ephesians 5:8-11, 2 Timothy 4:2-5

[6] Romans 12:2

[7] Ephesians 4:15, 2 Timothy 2:15, Titus 2:1, 1 Peter 3:15-16, 2 Timothy 2:24-25

[8] 2 Timothy 4:1-5

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