Who are you to judge?  This has become a mantra of modern American culture.  We detest judgmental people.  Who do they think they are to judge others, anyway? 

Actress Lori Loughlin has become the face of the recent college bribery scandal.  Just in case you missed it, she and her husband bribed their children’s way into a couple of choice colleges.  Exuding righteous indignation and hounding her to explain how she could be so shameful and criminal, the media has rushed to condemn her.      

I have no sympathy for what Lori Loughlin did.  But what happened to “who are we to judge?”  In this “post-judgmental” culture, no one seems to have a problem judging her!  I haven’t heard a single pundit rise up to roundly condemn all the blatant judgmentalism swarming around her. 

The truth is, we are very confused.  Our culture sends mixed messages about judgmentalism.  One minute, we say no one has a right to judge another person.  The next, we make all kinds of judgments about people.  From Tanya Harding to Matt Lauer to R. Kelly, Lori Loughlin is just the latest in a long string of figures who’ve gained public notoriety because they’ve done something we as a culture judge to be reprehensible; and as a consequence, we show no hesitation in scorning, banishing, and even condemning them.

By the way, just as a quick aside, calling someone judgmental is being judgmental.  It’s an intrinsically self-implicating act—you can’t call someone judgmental without you yourself judging them!

In a survey done a little over a year ago, Americans were asked to identify the first word that came to mind when they thought about Christianity.  There were two that topped the list: old-fashioned and judgmental.  Christians are often stereotyped as judgmental, and in many cases, very deservedly so!

However, this often leads to the conclusion that Christianity itself is a judgmental religion.  And nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, most of our ideas about non-judgmentalism, as confused as they are, ultimately derive from Jesus. 

When the expression “don’t throw stones” is used as a euphemism for not judging—as it famously was during the Monica Lewinsky scandal which, like few other events, pressed the issue of judgmentalism—we tend to forget that this comes from the story of the woman caught in adultery. (John 8:1-11)  Jesus forgives her after telling those who want to stone her to death, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”  If you read a little further beyond this story, you’ll see that Jesus then goes on to say something remarkable: “I judge no one.” (v. 15)  

For Christianity, if God Himself refrains from judging people, then no human being dare do so!

As evidenced by the frequent reference to this story and Jesus’ teaching “judge not lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1), most people in our culture at least give lip service to this.  What we so often miss, though, is that Jesus had no qualms about judging sin.  In this story, He never challenges the basic assumption everyone is making that adultery is a condemnable sin, condemnable precisely because of the immense harm it caused not only the families involved, but the stability of society as a whole. 

In fact, in what many call the “higher righteousness” of His teaching, Jesus radically intensifies the moral norms of His day.  For example, He radically intensifies the Old Testament teaching against adultery by saying that anyone who looks lustfully at another person is guilty of committing adultery with them in their hearts.(Matthew 5:28)  In other words, He harshly judges any behavior that harms or diminishes us.

This isn’t being judgmental, however. 

It’s exercising moral discernment: making judgments about what is good or bad, healthy or destructive to human thriving.  And we can’t live without it.  If we don’t exercise moral discernment, then we will be indifferent to all kinds of things—like parents bribing their children’s way into elite colleges, racism, sexism, rape, and so forth—that are harmful and unjust.  We have to make judgements—be judgmental—about what is good and what is evil; otherwise, we will allow evil to flourish.

How absurd and offensive would it be to say in response to something like the recent attack on Mosques in New Zealand: “Who are we to judge?”  Being morally outraged, being judgmental and condemning such behavior, is the only way to oppose it.

Judging a person, making the ultimate judgment that they are evil—condemnable—is judgmentalism.

Judging their behavior is moral discernment.

Jesus judges the behavior.  He never judges the person.

He condemns the sin, not the sinner.

Many years ago, I was in a downtown urban church which wanted to use its facility to provide transitional housing for the homeless.  The bishop at the time intervened.  He said doing this would attract more homeless downtown and he didn’t want to see that! 

Around the same time, this bishop was in the process of purchasing a half-million-dollar mansion to be his new residence.  The prior bishop lived in a small, austere, one-room apartment and drove an old jalopy of a car. 

I was infuriated.  I went around telling anyone who’d listen what an un-Christian hypocrite our bishop was.  I realize now how judgmental I was being.

Was he behaving in an un-Christian way?  Absolutely—In flagrant opposition to Jesus’ teaching about the poor, he was preventing them from receiving potentially life-changing help.

But who was I to judge him?  Jesus made it absolutely clear that I dare not.

The Christian way to handle it would be to judge his actions—not him; to question what he was doing, not assassinate his character and condemn him as a person.

Christianity is the most radically non-judgmental faith possible—it says that God Himself judges no one.  Jesus didn’t make the ultimate judgment about any person, whether they were evil or not, whether they were condemnable or not.  He never gave up on anyone; and He will never give up on you!

He did make it abundantly clear that we can condemn ourselves by rejecting Him. 

But He was adamant that He didn’t judge people in this way.  And He commanded his followers to do the same. 

This is what He meant by “do not judge”.

So do you think you can judge behaviors without being judgmental?  Will this work with some of the “hot-button” issues of our day where people often feel a judgment about their behavior is a judgment about them?  Go to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and let me know what you think!  Also, please consider helping us get the word out about this website, this ministry, by “Liking” the Raising Jesus Facebook page, subscribing to the Raising Jesus YouTube channel, and telling your friends about us.

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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