This is one of the most well known statements of Jesus, and I find it is often thrown back at Christians by non-Christians. Non-Christians feel judged by Christians and they think Christians are largely hypocrites who are ignoring the very commands of their Lord. The whole issue of judgmentalism is a big one today for the Church to reckon with. The younger Christians of today are leaving the church in droves because they perceive the Church to be intolerant, unloving, and judgmental. This most often comes out when the Church makes moral pronouncements that the dominant culture disagrees with such as about issues like abortion, premarital sex, or homosexuality.
I have experienced people thinking I am intolerant and judgmental with my blog and dialoging with others. Sometimes it is criticism given directly to me or about me, but most often it comes in a more general way when I read criticism and hatred against religious blogs like mine. Because I say that certain things are objectively morally wrong, such as crossdressing or homosexual relations, people see me as extremely judgmental and intolerant. In fact, many crossdressers won’t read more than a few sentences on my site, because they see quickly that I am a Christian who thinks crossdressing is wrong, and to them that means I am a judgmental bigot. Because I am seen as intolerant, they can’t even read my views and really think about them. It completely shuts them down from rational dialog with me. Ironically, in the name of their tolerance, they do NOT tolerate me. They are willing to hear every voice but my own or other Christians. Open-minded Christians are still willing to hear out everybody else’s viewpoint, but these people criticizing me for intolerance are not even willing to hear what I have to say. (Obviously this not the case for everyone as I have some committed readers of my blog who graciously but vigorously disagree with me. I appreciate their dialog and true tolerance. They are a shining example to others).
The Intolerance of Tolerance
One of the best books I’ve ever read is D.A. Carson’s book – “The Intolerance of tolerance.” In the book he talks about how tolerance is the supreme virtue in our culture today, and if anyone seems to be going against that virtue, they are shunned, mistreated, or looked down upon. He talks about how there has been a shift in the meaning of tolerance in our culture. Tolerance used to mean that we should recognize and respect and allow people to have different beliefs and practices, and we can disagree with someone, thinking they are wrong, but still allow them to freely exist with those different beliefs and not suppress them. I think that kind of tolerance is good and essential for a flourishing society. But the new illogical view of tolerance today is that we must accept other people’s different views and practices as just as true as our own view. Strangely this new tolerance only is applied for certain spheres of life. In the realms of math, science, medicine, psychology, politics and most other subjects that people discuss, debate, and disagree about, people in our culture still apply the old view of tolerance.
But in the realms of religion and morality, the new view of tolerance reigns. It is totally illogical relativism. Beliefs that are clearly contradictory among people of different religions, or different moral perspectives, are seen to be equally valid and true at the same time, and therefore there is never a reason to discuss or debate the truth of religious or moral claims. This is a scary time and culture to live in. If we cannot have objective discussions about what is morally right and wrong, how are we to uphold justice in our country? Will stealing someday become okay because it seems morally right to some people? Will murder someday become okay because it seems morally okay to some people? Will pedophilia become allowed? Will it all boil down to people’s individual choices? This maybe seems far-fetched. But the murder of infants through abortion is already allowed, as the personal choice of mothers.
Carson explains three aspects of the old logical view of tolerance that use to exist in our culture. And this is the kind of tolerance I want. 1. There is objective truth out there, and it is our duty to pursue that truth. 2. The various parties in a dispute think that they know what the truth of the matter is, even though they disagree with each other, and each party thinks the other is wrong. 3. Nevertheless they hold that the best chance of reaching the truth is by the free unhindered exchanged of ideas, no matter how wrongheaded some of those ideas seem. This means we don’t silence opposing views to our own.
In contrast, the new view of tolerance in our culture is that every individual’s beliefs and practices are all valid and equal. All truth is relative. Therefore under this new view of tolerance, it is impossible to say that somebody else’s belief or practice is wrong (at least religious or moral beliefs). “Who are you to judge?” The proponents of this new kind of tolerance tend to be moral relativists. They say that there is no external or objective standard of truth. Or they say that the standard may be out there, but we cannot know it. Therefore, debate about religion and morality is pointless. We should just accept that people’s moral and religious beliefs are true for them, even if they aren’t true for us.
It seems most proponents of this new tolerance are heavily inconsistent. All views and religions and practices are tolerated supposedly, but then the tolerant people don’t tolerate those they perceive as intolerant. Anyone who makes a non-relative claim to religious or moral truth is branded as intolerant. Christianity which claims that Jesus is the only way to salvation is seen as fundamentally being opposed to this new tolerance, and so then Christianity becomes persecuted, shunned, ignored, and individual Christians increasingly are losing their freedom to hold a different point of view. The main proponents of tolerance then become terribly INTOLERANT of Christians. All views are equally valid and okay to believe, that is of course, except the Christian view. The Christian view is not a valid belief that is equal to others because it is an intolerant view in their mind. But this is not true according to the old definition of tolerance. It is very possible to be a Christian who thinks others are sinning, who thinks that others have false beliefs, and still allow those people to hold those different beliefs and have different practices. Such a Christian can even go beyond tolerating those people and love them. It’s true at times that Christians have been intolerant in the old sense of the word, for example in the middle ages when some who claimed to be Christian forced others to convert to Christianity. But in our world today, that is pretty rare. Christians SHOULD NOT be branded as intolerant just because they actually have real beliefs about religion and morality.
But Christians are indeed branded intolerant all the time, and are being mistreated for it. In Carson’s book he mentions probably at least 100 examples of lawsuits against Christians or Christians be fired from universities, just because of their Christian beliefs. Christians are often fired from jobs for refusing to go against their religious views. Or they are sued for being discriminatory for not wanting to support and approve gay marriages. Or Christian organizations on college campuses are being forced to allow membership and leaders in their groups to people who are vocally not Christians. For a country that values free speech, an awful lot of Christians are being fired or disciplined by universities for having opinions. We could go on and on. Read the book. It’s super interesting. Some specific examples he gave in the book: A bank that made a Christian organization close its accounts because of the organization’s view about sexual orientation. The bank publicly supports diversity among its customers, and yet they eliminated one of their diverse customers. A writer in France was taken to court for inciting religious hatred because he said Islam is “the dumbest religion.” Somehow Islam, which tends to be very intolerant in the true sense and even violent against those who have different views, is more tolerated than Christianity in some ways. Carson cites tons of examples throughout the book of so-called “tolerant people” being extremely intolerant towards Christians.
He further talks about the privatization of religion. Our culture, tolerant in the new sense, wants to say all religions are okay and valid, but they must not be taken too seriously. Religion should be a trivial part of our being. Our faith must not actually effect anything we do in public, or how we vote on issues. Politicians are threatened when they let their religious views affect their policy making. There is a strong push to make sure we don’t have any official religion in our country, which I am fine with. But ironically, secularism has become the official religion. It’s starting to become hard to actually speak out of our religious beliefs in politics or in public. Only purely secular arguments are allowed (which is a religion unto itself). All views should be allowed to be discussed, including religious views. To try to bar religion from the public sphere is actually irrational and impossible, because disbelief in God is just as much of a religious belief. It is exceedingly intolerant to try to force all people to have public debate from only the secular perspective. We should allow true freedom of speech, and freedom of opinion, which includes religious opinions whether from Christianity, Islam, or atheism.
Carson says that the real old tolerance is seen in New York’s Central Park which allows people to set up a Christian nativity scene, a Jewish menorah, and a Muslim star, each paid for by private citizens. Intolerance, in the name of the new form of tolerance, is seen in Eugene Oregon which at first banned Christmas trees from public property because this would not be inclusive, but exclusive. (They fail to see they are discriminating against all the people who want Christmas in favor of not discriminating against the one or two people who don’t want the Christmas trees). Our culture’s idea of tolerance is a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew all becoming friends and then when discussing their faiths, dumbing down their beliefs to the lowest common denominator so that they can say they agree with each other and say they have basically the same diluted faith in God. Carson says a group like this is just a Muslim who believes very little, a Jew who believes very little, and a Christian who believes very little. For Carson, true real tolerance would be if believers of those 3 religions showed up happily to discuss their different exclusive views, and had honest vigorous debate, were willing to say that the others were wrong, and were able to do so without fear of coercion or hate.
For me personally, I have become weary of all the people on the internet who think that relativism and secular neutrality is somehow the moral high ground in an argument. Somehow not having an opinion on anything has become better than having an opinion on something. Somehow it’s higher ground to say that we can’t actually know anything about true religion or morality, than saying we actually believe that something is true. Somehow it has become the high ground to say that everyone’s (contradictory) truths are all just as true as all the others, rather than someone having the courage to point out when someone is wrong, or having the courage to debate and seek the truth together. This relativism, this false neutrality, is NOT moral high ground. I’m sick of people trying to make me feel like a bad guy, trying to say that I am pushing my agenda while they are not. They are pushing their own secular or relativist agenda. Carson says – “The point is that, while claiming the moral high ground, the secularists are unambiguously attempting to push their own agendas. They have every right to do so, of course, but they do not have the right to assume that their stance is ‘neutral’ and therefore intrinsically superior.”
Okay, now let’s finally go back to this quotation of Jesus and unpack what it means and does not mean. Jesus did say, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). But it is absolutely ridiculous to think that this prohibits us from moral discernment, or making religious or moral distinctions. Jesus says this in his Sermon on the Mount in which he gives a plethora of radical moral judgments about how we should live and exclusive religious judgments about the eternal destiny of people. It’s full of moral rules. The same chapter presents Jesus as the supreme judge (verses 21-23). And in verse 6, we see that the disciples are to make distinctions about people. And all over the Bible, and in the words of Jesus, we see that the disciples are to make moral judgments and distinctions, and to judge those in the church. It is also good for us to keep in mind that Jesus was perhaps the most judgmental person in the Bible, which is fitting since he is God. He talked about Hell more than all other authors combined.
Judgments in general are not wrong or sinful. Not only did Jesus judge, and want the disciples to judge, but all people in general make judgments. It is part of what makes us human, and part of how we use our minds. We judge whether something is beautiful, ugly, or something in between, or whether something is good or bad, or whether something is morally right or morally wrong. It is impossible to not make judgments. It does not make logical sense to say that it is always wrong to judge. In fact, the people that say Christians are judgmental, are making a judgment about Christians in the very act of saying that.
As Christians we need to make judgments to understand what is morally right and wrong, so that we know how live lives pleasing to God and avoid sin. We have to teach our children how to live. We need to tell other people about God’s laws and commands. We have to hold other Christians accountable. It is not bigoted or evil to hold someone accountable. It is a deeply loving thing to do, to try to stop people from hurting themselves or others through sin, and to try to help people realize when they are sinning against God. In that sense, I’d say my website is a very loving thing, even though many interpret it as a website of hate against crossdressers or homosexuals. It is a website of love. God has given me the courage to help out other Christians, to draw them away from sin, and back to the truth.
What Jesus is really saying in this quotation is that he is prohibiting self-righteous condemnation of others. He is talking about the manner in which we judge. We are not to judge harshly or in a hypocritical way. And the harshness by which we judge others will be the standard God uses with us. The younger generation of Christians has rightly called out the church to stop being hypocritical, to stop noticing some sins and ignoring others, and to stop being harsh and unloving. We MUST heed that call, but not throw out judgments all together. We must continue to uphold the truth in the Church about what is sin and what is not, and we must continue to call fellow Christians to live for God and avoid sin. But in doing so we must judge gently, without hypocrisy, and with extreme love and care. This means not judging in the way that Westboro Baptist church judges, a way that I find unhelpful and even sinful.
We should not judge harshly but with all the fruits of the Holy Spirit, so that we judge with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We must be careful not to judge other specific people if we don’t have the whole story. We should be very careful when we don’t have all the facts. Only God knows all and knows people’s motivations and situations. We should be careful with our assumptions.
We should be careful to judge Christians and non-Christians in different ways. God is the ultimate judge of non-Christians. We are to call non-Christians to general repentance and faith in Jesus. But our concern is not to make them live godly lives. We can’t expect anyone to live godly lives unless they have been transformed by a relationship with Jesus. However, we should still hold them accountable to universal natural law, universal morality, such as not stealing, not murdering, but not things like how they are sinning by not loving God or not reading the Bible. Our main job is to hold fellow Christians accountable. They are the ones who have been transformed by Jesus and can start trying to live for God. We should spur one another on in love and good deeds.
We should judge ourselves before others. That is the main problem Jesus was addressing. Let us examine the log in our own eye before criticizing the sins of others. I believe I have done this correctly through my blog. I am not really judging individual people anyway, but just making moral judgments about specific issues like crossdressing or homosexuality. But I have confessed my own very personal sins with crossdressing, pride, etc. on this blog. I don’t think it is good when Christians go on a crusade against a particular sin, say homosexuality, without acknowledging their own sins and struggles. We shouldn’t elevate some sins over others. It’s true that some sins are objectively worse, say murdering someone rather than just hitting someone. But God judges the motivations of the heart and not just the outward actions. So we can’t know what is a worse sin than others sometimes. And we don’t choose what we are tempted to. Some people are tempted to crossdressing, some to pedophilia. Pedophilia is objectively 100 times worse. But just like I didn’t choose my crossdressing temptations, they didn’t choose their pedophilia temptations. So I should judge gently and think about my own sins first.
We need to judge with humility. We must get rid of our pride and not be like the Pharisees. Sometimes I get really frustrated with blogs I read online and I feel superior to them, but I have to remember that feeling that way is sinful. We are all equally sinners before God. And if we as Christians end up living any differently than others, it is not because of our own good nature, but only because of God’s grace working in us. If there is anything good in my life, it is because God’s grace. Therefore, I have not a single good reason, and never will, to feel superior or prideful. This means that even though I have successfully given up crossdressing it should give me no reason to be prideful over those that haven’t.
We have to be careful not to judge people’s eternal destinies. We know that all people deserve Hell because of sin. We know that all people in a way have freely choose Hell because they freely have chosen to sin. Hell is separation from God, and all of us through our sins have chosen separation from God. We know from the Bible that people can only be saved through faith in Jesus who took our punishment for us. But we don’t know who really knows Jesus and who doesn’t. I would not proclaim to know the eternal destiny of even an outspoken atheist. We can think we know, but ultimately we leave it up to God as the final judge. We can judge whether people seem to have healthy relationships with God or not, we can judge whether a person is sinning or not, but we cannot claim that they will be in Heaven or Hell. We can judge, but not condemn. And that is a wonderful comfort because God alone is both perfectly just and perfectly merciful so he is the best judge we can ask for.
Let me end with a positive note. Jesus tells us that in the way we judge others, we will be judged by God. But we also need to remember to judge others in the way that we have already been judged by God. And how did God judge us? Listen to John 3:16-17 – 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
God judged us to be completely sinful deserving of hell. But he didn’t stop there. He followed up on that judgment by giving us more mercy than we can even comprehend. Jesus came to save us rather than to condemn us. God’s judgment ends in forgiveness and mercy through Jesus Christ. We must now go out and treat other people as God has treated us. God treated us with amazing mercy and grace and that should be how we treat others as well.