There’s one subject that comes up in nearly every argument dividing our culture today. It’s often us, saying, “That’s wrong. Don’t do it!” versus the progressive movement, saying, “Stop judging already!” There’s another side to this issue, though. You see, for us, judgment can be required by love.
The type of judgment I’m talking about doesn’t involve “looking down your nose” at anyone (which is bad), and it doesn’t decide where someone will end up for all eternity (which is God’s job, not ours). It’s the other kind—the simple act of deciding whether an action is good or bad, beneficial or harmful, and then working to right the wrongs. As Christians, we have to be able to do this. It’s how we strive for goodness.
Remember the woman caught in adultery in John 8? You know the story: the scribes and Pharisees brought her to Jesus after she had been “caught in the act”. They were going to stone her, but Christ outsmarted them by saying, “Let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone.” Instead of killing her, the crowd dwindled away, leaving the woman alone with the Messiah. He turned to her and said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she answered. Then Jesus offered her the fullness of His mercy: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
But to say that, He had to decide that her actions had, in fact, been sinful. And, further, He had to tell her not to fall back into them. In a word, He judged. It was a pure-hearted judgment—there was no “looking down the nose” involved—but it was judgment of her actions as sinful, along with a call to stop them. We don’t just follow the example He gave when He invited cheating Zaccheus down out of the tree and ate dinner with him; we follow the example He gave here, too, when He gently encouraged a broken woman to walk away from the sins that were chaining her.
What if Christ had avoided referring to the woman’s sin, as we are so often encouraged to do today, so as not to offend her?
What if, instead of “Go, and sin no more,” He had just said…“Go.”?
That would have only been half of His mercy.[i]
The most compassionate thing a person can do is to help another draw closer to God—and to turn toward Him, we have to turn away from the things He has asked us not to do.
Knowing this, don’t we all have to affirm that, sometimes, correction is actually the most loving option?
Yes, the teachings of Jesus are the “measuring stick” we use. After all, He’s our king. And when we want to know where His lines are, we look to the Church, because the Church is His. No other person, no government, and no other organization—one else, period—can define boundaries regarding sin. They don’t have His authority to do so.
If you saw someone stuck in quicksand and sinking, wouldn’t you try to get him out…even if he thought it was pretty darned cool in there and didn’t realize the danger?
That’s where we are as Christians today. People all around us are choosing sin’s brokenness, and we know that turning away from it would help heal them and keep others from falling prey, too. So we reach out; we speak up.
Some call, “Hate speech!”, but, really, it’s courageous love. Hate speech would be walking by the quicksand pit, seeing someone enjoying the cool shifty-sandy thing, and saying, “Wow—you look like you’re having fun in there. Hang out as long as you want. Nothing bad will happen,” when we know full well it’s a lie. Christians can’t just keep walking and do nothing. It’s not that we think we’re better than others. Our faith is beautiful, and we want to share it.
I think St. Thomas Aquinas put it best, in the Summa: “Now to do away with anyone’s evil is the same as to procure his good; and to procure a person’s good is an act of charity, whereby we wish and do our friend well.”
So when we see people headed the wrong direction, we have every right to say, “Hey—turn around!” That’s part of our ministry. And if someone calls it hate speech, we can counter with, “No, it’s courageous love”. Because, really, that’s exactly what it is.