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"Clearly Christian: Judgmental"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 27, 2021
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Matthew 7:1-5

Katy has the uncommon experience of having been the most famous person on the planet. But her experience with the Christian faith is all too common. Katy Hudson is a musician. She goes by the stage name Katy Perry; you might've heard of her. She performed at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2015. She's a judge on the television program, American Idol, and she sang at the presidential inauguration this year. Katy Perry has achieved uncommon success in the entertainment world, but Katy Hudson's experience with the Christian church is sadly common.

In 2017, Katy Perry said in an interview, "I feel like sometimes the church does more judging than loving. And that's why it doesn't feel safe for me." Katy was raised in the Christian faith. Her mom and dad started new churches, and Katy sang worship songs in the church praise band. In her 20s she distanced herself from the Christian faith, and she now describes herself as spiritual but not religious. That's how many people are describing themselves these days, you've probably heard. It's largely due to this perceived problem that Christianity is judgmental. So let's talk about this problem. See if we can't find a solution.

Trevor Sutton in his book, Clearly Christian, explains the logic of this problem. The major premise is no one likes a judgmental person. The minor premise is Christians are judgmental, and the conclusion is therefore I don't like Christians either. Judgementalism is a big problem for Christian reputation, and Christians have done plenty to deserve it. But I wonder, is it a uniquely Christian problem? Consider again, the case of Katy Perry, the pop star I mentioned. One of the reasons she stopped going to church and stopped identifying as a Christian was the judgment she felt from other Christians. And so she turned to the world. And what did she find there? Of course, loads of affirmation, fame, praise, but what else has she found? She found herself living under the unforgiving microscope of millions and millions of judging eyes.

If you watched the Super Bowl in 2015 you might remember how she rode on top of a giant golden tiger belting out louder than a lion singing, "I am a champion, and you're going to hear me roar." At that moment, she was literally the most popular person on the planet. What did she find? In an interview from 2020, she reflected on that moment from 2015. She said, "I still didn't feel good enough. I still didn't feel like I was part of the club. I still didn't feel worth it." How is that possible? How can you ride a two-story tiger through the Superdome during the most watched Super Bowl of all time with millions of adoring fans and still not feel good enough?

Now you might say that it's because of her judgmental Christian upbringing and the baggage that she carries, but I'm not so sure. When I listened to Katy talk about the judgementalism of the entertainment world—who's making more money this year, who sold more number ones, who's skinnier, who's prettier, whose better?—judgment, it seems isn't just a Christian problem. Maybe judgment is a human problem. So we're trying to define the scope of the problem of judgementalism. How far does it reach? How deep does it go?

In 2007, social scientists at Yale reported the findings of a fascinating study. They asked mothers to bring in their six-month-old and ten-month-old infants to watch a puppet show, but it wasn't an ordinary puppet show. It was a puppet show designed to measure judgment. More or less the experimenters wanted to know, are babies judgmental? Here's what they did. There was a little puppet in the form of a red circle with googly eyes. And the little red-circle guy was doing his best to climb up a green hill, but he just couldn't make it. He tried and fall back down again and try again. And then out of the corner comes a little gray square with googly eyes, and the gray square comes and helps push the little red circle up the hill, "Yay, little gray square!" And we'd be cheering maybe but the infants, they're not even a year old, and they're just watching dumbfounded.

The experimenters cleared the scene and once again, the little red-circle guy appears, and he's trying to climb that hill, but he can't, and he's trying and he's trying. But this time at the top of the hill appears a little yellow triangle with googly eyes. And instead of helping the little red circle like the little gray square did, he squashes the little red circle and pushes him back down the hill. And if you and I were there, we might get all judgy and say, "Shame on you little yellow-triangle guy. But the babies, they're babies, they're just staring doe-eyed, watching it, absorbing it. Then comes the moment of truth.

The experimenter brings the infant a little tray with the gray-square helper puppet on one side and the little yellow-triangle hinderer on the other side. And he sets the tray down to see which puppet the infant will reach for. Almost 100 percent of the infants reached for the helper, the gray square. They intuitively cast negative judgment on the yellow triangle. They didn't want to play with him.

Jonathan Haidt is a moral psychologist and an atheist. In his book, The Righteous Mind, he draws on the latest research in neuroscience, genetics, and social psychology, including the experiment I just described. From this, he concluded that all human beings are inherently judgmental. He says, "We're all self-righteous hypocrites."

Okay. So what are we saying? Are we saying that babies are hypocrites because they didn't want to play with a mean puppet? No. It's not completely bad that humans come out of the womb making judgments about what is good and what is bad. What is right and what is wrong? Making judgments is in our nature. The Christian faith teaches that human beings are made in the image of God, and our innate judgment making capacity reflects God's own values: what God loves, what God wants to protect. Judgment isn't bad. Judgment is necessary to protect the good. What's bad is when we take judgments that don't belong to us and act like they're ours.

Jesus of Nazareth once said as recorded in Matthew 7, "Do not judge so that you may not be judged. Why then are you trying to see the speck in your brother's eye, but pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Please let me remove the speck from your eye.' But look, there is a plank in your eye. Hypocrite. First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Making judgements while ignoring that we are all together under one judge, that's what makes us hypocrites.

The word "hypocrite" in ancient Greece referred to someone who wore a mask in a play. Hypocrites were literally pretending to be someone that they're not. And Jesus teaches that all people, His followers included, suffer from this hypocritical condition. We're all playing the judge. We stole a role that didn't belong to us. We weren't content to live within the constraints of our capacity. It's like how Homer Simpson ignored the constraints of his refrigerator. And Marge tells her husband Homer that the fridge wasn't meant to be used this way. But it was hot. So Homer and Bart set up a tent in the kitchen and they got the fridge door wide open and the tent door wide open, draped over the fridge. And now Bart and Homer are sitting in the tent enjoying the refrigerated air and Marge pokes her head into the tent and says, "Homer won't this overload the motor?" Just then the circuits pop and a puff of black smoke rises from the back as the fridge motor gives up the ghost. And Homer says, "Marge, can you set the oven to cold?"

Homer is slow to learn that a kitchen appliance can't fulfill the role of central air conditioning. And we humans are slow to learn. And if we keep putting on that mask and we steal the role of judge from God, we're going to overload the system. And we shouldn't be surprised when we're choking on the smoke of our own hypocrisy. So far, we've defined judgmentalism as a human problem; we've explored the scope. Now what's the solution? The solution is to let God be judge, because only God has the capacity to fulfill that role. And God judges not like fickle fans mean tweeting fallen pop stars. God judges, not like us self-righteous Christians who sometimes fool ourselves into believing that we're better than others. God judges, but not like the most popular person in the world who still judges herself as not worth it. No. God judges as a loving Father.

Christians, remember we have come to know God through Jesus—only through Jesus—and Jesus calls God His Father. This is the importance of the biblical teaching of the Trinity. That God is three Persons, three personal beings yet One in nature. God was, is, and always will be Three in One, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This means that even before God was the Creator, even before God was the Judge, He was already an eternally loving Father to His eternal Son through His eternal Spirit. And when in time, God decides to become Creator, God knows that to protect the good of His fallen creation, He will serve as judge, and you better believe God judges, but never for a moment does He stop being a loving Father.

So how does this solution work for God to be both for God to judging and loving? Maybe a parenting analogy will help us understand. Human parents are called by God to represent God to their children, all human parents. And so when parents are at their best, we can get a blurry picture of how God is both judging and loving. So even if you're not a parent, imagine you are, and your child says to you, "Is it okay if I stole some Legos?" What would you say? You'd probably tell me it depends on the situation.

Situation one: you're walking through the store and your child asks you to buy her a new Lego set. And you say, "No, we don't have money for that now." So she says, "Is it okay if I stole some Legos?" And you give judgment, you say, "No. It is not." And if you're in a lecturing mood, you might add, "And it's never okay to steal, young lady, no matter how short you are on money, no matter how badly you want it, no matter how small you think the thing is, that's not what we do in our family. We don't steal."

Situation two: your kid got caught shoplifting and because there's been a lot of problems with shoplifting in this store, you had to go down to the police station, fill out some paperwork where you assure the officer that you as the parent will handle the judgment. So you drive her back to the store so that she can personally apologize to the store manager, the department manager, the cashier, and to the guy who stocks shelves. And then you have her purchase the Lego set out of her own piggy bank and drive her over to the thrift store and have her donate it. And maybe you have her donate all her Legos. And that night when you're tucking her into bed, you see tears in her eyes and she pleads, "Is it okay if I stole some Legos?" She's asking, "Are we okay?" That is, "Do you still love me, even though I took what wasn't mine?"

The Bible teaches that from God's perspective there are only two kinds of people in the world. There are secure hypocrites and there are broken hypocrites. See, we're all playing God. We're all wearing the mask—Christians, non-Christians alike—some of us are satisfied with it and some of us aren't. Christian or not, if you're satisfied with this mask, God will keep sending you messengers of judgment, not to condemn you, but to break you out of your false security, to set you free from your hypocrisy. And Christian or not, if you're sick of wearing the mask, God sends messengers of good news in Jesus. And maybe you'd let me speak that for you now, because God judged that you are worth it to Him. God loves you, even though you took what wasn't yours. God loves you. He sent Jesus His Son to become a human being so that you could become God's child. Jesus loves you so much so that on the cross He suffered the judgment you and I deserved. And today Jesus is alive. And one day you better believe He will come to judge, to restore the good of God's creation. So you don't have to play the judge anymore. Not even the judge of yourself. You can take off the mask. We've looked at the judgementalism problem and the solution, and it brings us back to where we started with Katy Perry. Before she took the stage name and became a global pop star.

When she was just a teenager, Katy Hudson wrote different kinds of songs. And this song in particular was a prayer based on a prayer from the Bible, from the book of Psalms—Psalm 139. And even if you can't relate to her fame, I think you'll be able to relate to her here as an insecure 16-year-old. As a follower of Jesus, she wrote, "Through this skin You see my heart; through this laughter You feel my pain; through this mask You see my face. Then why do I wear this mask and play this game of hide and seek, when You are the only One who really knows just who I am. You are my Father, and I am Your child."

And if you can relate, why don't you pray it with me now? God, You are my Father and I am Your child through Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.

Reflections for June 27, 2021

Title: Clearly Christian: Judgmental

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to Once again, here's our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.

Mike Zeigler: I'm joined again by Deaconess Dorothy Glenn. Welcome back, Dorothy.

Dorothy Glenn: Thanks for having me.

Mike Zeigler: And also Pastor Trevor Sutton. Thanks for being here, Trevor.

Trevor Sutton: Totally. It's great to be here.

Mike Zeigler: Trevor, we're talking about your book. It's titled Clearly Christian: Following Jesus in this Age of Confusion. The three of us, we've all worked in churches and done church work, and so maybe lament that, "Yeah, maybe we kind of earned this one." How do you think Christians might contribute to this confusion?

Trevor Sutton: We got to own some portion of it. I think it's then kind of liberating to say, "Yeah, I am a hypocritical person. I am a judgmental person. That's not all I am." But to recognize that I am a sinner in need of a Savior, and in Christ Jesus we are a new creation empowered by the Holy Spirit. So, you're not just a hypocrite; you're not just a judgmental person, but Jesus is actively making you into something new.

Dorothy Glenn: When I was doing campus ministry, I had a table outside the cafeteria that I would sit at for two hours. I would just sit there with a box. How can I pray for you today? And I did come across some people who were quite volatile towards Christians, and I would ask them how their day is, not necessarily saying, "This is everything you need to know about Jesus, and now you should believe." The same people would see me there every week. Then, one day a woman told me why she didn't like Christianity, because her example was that that her pastor was stealing from the offering plate. That was a great opportunity for me to say, "Isn't that an unfortunate example of how we all sin and we are all in need of God's salvation through Christ." She was not expecting that. She was thinking I was going to give some sort of defense.

Mike Zeigler: Trevor, in the book you talk about the difference between judging others wrongfully and speaking on behalf of the Judge, that is God. Or you say it maybe in a different way, you talk about the difference between condemning, that is judging others, to their damnation, or discerning.

Trevor Sutton: The Scripture talks about judging others as condemning them. And I think had the early church judged Paul, when he was persecuting the church and said, "You will never come to know Jesus. You are always going to be a persecutor of the church." They would have judged totally wrong. We can imagine why they would've had that judgment, that condemnation of him, It wouldn't be surprising, but it would have been wrong. Because in fact the Holy Spirit turned him around in a powerful way.

Mike Zeigler: Yeah, that's so helpful. I like that clarification that judgment in the form of condemnation has this finality, and only God can do that. How can we possibly look forward ten, twenty years, five minutes, into the future, and know what a person's going to be? We can't, and I think you quote this in the book. Paul writes in the letter to the Corinthians, first letter, chapter four. He says don't pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes. He's the Judge. And that's why I love your encouragement to us, Trevor, to simply be charitable towards people. And by that you just mean thinking and speaking the best about a person, positively about a person. Dorothy, what was something you found helpful in that and other encouragements that Trevor gives in the book?

Dorothy Glenn: So I had a friend in college who I still hear in my head all the time. Whenever we started to talk about someone else or about a situation, she would always butt in and say, "I don't really feel comfortable talking about this because this person is not here." And it would drive me crazy, in my head. Who are you to say this? I have the right to vent about this situation.

Mike Zeigler: I have grounds, yeah.

Dorothy Glenn: But she was right. She was right, because I was not putting the best construction on a situation. And I was not giving that person an opportunity to speak for themselves and to discuss with that person my issue. And as Christians, we're called to put the best construction on things. We look at the Eighth Commandment as not just a way to scold us and keep us in line, but also an understanding of what God values for us in our relationships so that we're not looking at one another, but we're looking together at Christ and at the cross.

Mike Zeigler: Trevor, what do you want to add to this encouragement?

Trevor Sutton: By being charitable with how we interpret what someone says, how we interact with them, whether with the words we speak or the words we type, those sorts of things. And so just the idea that I wanted to expand charitability beyond financial giving and think about charitability and how we conceive of others and talk of others and relate to others.

Dorothy Glenn: It kind of makes me think of the book by Gary Smalley about five love languages, in that in caring for another person and understanding how they love and desire to be loved, it happens in different ways. It could be in receiving of gifts. It could also be in time or it could be in service.

Mike Zeigler: Thank you both for being with us in this conversation. As you can see and hear, this book spurs a lot of good thoughts, so check it out. It's called Clearly Christian. There's good discussion questions in the back, and start your own conversation.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"In the Very Midst of Life" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

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