By Norris Burkes Sep 10, 2017
In my role as a chaplain, people often bring me their complaint against organized religion. I’m not proud of the fact, but my responses occasionally come with a bit of snark.
For instance, when folks complain, “Religion is a cash business,” I say, “No. We take credit cards too.”
When they protest, “The church is full of hypocrites!” I reassure them that it’s not yet at full capacity, so “We have room for you, too.”
Often they joke in return, asking if “my boss” will do something about the lousy weather. I say, “Sorry. I work in sales, not customer service.”
But I’ll admit I lose my levity when someone judges religious people as being “too judgmental.”
That was the tune whistled last week by a few readers who thought my column about Trump was “too judgmental.” They rebuked me with Jesus’ warning to “judge not” and advised me not to “cast the first stone.”
My response, not at witty as the others, is that I follow a Judean teacher who pronounced more than a few judgments.
He wasn’t one to throw up his hands and say, “Hey, whatever floats your boat. Who am I to judge?” Actually he said, “The world is against me because I expose the evil behind its pretensions” (John 7:7).
As a person of this planet, it’s essential that I make judgments. As a person of faith, my judgments must follow the guidelines of grace that require me not to judge the heart of another person.
“How do you balance grace and judgment?” you ask.
The answer might come from Judge Abner McCall, the late president of Baylor University, where I attended in the late 70s.
“When people ask about the difference between our Christian University and a secular one,” he said, “I tell them this: If our professors give you a failing grade, they’ll sit down and cry with you.”
McCall was teaching Baylor students that professors are perfectly qualified to judge a student’s work. However, with his reference to tears, McCall was saying this judgment was accompanied by an offer of grace after failure.
Being people of faith doesn’t disqualify us from speaking on moral issues. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Spiritual folks are obliged to speak for those who have no voice. We are compelled to challenge the face of injustice.
For instance, I join with religious leaders who have overwhelmingly condemned President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. For me, this “condemnation” is my valid spiritual assessment as a chaplain. If you choose not to read my column after this, you too have made an assessment.
“Assessment” is a word that commonly used in the healthcare world where I’ve worked for more than 20 years. A few years ago, VA doctors diagnosed my brother as a diabetic. They were not passing judgment on him as a person. They were making an impartial assessment in which they extended the grace of treatment.
However, when he refused to take his medications, I told him that he was making a very bad decision. I was not making a judgment of his heart, but I made it clear that he was wrong.
A year later, he’s taking his medications because judgments offered with grace often lead to recovery.
Pastor and theologian J.D. Greear put it best when he concluded his “Christianity Today” article on the subject of judgment.
“Don’t judge others by withholding the truth. But don’t judge them by speaking the truth without grace. … Truth without grace is judgmental fundamentalism; grace without truth is liberal sentimentality.”
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