non-judgementalism

I am in the throes of last-minute assignment frenzy, but am taking a break between papers to throw down a few ideas around this topic, prompted by my friend Richie, who asked “…you say a few times that you don’t judge people. What does this look like? Are you saying that you don’t recognise that what someone has done is wrong?”

Good question.

Allow me to begin answering it by giving you a little personal history. There was definitely a time in my life when I was highly judgemental. It started with being raised in a very critical environment, both of me and of seemingly everyone else around us. I was exhausted by all that bitterness and began to reject it. But, I continued to be very critical of myself. Constantly judging myself meant that I was in a non-stop game of comparison: how do I compare to him/her in a, b or c. I have moderate talents so sometimes I’d come off well; other times, catastrophically badly. As a result of all this comparison, I was judging not only myself but everyone around me, non-stop. I seemed to be stuck in the cycle from which I had first emerged, and rejected, or so I thought! Compared with those who came off badly, I looked pretty good in my own head. It was a deeply unhappy place. This led to the much-coveted personality trait of self-righteousness. Oh, how we all love a self-righteous prig!

Anyway as I wandered into faith I began to try to repeatedly repent of all this stuff, which literally understood, means to turn away from it. What I was failing to do (or even consider) was turn away from the self-judgement. It was only when I began to give myself permission to accept myself that I began to understand how I could accept others. Accepting yourself doesn’t mean you like everything about your attitudes or behaviours, but it does give you permission to rest in your own company without judgement, in the very same way you would with a trusted friend. This in turn allows you to stop competing with those around you. This is tied up with the idea of grace – but that’s a post for another day. :)

Then, with age, comes a lot of realisations. The realisation of my privilege has been a biggie. That was what I was talking about in that previous post about choices versus chances. How do I know what I would have become, given different circumstances? I can’t know.

Fundamentally I approach myself and my fellow human beings with two Christian truths in tension (you could call this my “operative theology”):

  1. We are all imperfect, cracked and broken to some degree. As a result we act in violence or confusion and make mistakes and wrong choices.
  2. We are all created by a God who looked on his whole creation, including us, and said, “It is very good!” As a result there is something at the core of each of us that is beautiful; something that has the potential to grow.

Anyone who engages with this reality embarks on a wrestling match of epic proportions. Pretty much my whole purpose in this life is to allow that something beautiful in me to continue to grow and grow. I will insist on feeding the violent wolf, though. Or – as someone put it to me recently – I will insist on watering the weeds!

If the above is what I believe about everyone, and if I am in a space where I am accepting of myself, then I do not need to judge anyone else. I can disagree with their actions, yes – I can observe while they feed the wolf. But what is the role of a judge? It’s the one who gets to condemn or set free. In short: it’s the person designated to form conclusions. I will never be the one to form conclusions about me or you or anyone. Why? Because none of us is finished yet. Further than that still – the judge needs to know all the facts of the case. I cannot, and never will, know all the “facts” that form another person. One small fact can be all it takes to have a verdict or case overturned. So I need to let go of the position of judge: like most other jobs, I am simply not qualified for the role.

That’s not to say I don’t sit in the judge’s seat from time to time and bang the gavel about – just ask the husband unit about that. :)

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6 Responses to non-judgementalism

  1. canalways says:

    I was thinking about this recently because on one hand Jesus tells us not to judge people but on the other hand Jesus tells us to watch out for false prophets and judge if they’re genuine by the fruit they produce…so I’m not sure what to make of that… and I suppose Jesus practiced what he preached on that one because he judged the religious leaders…

  2. In the case of false prophets and religious leaders, I think Jesus was talking about power.

    We judge things all the time, and it’s right and healthy to do so. For example, we make judgements about the kinds of food we should eat or the type of book we should read. We judge that it would be better to leave our kid with Mary next door for an hour than with the town drunk. Women judge all the time what streets are safer to walk alone at night. These judgements are natural and in fact necessary for survival.

    The kind of judging we are not to do is the kind that condemns.

    Even in the case of false prophets (and in the reformed church boy howdy are there a lot of those *coughmarkdriscollcoughbennyhinncough*), but while we can reject the behaviour of such people we still can’t cast judgement on them personally, or on their lives.

    I don’t spend my days asking myself if the people I serve and care for are genuine. It’s none of my business.

    But if a person in a position of power, particularly a self-confessed religious person, shows themselves to be a liar, I will happily see that exposed. That’s still not judging them. It would be unloving to let them languish in their lies in any case.

  3. canalways says:

    I don’t really want to mention this one (because I’d be getting a one way ticket to Judgement-ville if it’s right) but Paul seems to be banging on about that sort of thing in 1 Corinthians 5 and a bit of 6…the words ‘church discipline’ send all my alarm bells ringing, but it does seem to be there…and it does seem to be the type of judgement that condemns…maybe it’s just a tension or something, I don’t know

  4. Church discipline is another long conversation and it is definitely strictly internal to the church, as opposed to our call not to judge. As members of a body we give one another permission for rebuke: nobody outside the body has given me permission for that, so I’ll abstain. Getting into the ins and outs of rebuke is delicate, too. I have both rebuked and been rebuked and it’s never an easy process, but an absolutely necessary one.

  5. Richard Cronin says:

    Its interesting that in both of the passages that Jesus talks about Judging he leaves the door open for it to take place. John 724 in particular “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”

    I think what you are trying to do is draw a distinction between the person and the action. Which i think is what Jesus is talking about and would also cover all of dave’s objections too. For then your in a situation where you are always trying to understand how the person could do the action. And then if you add in the teaching from Matthew 7 about planks and specs which i think means you need to take a good long look at yourselves before anyone else then you have a situation where humility becomes a way of life and grace and understanding are the qualifiers for any judgement you have. Nest pas?

  6. Yes, basically. But I don’t always believe there’s a rational reason for someone committing a grave crime. That thought process actually can ironically lead to victim-blaming (and shaming). I also think that we are all responsible for our behaviour. Having said that, as far as I am concerned there’s a perfectly loving, perfectly merciful and perfectly JUST God who is assigned the task of judging: I am none of those things, so I can rightfully let go of the responsibility.

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