This meme recently was shared among my evangelical friends on facebook. Let’s talk about it, shall we? We will first talk about what this meme means, and then we will talk about why the quote misses the point.
Washer’s point is that people often quote this verse, without any idea of context of the verse. In Matthew 7: 1, which instructs us not to judge others, Jesus call out hypocrisy: Jesus commands the people to not judge the other person before removing the log in their own eye. Here is the context of the verse, Matthew 7:1-5:
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Washer seems to be saying that Jesus has no problem with us publicly renouncing sin as sin; Jesus just does not want us to be a hypocrite. If one has an anger problem, they cannot point fingers at the other person who has an anger problem.
Washer says that we should not twist the scriptures like Satan. Satan, as we might remember, is said to have “tempted” Jesus by twisting the scriptures around. In the story, Satan tells Jesus to jump off a temple, quoting the scriptures about how the angels will catch him, and Jesus reminds Satan that we are also instructed not to tempt God.
I have two general thoughts about this meme.
The first is that I don’t think people are twisting this scripture as much as Washer thinks. For example, it is well known that some Christians condemn homosexuality, while viewing pornography or sleeping around, both without consent of their partner. This is an example of Christians not looking at the log in their own eye. I do not think it’s a sin to be gay, of course, but I do think we should heed the advice to be first and foremost concerned with the logs in our own eye.
My second thought is, Christians, please have a heart, and listen to what people seek to communicate. When people say, “don’t judge,” they mean mean, “please, don’t judge me. The “context” of this verse is somewhat irrelevant, precisely because what this verse means in the moment is not “what did Jesus mean 2000 years ago?” but rather, “what are people trying to communicate to Christians when they invoke this verse?”
Communication is key; the first step to building relationships with others, whether others in the church congregation, on social media, or nonbelievers, is communication. Claiming, “but Jesus really meant” is unhelpful if we don’t stop and ask ourselves, “why do people ask us not to judge them? what are they trying to communicate to me? Why are they hurting? How can I better reach out to them?”
So what do Christians mean when they say, “please don’t judge me?” Often, the question is said, in the context of sexuality. That is to say, someone is living with their boyfriend or girlfriend, and Christians disapprove, and publicly or privately express disapproval to that person, perhaps even shunning the person from their lives altogether. Then the Christians say, “please don’t judge me.”
I want to illustrate my point with two examples from my secular circles, in how my secular friends handled the other person’s sexual choices without judgment.
(1) A friend of mine, a landlord, rented out her house to a group of girls. One of the girls, I’ll call her Jennifer, asked the landlord if her boyfriend could stay with her, because her boyfriend was studying for his GMAT, on top of courses, and so did not have time to work that term, and so had no extra cash for rent. Two other people lived in the house with Jennifer and her boyfriend, and both were okay with the situation.
At the beginning of the September term, Tina, another student, also was set to move in the house. Tina is from a rural area of Ontario, and my landlord had not actually met Tina yet. The landlord realized that Tina and her mom might not be okay with Jennifer’s boyfriend, and she would need to ask them. I was sure Tina’s mom would freak. I inserted myself in that situation. If my mom had driven me to college, only to find out the situation was co-ed, I would have not been allowed to live there.
I let Tina and her mom in the house, as my landlord friend lived out of town. I expected negative reactions, but they were completely okay with the boyfriend situation. I know I gave off “Aren’t you about to freak out?” vibes. Tina and her mom pretty much laughed at my fear. Of course, it was okay.
Tina and her mom did have a problem with the living arrangement in one way: one of the students had a pet snake. Oh, they had a problem with the pet snake. But they readily gave their “okay” to the boyfriend moving in with Jennifer.
Here is another story.
(2) Last year, some friends and I were sitting at the table in the seminar room, when a unmarried professor came over to our table and said, “I’m having a baby.” We thought she was joking; she had only told us she was dating the week before; her partner is from another province; and so in our mind, there was no way she was having a baby.
Everyone said, “congrats,” and “I’m happy for you” as would be expected. But I did not expect, after she left the room, for students to still go on and on about how happy they were for her. I did not expect people to go on and on about why they thought it was so great for her to have a child. I kept waiting for the objections, “he is too much older than her.” And, “she can’t raise a kid by herself. That’s ungodly.” and “It’s a sin to have sex outside marriage.” Even if my secular friends did not think it as premarital sex was a sin, I still expected gossip and negative reactions: after all, she was having a kid with a man in a different province, and who was to continue living in a different province. The judgments never came. Not privately between me and a friend. Not in the stairway. Not at the pub. Not in her face.
Both of these examples illustrate what people mean when they say, “don’t judge me.” They mean, “stop thinking negative things about me, and let me make my own choices.” In both of these examples, I was glad I was in a secular community; it feels so freeing to be able to rejoice with others, without concerning myself with their sexual choices.
At this point, Christians get concerned. But aren’t I claiming that truth is relative? Of course, I’m not a relativist, but I do a few few thoughts. My first response, of course, is that I think Christians should re-evaluate what is wrong and what is permissible; some of what one deems sinful, in fact, may be perfectly permissible, even from a Christian perspective. Often our moral certainty produces moral blindness, and it is scary that what we are so certain is wrong alienates us from those we love most.
However, even if Christians disagree with the other person about what equates wrongdoing, I think in most cases the principle “do not judge” stands.
First, in cases of sexuality, it’s really the agent’s decision. I don’t know how to say this plainly enough: I don’t care who my friends sleep with, as long as they are not being violated against their consent. I am a freer and happy person by not making them my concern.
Second, in cases of right and wrong, we also need to keep in the forefront of our minds that all things considered, it could have been us. In many cases, what we perceive as a person doing wrong, is actually a person doing “wrong” because they have something else going on at that moment, and they are doing the best they can do. For example, when I am writing term papers at the end of a term, I tend to drink a lot of pop, because the caffeine and sugar rush keeps me awake and calms me. I know this is an abuse of my body (not for spiritual reasons, rather medical reasons), but in times of huge stress, I’m doing the best I can do. I try not to drink pop the rest of the year, but I do understand those who drink it all year, because some people live with emotional stress 12 months a year. I get it, and judging others in this situation is not okay.
In summary, I recommend, first, that we listen to what others are trying to communicate to us when they ask us not to judge them. Second, I recommend people to stay out of other people’s business, as much as possible. Third, I recommend that we try to avoid too much moral certainty so that we do not become morally blind. Fourth, I recommend that we always proceed with grace; we don’t know the road others are walking, and all things considered, it could have been us. Fifth, we should always remain ready to help others; if someone is being violated, of course we should be ready to stand up and lend a hand.