Sometimes it feels like the church focuses too much on the negative. The whole premise of the Christian faith is that humanity is lost. But how can one be saved if they don’t know they need saving? How can we be forgiven if we don’t know we did something that needs forgiveness? It seems like part of the work of the church is to remind the world that we need God.
This sometimes leads to a tendency to tell people how bad they are, making them feel guilty in the process. We sometimes even shut people out when we believe they behave in ways that are unbecoming of our communities. Non-church people sometimes use the word "judgmental" to describe us, which really gets under our skin.
Everything in me wants to scream, “That’s not what the church is about and if you encountered a judgemental Christian, then that was their problem, not the church’s.” Everything in me wants to say this, but yet at the same time I know that the church can really be exclusive, pointing the finger at others rather than looking at ourselves.
Admittedly, the church needs to do some serious work when it comes to welcoming and accepting people as they are. We must also do some repenting of the times when we have refused to look within ourselves at our flaws and decided to tear someone else down instead.
At some level, we hate being called judgemental because we believe one of the great values of the church is to be loving and non-judgemental. One of the messages we try to engrain in the church is that all people are lost, but all people are loved. All people have done wrong, but all people have worth. But is this really the whole story?
There seems to be a tendency within our post-modern culture to see relativism as the highest good. What is good for you is good for you, but not for me or the next person. We should let everyone have the freedom to do what they want and think is right. Relativism can be framed similarly enough as to convince us that it’s a Christian value. But as I was reminded by one of our church leaders, this isn’t the case.
One day, not too long ago, I walked into the Mennonite Church Manitoba offices and had a quick chat with one of our leaders. I almost always leave her office either inspired or thinking about something that she said. She told me about a sermon she was preparing for that Sunday and her topic caught me off guard. She was going to preach on judging.
In my mind I said, “Oh ya, sure. Don’t judge lest you be judged. Good message, especially for her congregation.” (Just kidding). But then, as she talked more about her theme, she wondered out loud if the church is sometimes called to judge. Again I thought, “Good rhetorical question, but nothing new that I haven’t heard before.”
Then it finally hit me. The answer she was going to give was not “No,” but “Yes, sometimes, we are actually called to judge.” That’s not a sermon I hear a lot, especially from churches that are self-conscious about the image they have in their community. But when it comes down to it, total moral relativism is not actually something that the the majority of people value.
Is it right for someone to kidnap and rape a young child? Extreme, I know. And it seems stupid to even ask. I have never heard anyone say that would be okay, no matter their religion or faith. Moral relativism falls apart in extreme cases like these, but also in questions of everyday life. All we need to do is turn an issue on ourselves. Do we believe that someone is right when they steal from us, lie to us, abuse our spouse, look at pictures of our naked children on the internet simply because they think it’s okay?
I know that there are many examples of debatable issues that make it very difficult to know whether something is right or wrong, and for those times the church needs a lot of patience, education, and ears to listen. But without argument, there are things we can do in this life that are destructive and morally wrong. Some try to explain this moral consensus without the existence of God, claiming it as a product of evolution or social construction. But the church has always explained moral objectivity as the design of God, who wants us to flourish and warns us of the things that lead to death and destruction.
Are we to judge when a child gets kidnapped? Are we to judge when a country commits genocide? When greed causes corporations to destroy our planet? When people are mocked, abused and beaten because of the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation?
When we encounter injustice, oppression and violence, I sure hope the church realizes its call to judge. Perhaps not in the way that we usually think, but in a way that cares for people, especially the vulnerable and oppressed. Not in a way that seeks revenge or scapegoats, but in a way that seeks reconciliation and justice.
We must always remember that the way in which we are called to judge is first and foremost inward looking. We are always called to look at ourselves first and see the ways in which we need forgiveness and God’s healing. Even when we encounter evil in this world, it’s always a reminder of our own hearts and that we never fully arrive at moral purity.
Then, as we look at doing something about injustice and oppression in this world, we must remember that our judgement is really there for the sake of the vulnerable, the oppressed, and the victims. Telling people how horrible they are and holding up signs in the streets saying that everyone else but me is going to hell is not the way of Jesus.
The way of Jesus is to put yourself in the line of fire to protect the least of these. The way of Jesus is not to reject and kill the oppressors and perpetrators of injustice, but to sacrifice for the sake of reconciliation and repentance. The way of Jesus is not to judge for the sake of self-righteousness and exclusion, but in order to bring people face-to-face with the love that Jesus has for them. Christian judgement is peaceful, loving, but also active. When we encounter evil in this world that doesn’t sit well with us, that makes our blood boil, and when we can identity those on the margins, we must always ask, "What is God calling me to do?"