I have a guilty secret. Every Saturday morning, whenever I am at home, I have a lie-in—not just any old lie-in—it follows a particular routine. I get up, go downstairs, and take our dog for a walk. Then I prepare breakfast and take it upstairs again, and my wife and I have breakfast in bed. And then…I stay there! It is my one moment of indulgent behaviour—don’t judge me for it! (Actually, I don’t feel that guilty, and it is not really a secret.) But what it does mean is that, most Saturdays, I tune in to Saturday Live on Radio 4 with the Revd Richard Coles.
Richard is wonderful to listen to. He is interesting, witty and poetic—every link sounds as though it has been finely crafted. And, like any good chat-show host, he is non-judgemental to a tee. After all, why would anyone come on a show to be quizzed or questioned—you want your story to be listened to with interest. So it was fascinating to hear him the other week talking to Boris Becker, the youngest ever player to win Wimbledon at the age of 17. During the conversation, Richard talked about Becker’s ‘unusual family arrangements’ as giving him a ‘richness of personal experience’. He was referring to Becker’s widely reported one-night stand with a Russian model in a restaurant when his wife was pregnant with their second child. The encounter led to the birth of a child by the woman, and to Becker’s divorce from his wife.
All this got me thinking. Becker was clearly happy with the non-judgemental tone of the discussion. But I wonder what his wife would have thought about it? I tweeted on this to Richard Coles”
Boris Becker’s one night stand while his wife was pregnant described as ‘richness of personal experience’ by @RevRichardColes. Marvelous.
— Ian Paul (@Psephizo) June 27, 2015
and his reply gave a hefty hint of her response:
@revandyriver @Psephizo she by all accounts found it unuxorious. — Richard Coles (@RevRichardColes) June 27, 2015
(In case you are wondering about his terminology, it might be worth checking the dictionary:
uxorious |?k?s??r??s|adjective having or showing a great or excessive fondness for one’s wife.
ORIGIN late 16th cent.: from Latin uxoriosus, from uxor ‘wife’.)
The sense of neutrality about what was perhaps the worst form of betrayal within a marriage could only be received as a slap in the face. And that’s the problem with not being judgemental: not to judge is to judge. When we decide not to take a position on an issue, we are in fact taking a position: if we don’t disapprove, we are offering our tacit approval.
I think this is the dilemma behind our culture’s ambiguity in relation to offering judgements. On the one hand, we value freedom—the freedom to act in a way which is in line with our conscience. But when people offer judgements about our use of freedom, we get, well, very judgemental. So (to offer an ‘extreme’ example), David Cameron has been happy to state his intolerance of intolerance, his condemnation of ‘extremism’. But this only raises the question: how ‘extreme’ do you have to be in order to provoke this intolerance? What degree of intolerance, and in what aspects of life, merits this intolerant response?
This cultural dilemma makes itself felt in the church as well. It is more and more common to summarise the gospel as ‘Don’t judge.’ This in part arises from Jesus’ own teaching: ‘Judge not, lest you be judged’ (Matt 7.1) he says, in one of his many pithy aphorisms. But it seems to have gathered force in a culture which does not like other people interfering in our own lives. Who are they to tell us what we can and cannot do, how we should live? And as a result, many people dislike the whole notion of judgement—and they particularly dislike the culture of a church which appears to be self-satisfied and judgemental, where you have to pretend to be something you are not in order to be welcomed. After all, all sorts of people appear to have felt welcomed by Jesus.
And there’s the paradox. Neither Jesus nor Paul appeared to have had any qualms about rendering judgement. This is sometimes seen in direct rebukes—both to Jesus’ own followers as well as to those on the outside—but it is also seen in the ‘vice lists’ that appear in the gospels and Paul’s letters. These lists often mention sexual sin, but they also consistently include things like greed, selfishness, putting others down, lying, and so forth. A classic example comes in Mark 7. Jesus first criticises the Pharisees outside his group for their hypocrisy—and then rebukes his own followers for being slow to understand! This leads him to express 12 ‘vices’, many of which are based on the 10 Commandments:
What comes out of you is what defiles you. For from within, out of your hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile you. (Mark 7.20–23).
It seems as though there are things that we should make judgements about—and this is actually part of loving people (assuming that Jesus perfectly expressed God’s love). We should not presume to judge prematurely or out of our own prejudice and intolerance. But that does not mean we should never make judgements. In fact, both Jesus and Paul expect Jesus’ followers to be able to make judgements—to discern between what is right and what is wrong, and to make that known.
How, then, do we make sense of Jesus’ prohibition on ‘judging others’? Perhaps the key is in the second half of his saying: ‘…lest you be judged.’ People find judgement most distasteful when those rendering judgement appear to think that they themselves are immune from it. Jesus makes clear that none of us is free from the judgement of God; the declaration of what God approves and disapproves of is a vital part of helping us to grow in holiness.
When we are honest about the fact that we, too, stand under the judgement of God’s truth, then that lends our judgements a quite different tone. This still might not be popular—but if we never make judgements about what is right and wrong, we are withholding an important part of the truth about ourselves and about God. And without that we cannot be truly loving.
This was first published in Christian Today on 15th August 2015
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60 thoughts on “‘Judge not’…or ‘Judge for yourselves’?”
I am with you about God’s judgement of us. And also about our own judgemental faculties being used on ourselves (the unexamined life is not worth living). But I would be interested in your take on judging others. I see no particular problem in doing so for our own purposes, eg drawing conclusions for one’s own behaviour from Boris Becker’s.
But I am unhappy about my fellow Christians making their own judgement about where the rest of us are in error and then feeling it is their Christian duty (even if we have never been introduced) to correct us, and set us back on the right path (as they see it).
On the ‘Good Disagreement’ page, we have had a good deal of this. And the correction always begins ‘In love, I must tell you…’ or words to that effect. Attempts to adduce the plank and beam in support of our argument that this ‘correction’ is unacceptable, we are told that – on the contrary, it is God’s will.
Would you care to adjudicate?!
Well, on the one hand, I feel the force of your resistance to being put right—particularly at a distance by people with whom we might feel we have little in common.
But here’s the thing. Suppose you feel I am in error, and that this error is not only endangering me, but harming others around me and possibly imperilled them. Should you say something, and in what terms?
The thing is, I am by nature an interfering busybody. But I have spent my whole life trying to suppress this impulse, under the impression that it is un-Christian. Now you say it is my Christian duty.
My dearest wish is that the Church of England would agree to disagree, and that we could all come together as the Body of Christ to spread the good news of the gospel. Instead of that, we are bordering on schism, and I am not sure how much longer we can paper over the cracks.
So, yes, I would love to take you on one side and appeal to you, as one of the most influential of your tribe, to consider the possibility that we are not meant to settle the matter of right and wrong this side of the eschaton. Even if you believe, as I realise you do, that your tribe’s interpretation of the bible is the correct one, and all others are in error, could you find it in your heart to set that on one side and be prepared to sup with the halt, the blind and the lame on the basis that we are all trying to follow the Christian path in our own way, that we are all children of God, and that we can sing as we journey together:
‘We are not divided
All one body we,
One in hope (if not doctrine)
One in charity’.
I hope my impertinence does not irritate you too much – I would understand if it did. I am not asking you to abandon any of your beliefs, simply to reconsider Psalm 133. In love.
Do you think that the apostle Paul would have agreed to disagree over the question of circumcision?
Paul even suggested that those who thought that circumusion was of value ought to mutilate themselves! (Gal 5.12). Seems that Paul wasn’t being very Christian – or was he?
Interesting take on this at
Hi Chris, from what I know, I doubt that the apostle Paul would have agreed to disagree over anything! (I read the piece at the link).
So where does that take us? Into schism? Or will we remain just another generation wandering in the wilderness arguing over the number of angels that can fit on the head of a pin?
Can I offer a sporting metaphor – did you ever play rounders? To me, Jesus’ (quite successful) attempts to spread the word were like someone walking onto a patch of rough grass, and with a few sticks and a ball, marking out a rough pitch. ‘That’ll do’, he says. ‘You’ll pick up the rules as we go along. Now, who’d like to play?’.
And, for the last 2,000 years, some of us have played rounders and picked it up as we went along, and some of us have concentrated on codifying the rules. Neither approach is entirely right, or entirely wrong. But squabbling over the rules instead of attempting to play the game is a pitiful waste of effort.
Glad you liked the link!
I think what this illustrates is that there are things in which it is not possible to agree to disagree and they aren’t the number of angels dancing on a pin!
I think that the key issues are to do with the nature of salvation. Paul was hard on the Galatians because the doctrine they were embracing was causing them to have faith in the wrong thing and would lead them away from salvation,
So I think what needs to be decided is whether our disagreements warrant consideration on any bearing they may have on our salvation and eternal destiny.
‘from what I know, I doubt that the apostle Paul would have agreed to disagree over anything!’
I think this needs to be teased out.
If what Paul wrote is ‘breathed out by God’ (2 Tim 3.16) and is to be our ‘inspiration and guide’ (the ordinal), then what are we to do?
First, let’s not misread Paul. His engagement with the Corinthians is a masterful exercise in gently correction people who are profoundly mistaken…so much so that we wrongly think he agreed with them!
Second, let’s note why Paul thinks certain things are worthy picking a fight over.
Third, can we allow our lives to be shape by Paul and the rest of Scripture, and less by our English sense of being nice…?!
Thanks Laura. Four quick things.
1. This has nothing to do with being an interfering busybody, so you are right to continue to suppress that. I think I make that fairly clear in the article.
2. I am happy to sup with others…and I am interested that you are bringing up the question of sexuality, which I do not mention once.
3. But all the evidence is that changing the church’s position on this issue in fact will fundamentally change what the C of E is, and I am not prepared to give that away.
4. I think it fascinating that you are happy not to agree on doctrine—which is doubly problematic. To think we can attain unity without actually believing the same thing is not really short of disastrous.
From my point of view there are four areas of disagreement in the church at the moment
1. To what extent should the CofE affirm or condemn gay people. Or perhaps, to what extent should individual clergy be allowed to condemn or affirm gay people as they see fit.
2. Should women be allowed leadership roles?
3. Who makes decisions on behalf of the CofE – is synod, the ABC or the ABCs council?
4. Is traditional worship style important and/or relevant?
I don’t really see any of these are salvation issues? I think all bar 3 have been answered and they are only still in disagreement because some people in the CofE are unhappy with the result and want to pretend it is otherwise and because other churches in the communion want us to conform to them rather than these being internal issues.
Ian – your blog is based around a sexual misdemeanour so I don’t thinjk you can claim you didn’t mention sexuality!
Dear Pete J
I support Ian on this item is not being about sexuality but you are completely wrong on item 1.
The Church supports gay people the issue is nothing about condemning them it is about belief in Scripture as a foundation of being Church and not disregarding Scripture. That is the issue that affects what being Church is and being a Christian is. We are called to consider Scripture as a whole and not cherry-pick bits of it and so understanding Scripture matters.
This item is about Judging and what that means and it is about understanding Scripture.
the blog post is about judgement based on a particular sexual misdemeanour – of course it is about/involves sexuality! The topic of disagreement has also been raised which is what I was actually commenting on.
My understanding of the situation is that the CofE decided in 1991 that gay people (partnered or single) should be fully accepted into faith communities and their faith respected even if their own belief/interpretation of scripture on the issue is at odds with official church teaching. Clergy may affirm them and even affirm their relationships, but not marry them. Clergy may not condemn them. If clergy teach on sexuality they must say that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality.
The disagreement is because some/many clergy want to be allowed to condemn gay people and/or do not want other clergy to be allowed to affirm them. The CofE is also facing pressure to become more conservative on this and other social issues from other churches within the communion. There is actual rebellion on this. I think it is fair to say that poor treatment of gay people within the church is widespread and institutionalised to the extent that a large number of clergy do not seem to have acknowledged this as the official position.
There is also disagreement because some clergy want to be able to teach and practice equality in terms of sexuality. I would say in terms of teaching, again, rebellion is widespread, and actually the bishops have massively lost control of this and there are signs they are trying to reign this in. I think in terms of practise there is not much evidence of rebellion except for the two gay priests who have married against their bishops wishes (there are also rumours that several bishops are gay and partnered but I’m not sure how true this is).
*However* what I meant in my post is that the official position is clear, hasn’t changed for decades and there is no intention to change it. A lot of conservative clergy seem to be frightened the church is going to change its teaching, but A) the senior leadership of the church has been clear they will not allow it to change and B) many of these clergy have spent the last 25 years ignoring church teaching on the topic anyway. I’ll say it again more explicitly, how clergy treat gay people is not a salvation issue.
I would also add that the “gay” debate is *not* about some people choosing to ignore scripture, but about how we interpret scripture and what the pastoral impact of our interpretation is. Ian has shown in this post how the words of Jesus clearly say “do not Judge” yet he, as a conservative evangelical (and maybe even an evangelicals evangelical) believes that he should judge Boris Becker for having sex with another lady while his pregnant wife was at home.
As you can read further down, I fundamentally disagree with Ian on this and I think this is actually a much more important topic than sexuality. But do I think he is “cherry-picking” or “disregarding scripture”? Absolutely not! It is possible for two Christians to disagree over an interpretation of scripture. I absolutely agree with you that getting it right is important, but I really hate this idea that because someone disagrees with your interpretation of scripture they are necessarily disregarding scripture and necessarily wrong.
Clergy and Christians do NOT treat gay people as second class cutizens and do NOT discriminate against. There is profound and clear disagreement on Scripture when even Jesus’ words on marriage in the gospels is being twisted and then ignored.
Let’s compare the government’s approach to the Church.
Gay Pride –
Government: On gay pride day every government office in the UK flew the gay pride flag.
Church: Many Churches were either the start or finish of the gay pride march (there was a dispute over the Dean of York’s involvement which I won’t go into here but you only have to look at the way places like Liverpool Cathedral were involved to see the Church’s participation ).
Fathers’ day –
(This was only a couple of days earlier)
Government: Absolutely Nothing.
Church: Many churches celebrated and valued Fathers.
Mothers’ day –
Government: Absolutely Nothing
Church: Many Churches celebrated and valued Mothers.
Day of the Child –
Government: Absolutely Nothing.
Church: Some Churches in every Diocese celebrated and valued children.
We are clearly and unequivocally faced with a government that couldn’t care less about Fathers, Mothers or children. The Church is the only organisation left that values them yet it is the Church that is being vilified by the media and politicians.
Some churches gay people are treated well at, others not so much. This is exactly the disagreement – how should gay people be treated?
I don’t even need to bring up anecdotal evidence since theres been a lot in the public domain about, frankly, abuse of gay people in the CofE over the last year or so… so I don’t think you can claim that all clergy treat gay people well. I’m glad you mention York Minster because a local reform clergyman spoke out about their affirmation and said that gay people should not be welcomed into the church. Reform later put out a statement backing him on that.
There isn’t a “gay pride day” … You may be thinking of London Pride?
There are a huge number of laws and benefits available because of government legislation, so I don’t think you can claim the government does not support family life. However I do not see how that is relevant?!
No Pete J, I profoundly disagree with you.
You are clearly pretending that all of society’s attitude to homosexual people can be projected on the Church and the Church gets all the blame.
There are NO clergy that aim to treat homosexual people badly at all, there are simply some who are human the same as the rest of the population and get it wrong.
You try to pretend that pride was a London event but you’ve just discussed York in the same response. Clearly by your own response it’s not just London at all. The government flew the flag over every building to support it as a national event, not just London. Hence it included departments all around the country.
Again Im not sure what relevance what the government decides to do has? There is no pride day. Different cities have pride festivals on different days, it isn’t a national event. The day pride occurred in London this year coincided with that in NY SF and DC and was the day after the historic SCOTUS ruling. I have no way of knowing if the government were showing support for pride or the ruling or what. I can tell you that I work for a government agency outside of London that did not support pride either locally or London. I still don’t see what relevance what the government does has to the church?
I think you are quite wrong about clergy ill treatment. I have certainly experienced it and I know lots of other individuals who have too. I’m surprised that you think saying gay people should not be welcome in church (like Rev Tinker/Reform) is not in rebellion to the teaching that gay people are to be fully accepted into church communities? The ABY -a known conservative- certainly thought he was out of line.
There is also the group Diverse Church. Although it performs wider functions. The main reason it exists is because many younger gay adults do not feel safe being open about their sexuality in church. (I feel the CofE should be utterly ashamed of that and working to change it). The lady who runs it has an aim that it won’t have to exist in five years time.
I think maybe the reason why you don’t see this stuff going on is because it is deliberately hidden (like other abuse). I do not mean it is always hidden in a sinister sense, but you hardly want to advertise these problems to the world…which is tricky when a problem person goes on a radio station…! If he worked for my employer, he wouldn’t have got an anglican coded note from his boss, he’d have been sacked on the spot.
Dear Pete J
Once again you fail to see the total and absolute contradictions in your own responses. Your reply is total nonsense.
You have called the ABY a known conservative when he supported the Dean of York by taking a liberal position. You can’t even be consitent.
Clergy do not set out to be homophobic. They are human. The Church is now left as the only organisation supporting Fathers, Mothers and children.
I fully defend my position. Clergy are not the hateful people you pre-suppose.
My point was that teaching on sexuality is not in disagreement in the sense that the issue has already been decided and it has been decided this will not change. It is only in disagreement in the sense that clergy *on both sides* of the argument are departing from the official teaching. I don’t know why that is so controversial?! If ABY is liberal then Id hate to meet a genuine conservative! Lol
Mt7’s use of krino could also be translated as ‘passing sentence’ or ‘condemn’ rather than judge in the sense of discriminate or evaluate. It’s a very common use of the verb in Hellenistic Greek.
Thanks, Lorenzo, that is interesting. The difficulty is that the NT uses the krino/krisis word group with a wide range of negative *and* positive meanings. So in Matt 7.1 I would agree with you–but there are plenty of other texts in which we are clearly expected to render judgement, or in Sam Norton’s words, exercise discrimination.
Well, yes, it is always people like me who think the disagreements are unimportant, sub specie aeternitatis, who talk about angels and pinheads. I appreciate this seems to belittle the difficulties, which I know are great. If it were easy, we could surely have managed some sort of agreement by now.
But it is, in a way, back to the problem of Boris Becker.
I have a fondness, you may be surprised to hear, for the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday in the Church Year. Once a year we are reminded that it is the job of Christ to divide us into sheep and goats. I know of no occasion when the sheep are invited to make this distinction.
And it is on this basis which I am praying for us all to unite, leaving the judgment of our fellow Christians safely in the hands of the great shepherd himself, freeing us to concentrate on the Great Commission.
Just make sure you read the goats aright… http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/matthew-mission-and-muslims/
1. I think we will have to agree to disagree over what consitutes being an interfering busybody!
2. I don’t think I have brought up the question of sexuality, have I? It was not intentional.
3. The Conservative Evangelicals have already fundamentally changed what the Church of England was, and I would dearly love to return to the status quo ante.
4. We disagree.
I cannot see that your interpretation of the passage from Matthew has anything to do with mine. You may be right, it is even possible that I am right. Certainly I have always read it as sorting one Christian out from another. If it were just sorting Muslims from Christians, we could sort ourselves out and wouldn’t need Christ to make the decision, would we?
Dear Laura, you wrote “If it were just sorting Muslims from Christians, we could sort ourselves out and wouldn’t need Christ to make the decision, would we?”
To be a Christian means that everything we do is trying to be in Christ. If we find that we are anything we are is not in Christ then we are rightly admonished. We cannot ever leave Christ even though as humans we constantly, like St Paul (re Romans 7:15) get things wrong.
Sorry I left a word out.
The sentence “We cannot ever leave Christ even though as humans we constantly, like St Paul (re Romans 7:15) get things wrong.”
…should read ….
We cannot ever leave Christ out even though as humans we constantly, like St Paul (re Romans 7:15) get things wrong.
Laura, the point about the parable is that it is *not* about sorting Christians from Christians, for at least two very good reasons:
a. the ones who are being helped are ‘the least of these brothers of mine’. In Matthew, Jesus only refers to one group of people as his ‘brothers, sisters, mother’ and that is his followers. So if we are to locate ourselves somewhere in the parable, it is as the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked etc and not as either the sheep or the goats.
b. the sheep are *surprised* that they have been helping Jesus. Any Christian who has been helping the poor because of this parable cannot, by definition, be the sheep, since we will not be surprised.
There are plenty of places in the NT where we are encouraged to care for the poor. But this is not one of them.
You are welcome to disagree with this view, but to do so you will need to give a convincing answer to these two points at least. In the history of its interpretation, it was read in this way for all the years up till about 1850, when the modern interpretation was first suggested.
1. I think we will have to agree to disagree over what consitutes being an interfering busybody!
2. I don’t think I have brought up the question of sexuality, have I? It was not intentional.
3. The Conservative Evangelicals have already fundamentally changed what the Church of England was, and I would dearly love to return to the status quo ante.
4. We disagree.
Pushing it a bit deeper, I think Garry J Williams put it very well in His Love Endures Forever (IVP 2015). We do not demand justice in our relationships (or in this case condemn – probably meaning of krivo in Matt 7:1 in the light of v6) precisely because God does, and then offers us grace through Christ’s substitutionary death.
That’s fine—but should we demands justice in other people’s relations, since God does?
I think the word ‘judge’ contains an ambiguity – whenever I talk about ‘do not judge’ I immediately say, we need to distinguish between discernment and condemnation. Jesus is prohibiting the latter, for we all fall short of the glory of God, we are all beggars, and we none of us have a place to stand to condemn a fellow sinner. Yet that does not mean that we are not to discriminate, and to avoid all the things that he tells us to avoid. Which leaves the very difficult question of how to draw boundaries around a community – what differences can be lived with, and which not – how far can our grace extend?
I would agree entirely. But the problem is that the NT appears to stick with one word for both activities.
I wrote the piece because I got bored with people saying ‘Who am I to judge?’ as if this was rhetorical and there was no answer!
So far as I can tell, while humans judge their fellows in a moral sense the animal world appears to have no comparable awareness of right and wrong – merely self preservation or self interest. In that sense they are blameless of moral wrongdoing. However, Adam and Eve’s eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Genesis story was an exercise of choice which thereafter left mankind imprisoned in a world where he (she) could not avoid making judgements. And, as Ian says, choosing to make no judgement is itself a judgement. Saying ‘who am I to judge?’ is a kind of opting out, an attempt to avoid the consequence of the fall, and we cannot do that. So it seems we are condemned to make judgements just we are also condemned to be judged.
Is all this in conflict with what Jesus said in Matthew 7.1? I’m not sure; but was this a case of Jesus being so fed up with the self righteousness that he saw around him that he used a ‘hard saying’ to make people think (he has form on this)? However we view it, it is surely the case that we cannot opt out of judgement, but whether, how and when we convey our judgemental thoughts to others should first be considered in the light of our own equal and often worse failures.
I agree that there’s nothing inherently wrong with making judgments, and that the Beatitudes were condemning hypocrisy, not judgment per se; but as a chat-show host, Coles is expected to not upset his guests. He may well have set aside his personal beliefs to do his job, just as a doctor treats a patient he despises, or an attorney represents a client he’d like to see banged up. If so, we can’t infer Coles’ general attitude to adultery from this exchange.
It was his tweet that provoked Ian to ask his question- not the ‘on-air’ lack of judgmentalism!
‘If so, we can’t infer Coles’ general attitude to adultery from this exchange.’ Not sure I ever suggested we should. My comment was more on the general principle…
Fair enough, but a general principle needn’t apply in all circumstances. Are you suggesting that interviewers on chat shows should rebuke their guests? If so, what other fields — medicine, law, property, accountancy — should this condemnation stretch into? All?
Well, what is fascinating about the media is what you can judge, and what you cannot. So a woman writing about experimenting with all sorts of licit and illicit sexual relationships is unjudgeable, since this is about exercising sexual freedom, but Tim Farron taking a historic Christian line is game for the slaughter.
Different media play by different rules: if Farron were on a chat show, I doubt he’d be quizzed about his opinions on sexuality; likewise, if Becker was, say, on a panel discussion about the family, he might well face questions about his extra-culinary activities.
As for the underlying distinction, yes, there’s a value judgment, and society considers the traditional Christian position to be homophobic. This doesn’t mean that anything goes. If the hypothetical woman were involved in sexual acts that violated social mores, such as non-consensual sex, or sex with a minor, she’d likely face questions of her own.
I think we need to discern right from wrong. I don’t think this amounts to condemning an individual – especially since situations can appear black and white on the surface, but it is rare or impossible to understand all the factors. I think we have a tendency to judge harshly those sinners who are committing sins we’d never think of doing, but have compassion on those who we identify with.
I completely agree that there are occasions when we are called to take sides. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that if we are neutral then we have chosen the side of the oppressor.
What I think you could have included in your blog is the occasions when Jesus chose not to judge e.g. Woman trapped in adultery, Peter on the beach etc. Jesus judges the oppressor not the oppressed whereas the Pharisees only judge the oppressed. Which is the church most like?!
I also think that it is worth considering that when Jesus judges he is coming from a position of laying down his life for the world, and the apostles likewise. I think too often Christian judgement has a wiff of “im all right Jack” which I am sure you would not agree with.
I think it is also important that we bring both grace and truth to a situation. I don’t think we can just assume that everyone is goaspel literate. If Boris reads this blog post will he understand that Jesus can and will forgive his sins or will he just feel condemned?
This is one of the most interesting of discussions: a good-tempered, well-reasoned exchange of salient points.
I am among those who deeply dislike the present judgmental attitude within the church.
The Way, the Truth and the Life – clearly set out – is for us to follow and to live with all our heart, mind and soul. We aren’t asked to delay in order to ‘put right’ our fellow-travellers: that is in God’s loving hands.
I particularly like Laura’s analogy of the game of rounders: ‘And, for the last 2,000 years, some of us have played rounders and picked it up as we went along, and some of us have concentrated on codifying the rules. Neither approach is entirely right, or entirely wrong. But squabbling over the rules instead of attempting to play the game is a pitiful waste of effort.’
Thanks…though I would serious take issue with the idea that debating doctrine is ‘squabbling over the rules’ or that those who do so are not ‘playing the game.’
Ironically, both of these are judgements! And I think they are wrong!
Have you tried playing rounders where different groups have different rules…??
Indeed I have, wider-family games of rounders include many variations. To focus on those is really the premature end of the game… Invariably, the enthusiasm to play the game overcomes the objections: the result is a sense of greater friendship, and you might say a beneficial learning curve.
I think we are in danger of pushing this metaphor to breaking point…but I think you are talking about all sharing in a variation of the rules but playing by the same variation at the same time. I am asking: what is it like when, in the same game, different people choose their own rules to play by? So one person hits the ball and is caught but is not out, whilst another is out; one person scores a rounder by running to first base, but someone else has to run all the way around.
I don’t think the fun would last long!
My point – and you are quite right, it is becoming laboured – is simply this:- that for the greater good, people agree to focus on the essential purpose; and, in ‘playing together’ that brings far greater satisfaction, and a great sense of purpose, than standing around arguing over minutiae…however much the detail matters to some of them, that counts for less in the grand scheme of things.
What is the goal? One must ask, is it to be right, or is it to finish the game honourably – whether rounders, or this earthly life!
‘I have not come to judge the world but to save it ‘(Jesus, John 12:47)
‘What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?’ (Paul, 1 Cor 5:12)
‘It’s God’s job to judge, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, it’s our job to love’ (Billy Graham, 1963)
When we refrain from judging we actually surrender to God his rightful authority, we resist the temptation to ‘play God’ in the lives and discipleships of others.
We don’t judge because none of us is free to cast the first stone and because in judging we run the risk of undermining what God is doing in someone’s life (and indeed his plans and purposes for their future)
We don’t judge because none of us can change the past…we can only hope that with God’s help and other people’s support we make better (more God-honouring) decisions in our present and future
We don’t judge because we ‘Golden Rule’ – we treat other people in the ways in which we would like to be treated (so hands up if you relish being repeatedly publicly named and shamed for past sins)
We don’t judge because (as Pete J points out) none of us has the whole story and only God is privy to all the facts
We don’t judge because we are called to forgive ‘seventy times seven’ (and there’s nothing like ongoing recriminations to make someone feel unforgiven or even unforgiveable)
We don’t judge because it’s more important that a person comes to faith in Jesus than we give ourselves the opportunity to ‘put them in their place’, and ‘love keeps no record of wrongs’
We don’t judge because we attempt to render our churches ‘safe space’ (Boris Becker should not need to fear that his past will be brought up Sunday by Sunday, by anyone who wishes to judge him for it).
At his point on our human timeline, not one of us sits under the judgement of God – he has chosen to stay his hand until the end of time when we will all be judged, in fact, by Jesus. None of us sits now under God’s judgement and we are all have free will to live rightly or wrongly, to act justly or unjustly, to be judgemental or not.
But also at this point on the human timeline, each one of us is heir to God’s boundless love and grace. That’s all of us and I include here Boris Becker. In fact, I should say especially Boris Becker, for Boris Becker is inordinately, infinitely, and eternally precious to God.
Thank you: a fitting and generous conclusion: how wonderful if this were universally accepted – and practised.
That’s a great summary…of one half of what the NT says. As I mention in my article, for every verse you mention saying ‘don’t judge’ there is another one which says ‘judge’…as I suggest in my heading.
So at the moment, it appears as though you are picking and choosing just half of the NT witness to suit what is acceptable in our culture.
I am not suggesting that we should be in the business of raking up people’s past. But every time we do not condemn a wrong action, we fail to stand up for the one who has been wronged. As someone else has said in this thread ‘Desmond Tutu said that if we are neutral then we have chosen the side of the oppressor.’
And as Simon comments below, if our actions aren’t wrong, then God’s forgiveness is valueless.
Ian, has Mrs Becker asked you to stand up for her? Does Mrs Becker still consider that she is wronged or have the intervening fifteen years led to reconciliation on all sides? Are you the only person left judging (well, apart from the Enemy who likes to keep us all in condemnation)?
How far might your article cause Mrs Becker grief in dredging up these past events and publicising them more widely (I for one wasn’t aware of the details of this case). Will your article encourage Boris and Mrs Becker to consider finding out more about the Christian faith?
I don’t know the answer to these questions but more to the point, neither do you. Wouldn’t it have been more considerate (kind, supportive of God’s purposes to see people come to faith) to not have brought up this case at all?
How far do your further verses on judgement serve us when we as Christians seek to (metaphorically) wash Boris Becker’s feet?
Jane, your comments are a bit misdirected. It wasn’t me who brought up the Beckers’ situation—it was Richard Coles. Perhaps you had better take it up with him.
And on being reconciled, the situation was sufficiently acrimonious for Becker’s wife to move to the States and sue for divorce there in order to side-step the pre-nuptial agreement signed in Europe and allow her to claim more seven times more of his estate in settlement. She clearly felt she had a grievance.
Ian, you have clearly brought up the Beckers’ situation when you write ‘Becker’s widely reported one-night stand with a Russian model in a restaurant when his wife was pregnant with their second child. The encounter led to the birth of a child by the woman, and to Becker’s divorce from his wife’. It’s unfortunate for Boris Becker that he is a public figure and that this incident was widely reported at the time, but you have made the choice to disseminate this story more widely, it’s there in black and white.
Mrs Becker may have felt that she had a grievance but we don’t know if she feels the same way now, fifteen years later. Also, Mrs Becker was intimately connected with and profoundly affected by Boris Becker’s actions and so a sense of grievance is not unreasonable. You were not intimately connected with nor profoundly affected by Boris Becker’s actions (as far as I’m aware) so I’m not sure why you should feel a sense of grievance over this. I’m not sure of your motives here and ‘standing up for Mrs Becker’ doesn’t really cut it for me, I can’t help feeling there are other motives in play.
When you say ‘The sense of neutrality about what was perhaps the worst form of betrayal within a marriage could only be received as a slap in the face’ you suggest that Boris Becker should still be made to feel guilty and ashamed for his actions fifteen years later and that Richard Coles has done him a dis-service in not judging him. You wish to remedy this and took the opportunity in this article. The subtext is that Boris Becker is guilty, Boris Becker should be made to feel guilty, and if we don’t make him feel guilty and ashamed, we are not doing our Christian duty.
Whenever we talk about judgement, we talk about forgiveness, about the Good News of Jesus, about redemption, about relationship with God. Surely, we don’t leave Boris Becker feeling guilty, ashamed and unforgiveable. As Peter J asks ‘If Boris reads this blog post will he understand that Jesus can and will forgive his sins or will he just feel condemned? ‘and I’d ask you the same question too .Your article left me wondering if you care in the slightest whether Boris Becker comes to faith and knows God’s forgiveness. My hope is that in your role as a Christian teacher, you would encourage all of us to try to be Jesus to Boris Becker, rather than one of the Pharisees.
Jane, I’ve just come back to look at the comments here and (regarding your comment at 11.06 on 24th) I’m interested that you seem rather keen to ‘judge’ Ian’s motives in presenting the issue.
Surely we all accept that God’s commands are there for our good – they are positive gifts for flourishing, not spiteful sanctions for causing misery. But they also test our will to live in the way He has ordained, and surely He has that right? ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’ said Jesus.
Thus, to judge right from wrong is something we cannot escape, not as a happy opportunity to condemn other people but as a mutual strengthening of those behaviour patterns which help to keep us closer to the God we love.
I took Ian’s questioning of Richard Coles’ phrase ‘richness of personal experience’ (when describing Boris Becker’s adultery) as a comment on Richard’s apparent unconcern with it rather than a personal condemnation by Ian of Boris.
In case you are wondering, I have committed adultery – in common with probably every other married person who has looked at someone outside the marriage with sexual interest (we’re far too polite to say ‘lustfully’ these days!). So no one is being ‘holier than thou’ here.
But you are right, repented sin is indeed forgiven by the grace of God, and judgement does include that amazing grace for those who accept it. But that doesn’t mean it was all OK and therefore those who were wronged magically never suffered the wrong and associated hurt.
Perhaps we could sum this up as ‘judgement for the best of reasons rather than the worst of reasons’?
Thank you Don
We judge our own behaviour, in order to keep closer to the God we love. We do not judge other people’s behaviour, in public, and in terms that give the message that we, as Christians, are better than other people and stand in judgement over them (this is the Devil’s prerogative). This message undermines the Gospel. Christians should not undermine the Gospel as this works against God’s purposes. The Church does not exist to work against God’s purposes.
Ian has singled out one particular person (Boris Becker) for one particular sin (an indiscretion, fifteen years ago) in order to make a point about judgement. The message that this gives starts with:
• Ian Paul judges Boris Becker and finds him guilty
• Ian Paul judges all ‘sinners’ (supply your name here if you have recently come to this site, whether you are in faith or not) and finds them guilty
• All Christians judge all ‘sinners’ and find them guilty
We have a special responsibility to not judge people ‘in the world’ as non-Christians should not be expected to hold to Christian standards – they don’t have the grace and strength of the Holy Spirit to assist them.
I’m not saying ‘it was all OK and therefore those who were wronged magically never suffered the wrong and associated hurt’ but I am saying that when we give the message that we are judging others, we undermine God’s purposes to see people come to faith.
If Boris Becker never now comes to faith and this article has been instrumental in this eventuality, then my conscience is clear that I did everything I could possibly think of to turn the situation around.
Thanks Jane, I’m sure we’re the last two left standing here but I’d like to offer these last thoughts.
“We do not judge other people’s behaviour, in public, and in terms that give the message that we, as Christians, are better than other people and stand in judgement over them..” I do agree with this and I applaud your concern that we Christians should not say anything which drives people away from Christ rather than towards him.
But judgement operates in a variety of ways and circumstances. So we have judgement towards Christians / those who are not Christians. Then there are cultural factors, for example what might be seen as perfectly normal plain speaking in Yorkshire would be considered plain rude in parts of Surrey. And, of course we now live in a society where everyone is positively expected to be horrified (and express their judgement) about such things as racism, misogyny, paedophilia and homophobia, yet make no judgement at all on other things which, a generation ago, were equally condemned. It’s a bit of a minefield, but does that mean we should refrain from judgement completely?
In Matthew 10.5-16 Jesus sends out the 12 disciples on an evangelistic mission. It is a rather specific type of mission (only to the Jews, and gifted with healing powers) and so we can’t take it as a blueprint for all outreach endeavours for all time. But Jesus did instruct a very graphic judgement to be made on those who did not receive the disciples or heed their words. Perhaps his best remembered phrase from this passage is the more general one: ‘be wise as serpents and harmless as doves’. I think that gives latitude for intelligent flexibility but not stupid or malicious insensitivity (although he may have been thinking also about the disciples’ self preservation in a violent situation).
Finally, Ian’s title ended with a question mark; and his point of entry to the subject was simply something that had recently caught his attention, and I suppose it was bad luck for Boris Becker that his name came up when, in point of fact it was Richard Coles’s reaction (or lack of it) that was at issue. My guess is that if Boris were to read this blog and our comments he would realise that there was no intent to single him out as further beyond redemption than anyone else. Who knows, he might even be drawn to consider the claims of the Gospel with greater interest; we cannot limit the work of the Holy Spirit to our own particular vision of how things should be done or not done. But then I have to judge myself as guilty on that one too!
Ian, recently you suggested to me that today’s younger generation has lost the category of sin. You are right. When adultery is spoken in terms of the “richness of personal experience” it would seem the categorical loss extends beyond the young. When I last looked, Adultery was still prohibited in the Ten Commandments; still an archetypal sin in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea; still judged by Jesus in Matthew and still warned by St Paul as a particular sin that excludes one from heaven (1Cor6.9).
I do not expect a radio interview to be the time or place for this matter to be pressed morally, ethically or even spiritually by the interviewing mellifluous priest, but we as Christians are not at liberty to abandon the category of adultery as sin. In over 20 years of pastoral ministry, I have never witnessed it as bringing anything other than carnage – family destroying, soul destroying, and any momentary ‘rich personal experience’ the adulterer experiences is quickly replaced by shame, pain and trauma radiating like concentric circles.
Whilst our faith’s foundation is grace, and we all live by the hope of forgiveness and restoration for all, to lessen the seriousness of sin is to lessen the glory of God’s mercy.
Thanks Simon for this reflection. Knowing Richard Coles a little, I suspect a. that he is aware of the tension between his role as a broadcaster and his role as an ordained minister and b. he has a thought-through reflection on how he holds these together. My wife Maggie went to hear him at Greenbelt a couple of years ago and was very impressed. Having said that, I suspect his rationale might be different from yours or mine.
The reason I was alert to it is that my working schedule means I am often taking a break some time after 10, and if I have the radio on will hear Woman’s Hour. It is fascinating to note the kinds of things that merit judgement, and the kinds of things were judgement of any kind is taboo.
I am trying to think of any time where I had heard any judgement on these things in broadcast media…
Surely we’re don’t hear much condemnation of adultery in the media ’cause there’s no well-resourced campaign arguing that it’s justified. I can’t recall when I last heard theft or assault condemned in the media, ’cause like adultery, condemnation’s assumed.
James, that’s a little odd if I may say so. There are plenty of initiatives against theft and assault, well-funded by Government and often reported in the media. Do you never see Crimewatch?
Can you name a single programme or Government-funded initiative to discourage adultery? It is judged in our culture a question of personal freedom for moral decision-making…but it would be interesting to do the sums and see which had the greater impact on society. There are more victims of adultery and divorce in our society than victims of theft, and for most, the impact is much longer lasting.
Ian, to clarify, yes, the media’s used for crime-busting, but even there, the wrongness of most crimes is taken as given.
No, there’s not a similar government campaign against adultery, as it’s not a crime. Likewise, there’s not government campaigns against torts widely held to be wrong, such as medical malpractice, defamation, or breach of contract.
As for what does most harm, yes, adultery may, in many cases, but each situation has to be taken on its merits. In some cases, adultery may be understandable (say if the person cheated on is abusive, in effect voiding the marriage) and divorce a blessed relief.
I’m not sure I agree with this idea that younger people have lost the moral category of sin. I think they maybe have a slightly different list of activities they think of as sinful than their parents generation, but ’twas ever thus!
I think, if one person believes they have been wronged by another, not taking sides when the issue comes up in conversation can be difficult. If, in an attempt to be non-judgmental towards one of the parties involved, someone speaks or writes in a neutral or positive way about an action which caused the other party distress and to which she or he reacted strongly, this might seem implicitly judgmental of him or her for making a big fuss about what should not have mattered or even being controlling. To be completely neutral is not as easy as it sounds, one of the reasons why being a chat-show host is so tricky.