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How Should We Judge the Judgmental?

Sometimes I see church members express frustration online about other members they perceive as overtly judgemental towards people who "sin differently than [they] do."

I'm sympathetic. I was one of those judgemental people, more so than I am now anyway - the cure may not be complete!

How should we treat those who turn up their noses or act holier-than-thou?

People who struggle with loving others and being non-judgemental (i.e. the second great commandment) need our compassion and example at least as much as those who struggle with other commandments.

Should we wait until they get their act together to love and fellowship them?

If yes, I suspect we are guilty of the same shortcoming that we see in them.

A failure to be Christlike is a failure to be Christlike, whether that failure is an addiction, a personality flaw, or a tendency to withhold warmth and kindness when the recipient seems undeserving. Loving them anyway is part of our discipleship journey.


Those lines are paraphrased from a conversation this past week with a friend of many years, Emily, who graciously gave me permission to share our interaction and use her name.

Here is her original post on social media:

I get sad when I see people leave the church. Not because they are leaving, but because I know exactly why they are leaving. Because it's all the reasons I want to leave too.

Down at the core of the gospel, there is this merciful God. Who is love, shows love, gives love. He wants us to experience a life full of complexities and pain so we can reach a full understanding of the universe. But this core is covered by thick layers of culture that is so depressing.

A gospel that preaches agency. People that say "unless you choose the wrong choice."

A gospel that preaches love. People that say "unless you love the wrong people"

A gospel that says judge not. People that say "do you know what they did wrong? They won't be happy."

And I understand that a church is more akin to a hospital. The people within it are supposed to be imperfect and flawed. But I would rather see a whole congregation of smokers, coffee drinkers, tattooed up gay people than a congregation that says, "I would rather my child die than sin."

Because the people who condemn sin so harshly do not understand the core of the gospel. They are not in it for the correct reasons. If you do good only to ward off bad feelings and make it into heaven, are you truly doing good?

If we were meant to come here and

1. Get baptized

2. Go on a mission

3. Get married in the temple

4. Have a family

5. Die that order with no mistakes, variety, or people that behaved differently, then we would be living Satan's plan for us.

Let me emphasize. Those things are great and have immense value. But the problem is the *No mistakes. No variation* the idea that there is no other way to live and have joy. That is not the Savior's plan. That is not why we are on this earth. And most importantly it negates the atonement.

If we want people to stay. To really feel joy and peace I feel that we need to evaluate what the gospel is about. What the Savior truly wants for us.

It's not perfection. It's not an absence of anxiety. It's not a world where every person is made of the same cloth and feels unwelcome when they have different ideas.

It's love. Plain and simple.

If nothing else speaks to you think on these things.

Think about how the Church of Jesus Christ does not believe in a traditional Christian idea of Hell. But instead in degrees of glory. This means God has not condemned anyone, but instead has given them a place where they will be loved for who they are perfectly.

Think how the Savior himself felt angry, sad, fear, every emotion. And never once apologized for feeling those things, or felt like he was succumbing to sin for feeling them.

I'll continue to live my life loving people for their imperfections, their "sins" and for everything God would love them for. Knowing that their life is supposed to be wildly different than mine. They are not supposed to pick the same path as me unless it's what feels right to them. Because I believe in personal revelation as well.

And because the most Christ-like people I have met, were often not members of my religion.

Who is my neighbor?
Source: Legacy Church, Knoxville

I replied:

People who struggle with the second great commandment often seem to be under the impression that they are exempt from loving people who aren’t meeting their view of the first great commandment.

But they are wrong. The gospel of Jesus Christ requires that we simultaneously seek to obey God‘s commandments ourselves (1st GC) and love others regardless of their own faith journey (2nd GC).

That said, people who struggle with the second great commandment need our compassion and example at least as much as those who struggle with other commandments.

Should we wait until they get their act together to love and fellowship them?

If yes, I suspect we are guilty of the same shortcoming that we see in them.

Emily generously responded:

I hope you read this comment in a sincerely happy and excited voice. It's so hard to convey emotion through text, so I feel the need to spell it out. I absolutely love it when you comment on my posts. I feel like you both are agreeing with me and calling me out and I am here for it. 😄 This is a silly response to a serious conversation. I'm having one of those nights where this comment made me happy and laugh. Because it's truth. Even if I feel heartache and pain at the way others talk and treat people at times I need to practice compassion towards them. What I am slowly learning is how to do that while also placing meaningful boundaries for myself. Like all things in life, it's complicated and difficult. But that is why I'm here. And it's what I want to take time figuring out. Ultimately I hope as I find my way back to the core Christ-like qualities. I can learn to love the gospel fully again. Not because everyone within it is perfect, but because I can understand them more perfectly. Oh heck, I don't know if that was even a proper response to what you said. But I had a wonderful time with it.

I was grateful for Emily's warm reply. Online interaction is often testy, especially since we don't have the benefit of body language and looking one another in the eye. I replied with some relief and gratitude for her choice to be generous and kind with me:

Emily, I'm so glad! You read my approach well. I am agreeing with you because there is truth in what you wrote. And I was trying to provide a caution because there is danger in responding to that truth in a way that separates us from the very thing that gets us closer to truth in the first place, namely the gospel of Jesus Christ and the church where some of the messy attempts at living it occurs.

The gospel is a scary genius invention, I'm beginning to think. The demands it places upon us are often excruciating. That last word is derived from "cross" and "crucifixion" which is appropriate since the gospel requires us to "take up our cross" and allow the "old" us to die as the "new" us is born, usually slowly.

The gospel net is cast over the entire human race. That's a big net and it catches some very hurt and broken fish. At church, we find ourselves in that same net flailing around with some of those fish and we are expected to interact with, love, and serve them. This is a tall order. Some of them push our buttons, goad our pet peeves, and sometimes even genuinely hurt us. This is God's invitation for us to live the 2nd great commandment and it's daunting. In truth, each of us is hurt and broken, just in different ways.

I have a friend who is a successful business owner, who runs company meetings in a highly ordered and efficient way. Every attendee knows what is expected of him or her and comes prepared or there are consequences. Church meetings (like councils, classrooms, and such) are an exasperating experience for him because, well, they aren't anywhere near as efficient as he knows they could be. And he's right. But church is a very different environment than the corporation. We don't fire people. We love them where they are at and add our offering to improve our collective church experience through callings, class participation, and most importantly through good old-fashioned loving and welcoming and reaching out to others as brothers and sisters.

BTW, I'm an advocate for the 2nd great commandment because I was very much the judgy person you described in your post. I was and am so convinced that the gospel is the best way to individual and global happiness that for many years I felt frustration and even disgust towards those who were slacking and depriving my world of awesomeness. It took a long time to realize that the 2nd GC was meant for me and was a necessary prescription to fixing what was broken in Gary. Still working on that and church is an essential ingredient, I've found.

Copyright, Charles Schultz

My gratitude increased with Emily's subsequent reply:

I wholeheartedly agree. And it is so hard. I wish I could fully explain every little thought in my head. Because I've been thinking about the shame we as members put on each other's and the parts of the gospel we don't spend enough time talking about. And I want so much to create a stir in the culture of the church. And the hardest part is trying to find a way to get people to stop and think but also not create a new form of shame and unwelcoming behavior. I will keep what you said in mind. And what others have brought to my attention. Mostly to remember that everyone is on their own spiritual journey. And the majority of these judgemental people don't fully realize that that they putting too much pressure on people. But if I can shake the idea of perfection and reintroduce the fact that the Lord wants us to be human and make mistakes. Have emotions and live a life entirely different from others. I really want to be able to do that.

Here, Emily brings up two important points that are worthy of separate essays entirely.


In another article, I address the "dead-end of shame". I believe it is lazy and counterproductive.

It is based on a mistaken understanding of human nature and has only negative consequences. The alternative is much more difficult but has better outcomes.

Shame drives behavior underground, making it taboo in conversation, and leaves those who are different or struggling alone in self-loathing and bereft of compassion, understanding, and connection.

It makes the rest of us (who don't struggle with that specific thing) think we are exempt from applying the Second Great Commandment to those who struggle. We feel justified in shunning, demeaning, and persecuting them or their behavior, in person or online.

This failure to come face to face with the humanity in others and the challenges others face stunts our compassion and retards our discipleship - and leads to great epochs of persecution that eventually comes back to haunt society. Yes, it's much more convenient for us when people around us are "perfect" - they place little demand on our patience,

energy, or time. But we don't grow.


This is another common source of guilt and frustration among Christians. We are commanded to "be ye therefore perfect" (Matthew 5:48), but we're not. Painfully not. And this weighs heavily on us. On this topic I highly recommend these links:

Final Thoughts

Jesus condensed his teachings into two great commandments which are, basically:

  • Love God

  • Love Others

Loving God is hard because it requires accepting his commandments and trying to live them. It's inwardly focused and a life-long effort. In the Old Testament, God's people are called "Israel", which has at least two meanings: "those who wrestle with God" and "let God prevail." That about sums it up.

Loving Others is hard because it requires seeing past the thorns and thistles of others' imperfections and reaching out anyway, acting kind anyway, turning the other cheek anyway.

Doing both at the same time is, well, really hard. But it's what makes the world go round. A society where the majority of people are engaged in these two battles is the kind of society we want to live in. A society where either commandment is generally ignored is a nightmare.

In conclusion, following Jesus Christ can seem like a quixotic journey filled with paradox. Most of the grating, contradictory, or "impassable" challenges I've faced in my journey of Christianity have found resolution in surprising and powerful ways, albeit through much effort. I still have questions. I still fail often, but I continue to see the gospel unfold in beautiful and brilliant ways. The imperfections within me and within every other human ever are a feature of the journey, not a bug. Thank you, Emily, for helping me on my own journey to understand the Christian journey!

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