As The Banner editor, I often feel judged for what I write and don’t write, for what I choose to publish and not publish. But God convicted me that I, too, have been judgmental of others.
In a 2007 Barna Group poll of young Americans (aged 16-29), 87% of non-churchgoers and 52% of active regular churchgoing youth agreed that Christianity is judgmental. There is clearly a disconnect between what Christians proclaim and what the world experiences.
What is judgmentalism? It is condemning other people’s faults while downplaying our own, creating a sense of moral superiority. Judging is focusing on the speck in someone’s eye but ignoring the log in your own eye (Matt. 7:3). It’s playing the, “Your sin is worse than mine,” game. It should not be confused, though, with holding people accountable or discerning between right and wrong or giving constructive criticism.
Our sinful nature predisposes us to being judgmental through two main ways. Firstly is our negativity bias. This is our tendency to focus more on and be affected more by negative things than positive or neutral things. For example, I could get five good compliments and one negative criticism on my editorial and my mind will dwell on that one negative. Our sinful natures have a great ability to find and focus on flaws, even as tiny as a speck in someone’s eye.
Secondly, we have a deep desire to avoid shame. Professor of Social Work Brene Brown, an expert on vulnerability, wrote, “What’s ironic (or perhaps natural) is that research tells us that we judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. … We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived shaming deficiency.” (Daring Greatly, p. 99) For example, if we are struggling with pornography in our lives, instead of dealing with it, we might subconsciously deflect our attention to judging people who have same-sex attraction or other sexual struggles. Our negativity bias coupled with our deep avoidance of shame make a potent recipe for judgmentalism.
How do we stop being judgmental? I believe we need to draw closer to God. The closer we are to God, the more likely we will see how sinful we are in relation to his holiness. We will be much more self-aware and humbled by our sins. Then, as Jesus told us, we need to first deal with the logs in our own eyes before we deal with the speck in our neighbors’ eyes (Matt. 7:5).
Secondly, we need to be merciful, kind and patient with others despite their sins and faults. Jesus commands us to be merciful just as God is merciful (Luke 6:36). The apostle Paul warns us that “at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. … Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance?” (Romans 2:1, 4) It is not God’s wrath or judgment that leads to repentance, but rather God’s kindness. How many people have ever changed for the better through experiencing other people’s judgment? Rather, it is through grace, love and kindness that people are led to transforming their lives.
Let us rid ourselves of our hypocrisy, arrogance and judgmentalism. Let us turn the world’s perception of Christianity from a judgmental religion to one of a gracious and kind religion.