UnChristian 08 JUDGMENTAL

When someone says your judgmental you typically brush them off because of ‘timing’, they say it when you’re holding them accountable to something they need accountability on. So when outsiders say the church is judgmental its hard not to shrug it off and go about our collective business. But Kinnaman & Lyons say thats exactly what we can’t do. Why?

Glad you asked here we go: first we have to realize that when outsiders say Christians are too judgmental what they mean by judgmental isn’t that we’re too accountability driven. Clear the air comment, sigh! K & L say, “To be judgmental is to point out something that is wrong in someone else’s life, making the person feel put down, excluded, and marginalized.” Put bluntly Christians are in the ‘habit’ of othering outsiders. Just how many outsiders feel this way about us you ask; “Nearly nine out ten young outsiders (87 percent) said that the term judgmental accurately describes present-day Christianity.” Why are such a large majority of outsiders saying this, well partly for cultural reasons. Outsiders, particularly Mosaics and Busters, value context, ambiguity, and tension; and here we come with our broad based judgments and opinions. How do we appear to them: “overly simplified, old-fashioned, and out of step with their diverse world.”

A critical distinction is in order before we go too far down this road, and K & L want it to be open and clear that they realize that being a Christian isn’t about being popular, pointing our God’s standards is part and parcel of following Christ. Its not a question of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’ and ‘how’. I found this statement they made very helpful, “Yet in our efforts to point our sin, we often fail to do anything for the people who are affected by sin.” So true, we’re more prone to dropping the judgment verdict boom and then getting out of range as quickly as we can. Maybe you’re saying to yourself, yes of course outsiders say we’re too judgmental but about about churchgoers and pastors, what do they say? Well K & L ask the very same question; Do Christian churches accept and love people unconditionally, regardless of how people look or what they do?


This may startle or disjar you but K & L suggest that the reason we’re perceived as judgmental is because we’re trying to be popular with the wrong audience, our fellow churchgoer and not God. That we try to please God and other Christians by polishing our holy credentials in front of fellow insiders! Ouch, yes if you’re wondering, I do think they’re right. This polishing routine goes to the very top of the evangelical Reformed food chain, you name the profile pastor of your choice and I am willing to suggest that they’re culpable as well – not to mention that it reaches all the way down to unknowns like myself. In case your wondering as with many other figures in the K & L research these trends increase dramatically in percentage among the younger crowds today.We judge people inappropriately…period. How do we do this? K & L offer up a few of the more common ways we fall into errors of judgment: wrong verdict, wrong timing, wrong motivation, and playing favorites:

  • wrong verdict: When Christians reach the wrong verdict, it is typically because of our own biases, assumptions, or stereotypes about others.
  • wrong timing: We sometime have the right idea about God’s views, but we describe that verdict in the wrong context.”
  • wrong motivation: If our primary fixation is on the sin, it is virtually impossible to demonstrate love to an individual. Think of it: many outsiders, the broken people who need Jesus most, picture Christians as haters.
  • playing favorites: We pigeonhole people and determine who has the greatest spiritual value and the highest potential to be Christ followers, and we focus our efforts on these people.

Now whether or not all these are true and fair of each of us this is the stereotype we have among outsiders, and K & L don’t pull punches on this one: Stereotypes kill relationships! We can blind people from seeing the good news of the Gospel by judgmental attitudes and habits. according to K & L “Arrogance is perhaps the most socially acceptable form of sin in the church today.”

K & L go through a discussion of the Bible on Judgment that while helpful is definitely a biased marshalling of proof texts away from being judgmental, I think Scot McKnight is more on target when he says Jesus had judgments about just about everyone. Just after this section K & L take us to the linchpin of their advice – respect equals access, particularly respect that was garnished and grown inside a relationship. Outsiders do react well to judgment in this case. So what does respect look like?

  • It involves listening to them: talk less, and listen more.
  • It involves putting away the desire to label them: drop your ‘tags’ if you’re going to have a confrontation or conversation with outsiders.
  • It involves not being a brainiac, but rather being vulnerable to being open about not having all the answers.
  • It involves putting yourself in their place.
  • It involves being genuine with them, and not trying to sneak in a Christian ‘twist’ or ‘trick’ in your choice of analogies or stories, etc.
  • It involves being their friend without other motives, which in my mind means being open about your desire for them to know Christ, but loving them and being with them regardless of ‘where’ you believe they are in that journey and Work of God.

In our judging we need to realize that the opposite of sin isn’t virtue but grace, grace offered to them because of Christ alone. K & L close the chapter out by offering three experiences where they saw these principles at work: the first is a youth pastors counsel to a struggling teen who’s sister was living with her boyfriend; the second was a female missionary who’s opinion of the reasons behind prostitution was radically changed while she was a missionary to Thailand; and the last is the testimony of Catherine Rohr’s ministry to develop business entrepeneurs among prison inmates (personal thought here: WOW SHE IS AWESOME!).

The pastors, cultural leaders, creative-types who through in at the end of this chapter are: Jud Wilhite; Margaret Feinberg; Rick McKinley; Mike Foster; and Jonalyn Fincher.