Christians have a reputation for being judgemental, we can be a bit “judgy”. It’s not a good look. People today just don’t like being told what to do for a start, especially when the finger is pointed at them by an interfering goody-two-shoes. To cap it off we have not exactly been successful at keeping to our own rules. There are all too many tragic stories in the public eye of the failures of prominent Christians and institutions. “You are all just a bunch of moral hypocrites” is the shrill accusation we hear.
Statista Global Surveys published a report this week which makes shocking reading for Scottish Christians. Scotland tops the UK list of places where people self-identify as atheist or non-religious. It’s 54% of Scottish 18–64-year-olds.
We certainly have a problem (and an opportunity).
One of the headwinds against us is that we are perceived to be judgy in a culture that does not want to be judged. Sometimes our message comes across as “God loves you, but we don’t like you”. As a result, Christians are viewed not as a silent “moral majority” but as an immoral minority threatening to clamp down on personal freedoms and human rights.
“Do not judge” says Jesus in our text this week. (Matt 7:1-5)
So, is he telling us to simply to shut up and tolerate everything, to become a moral Switzerland and adopt a passive, ethical neutrality where anything goes?
Is Jesus asking us to be silent in the face of injustice, deception and evil?
Absolutely not! The whole “sermon on the mount” requires us to evaluate what is good or bad, what gives life or death, and where the moral lines are set. Not so that we can be the ethics police but in order to live by God’s enabling and show God’s good values in our earthly relationships
Most commentators reckon Jesus is talking about “judgmentalism” or “censoriousness”. He is referring, they argue, to knee-jerk opinions launched from a place of self-righteousness. The kind of comments that cause me to look down on you and tell you that I think I am better than you. Perhaps “bigotry” or “prejudice” fit the bill better. After all, a “pre-judice” is a pre-judgement, a verdict made without the whole story, an opinion forged from the fragments of gossip and views I have told myself about you.
Jesus points out that we are all in the same boat and that each has a tendency to mess things up. We all are needful of his grace.
However, that should not stop us from speaking out against injustice. Rather it summons us to a humbler approach to issues and people as we realise that we each have our own blind spots.
The Topsy Turvy kingdom calls us to walk in tension with the march of culture around us whilst realising that we too are needful of God’s grace and power.
Perhaps you have learned how to engage with our world in ways that are both provocative and humble – we’d love to hear how you went about it.