Evangelical Christians are often told not to judge. If there is one verse non-Christians know (after, perhaps, some reference to the “least of these”) is that’s Jesus taught people, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). Of course, what the casual Christian critic misses is that Jesus was not calling for a moratorium on moral discernment or spiritual evaluation. After all, he assumes five verses later that his followers will have the wherewithal to tell what sort of people in the world are dogs and pigs (Matt. 7:6). Believing in the sinfulness of sin, the exclusivity of Christ, and moral absolutes does not make one judgmental. Just look at Jesus.
But this doesn’t mean Matthew 7:1 has nothing to teach conservative Christians. Like everyone else on the planet, we have a propensity to assume the worst about people, to happily pass on bad reports, and to size up individuals and situations without knowing all the facts (or even half the facts). I’m not talking about disciplining wayward church members, or having hard conversations about people caught in sin, or refusing to ever take someone’s past behavior into account, or being hopelessly naive about the way the world works, or refraining from the public exchange of ideas, or suspending all our powers of discernment until we understand something or someone with omniscience. I’m talking about the all too natural tendency to shoot first and ask questions later (or not at all).
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