Saturday, June 27, 2015

Gay Marriage and the New Normal: Should Christians Judge Others?

When asked the general question, "Should Christians judge others?" many Christians quickly answer, "no." Due to the endless fight against hypocrisy and legalism in our churches, and perhaps in an effort to disassociate ourselves from the antiquated "hellfire" approach of relatively recent history, many Christians today want to throw off their reputation for being judgmental and dogmatic. When hot-button, celebrity-studded stories of gender transitioning and violated LGBTQ[1] rights dominate the headlines against a cultural backdrop of political correctness and moral relativism, many of us are reluctant to speak up. The world has already pegged Christians as closed-minded, rigid, and bigoted (and in a few cases, rightly so). Why would we want to perpetuate this unflattering portrayal any further? Besides, isn't it more Christ-like to love, and not condemn, our neighbors?

In fact, a growing number of Christian leaders are now discouraging a biblical discussion of such issues so as not to alienate people from the Church or be deemed insensitive. Megachurch pastor, Andy Stanley, for example, has called for churches to be the "safest" place in the world for gay people. Indeed, many practicing gay members attend his "seeker-friendly" church in Georgia (one of the largest megachurches in the country). Stanley's approach in befriending the LGBTQ community, stands in direct contrast to his father's, Pastor Charles Stanley, who has caused much ire within the gay community for openly calling out homosexuality as a sinful lifestyle. A similar outlook has been expressed by Jen Hatmaker—a pastor's wife, reality TV star, and popular mom-blogger—who put it this way when it comes to gay marriage: "We do not need any more inflammatory soldiers in the culture wars; we need more thought leaders who are slower to publicly condemn their faithful [practicing gay] brothers and sisters and quicker to invite reason and dialogue to the table."[2]

Admittedly, the Christian community itself is far from immune to sexual scandal. The Church has been dogged by story after debauched story of sex crimes and abuse...from former National Association of Evangelical president and megachurch pastor, Ted Haggard, sleeping with a male prostitute and taking crystal meth to countless sexual abuse and rape cover-ups such as those coming to light in Christian campuses like Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, and Cedarville University, the list goes on. And on the heels of mortifying headlines involving the Duggars, any judgment from within the Church against the LGBTQ lifestyle raises the bright red flag of hypocrisy in the eyes of many. In the face of all this, who are we to judge?

And so, more and more well-intentioned Christians are setting out to be inclusive, unoffensive, accepting, and tolerant. They strive to love their neighbor without passing judgment. For isn't this what Jesus meant, when He said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”?

Not exactly. While it's tempting to come up with a quick, soundbitey answer to the question, there's a little more to it than that. As always, a comprehensive and contextual reading of the passage is needed to discern what Scripture is actually saying here. Jesus said, "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." (Matt 7:1-5). In the passage, Jesus is denouncing self-righteous, hypocritical judgment of others without having a repentant, humble heart oneself.

A similar lesson is taught by Paul to the Roman believers, "So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother." (Rom 14:12-13). Paul is rebuking unfair judgment of others in the context of quarreling over divisive, legalistic matters, as the Romans had been doing.

We see the same lesson echoed in the epistle of James: "Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, He who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?" (James 4:11-12). The act of wrongfully judging here is discussed in the context of speaking evil against other believers—as opposed to building one another up by speaking the truth in love.

In this vein, Scripture is clear that we are not to judge another person's standing before God or their salvation, for only God can truly know the condition of a person's heart; Paul writes, "Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God." (1 Cor 4:5).

But as we look further into Scripture, we find that many times we are actually called to judge others. Paul, for example, urged the Corinthians in no uncertain terms that they were to judge the immoral behavior of those within their church; "Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. 'Purge the evil person from among you.'" (1 Cor 5:12-13). And in the passage above from Mathew's Gospel, when Jesus calls us to first examine ourselves and to repent of our own sin, He goes on to indicate that this is the prerequisite for correctly judging the sin of a brother (Matt 7:5).

In fact, Jesus consistently encourages us to exercise righteous judgment, repeatedly warning us to watch out for false prophets in our midst, for example. And Paul tells us to "test everything" (1 Thess 5:21); We are to judge every teaching, holding it up against God's Word, like the "noble" Berean Jews were commended for in the Book of Acts. For Scripture warns us that, "the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-4). It is crucial, then, that we cling to sound judgment in a world of deceit in which Satan masquerades as an angle of light (2 Cor 11:13-15).

In response to the Jews who judged Him wrongly for healing a man on the Sabbath, Jesus said, "Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly." (John 7:24). And so, it is not the act of judging others itself that Jesus condemns, but it is the nature of, or heart-motivation for, that judgment with which He is concerned.

Judgmentalism Versus Sound Judgment

Throughout Scripture, there is a clear distinction drawn between two contrasting natures of judgment; judgmentalism (being excessively critical) is decried, while sound judgment (exercising wise discernment) is strongly prescribed. While humility is at the essence of sound judgment, judgmentalism is motivated by pride. Sound judgment is permeated with an acute awareness that it is by God's grace that we are saved, so that we cannot boast in our own strength. We can exercise sound, righteous judgment purely because our righteousness is in Christ. Judgmentalism, however, is self-righteous—and is not, therefore, of God.

Jesus made this clear when he said to those who were muttering about Him in the temple, "If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of Him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood." (John 7:17-18). Jesus demonstrates here that judgmentalism is motivated by the pursuit of self-glory, whereas sound judgment is motivated by a desire for God's glory.

Because, as children of God, we are able to judge righteously, the way we judge each other will be different from the way we judge the fallen, unrighteous world. For Scripture also draws a careful distinction between the different contexts of judgment in addition to the different natures of judgment. It's useful to take a deeper look at how Scripture treats these contexts before we can provide a complete and biblical answer to the question: should Christians judge others

Context: Judging Other Believers

While there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom 8:1), there does need to be accountability among believers. Jesus taught that if a believer sees another believer sinning, it is his Christian duty to [lovingly and respectfully] confront him about his sin in private. If the believer doesn't listen, Jesus taught that the church should then be involved. And if he still doesn't listen, he should be treated as someone outside of the church—like a "pagan" or "tax collector" (Matt 18:15-17). In other words, he should be treated like someone who is lost.

This in no way implies we should pretend everything's okay and smooth things over when a sinning believer is unrepentant. We should forgive that person, yes. But not reconcile with that person. As demonstrated by the parable of the prodigal son, it is when sincere repentance occurs that reconciliation can follow. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is not contingent on repentance. We are all sinners. We should extend the same grace and forgiveness to others that God has extended to us. There is an important distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation.

A common mistake Christians make, however, is to confuse the act of incorrectly, unfairly judging another (which Jesus exposes in John 7) with that of holding another accountable (which He lays out in Matthew 18). The end-goal of the former is alienation and revenge; the end-goal of the latter is the hope for repentance and reconciliation.

Again, it's the motivation behind our judgment of another believer that really matters. If we aren't primarily motivated by our love of God and others, we can too easily be over-critical of other Christians or harsh with our handling of the truth. If our motive is to prove that we are right about something, to take out our insecurities on someone else, or to undermine another believer who has hurt us, we are being wrongfully judgmental. But if our motivation is to gently point that person back to the truth from which they may have strayed, and admonish them with the hope they have in Christ, our judgment of them is righteous. As Jesus lays out for us, we are to first examine ourselves with humility, before judging another (Matt 7:1-5). And we need to ask ourselves: am I judging for self-gain or God's glory?

Exercising righteous judgment is necessarily merciful, "for judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment." (Jas 2:13). This is the essence of the gospel, isn't it? So, we are to judge sin, but always with the goal of presenting the gospel-centered solution for that sin in the atoning love of Christ (John 14:6; 2 Cor 5:17).

And exercising righteous judgment involves patience. It calls for us to be slow to speak and quick to listen. It's important not to tip the balance from speaking the truth in love into nit-picking at people or hitting them over the head with THE TRUTH. If our love of God and people is our main motive for judging others, this should cause us to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit in discerning when we should speak and when we should remain silent. Sometimes, I have found that holding my tongue with regards to a friend's sinful pattern of behavior and praying for them has born more fruit than if I had confronted them right then and there. And we should certainly have patience with some one who is suffering from depression or mental illness—it's important to recognize where no-strings support should begin, and accountability end, in these cases.

As exercisers of sound judgment, we should also live by example. If we are truly humble, we will have a teachable heart ourselves and allow others the same freedom to speak truth to us when needed. Exercising judgment should go both ways! We have to be willing not only to give it, but to receive it as well, remembering always that the end-goal is not a guilt-trip, but repentance and, where possible, reconciliation.

So how do we handle LGBTQ issues within the Church? 1 Corinthians 5 provides a great model for how to confront sexual immorality among Christians; Paul exhorts the Corinthian believers to purge the evil from their church by not associating themselves with the couple who were engaging in a sexually immoral (incestuous) relationship, until they repented.

With regards, then, to practicing homosexuals who are professing Christians, the method of welcoming them in without gently holding them accountable, doesn't seem to gel with 1 Corinthians 5 or Matthew 18. It's important to show them love, yes. But what does love look like in this context? Is it acting as if there's no issue with their lifestyle and making church a "safe" place to remain as they are? Is it tolerating the open practice of sexual sin within the church, whether it be promiscuity, infidelity, incest, pornography, or homosexuality?

The truth is, it is not unloving to hold a believer accountable for his or her sinful lifestyle (whatever form it may take). To leave believers trapped in a sinful lifestyle without consequence is unloving. With all due respect to Pastor Andy Stanley, Scripture does not call for churches to be the "safest" place in the world for those practicing homosexuality. Most loving, yes. Safest, no. Because what may feel "safe" to those trapped in a sinful lifestyle, isn't often what's best for them; heart convictions can be unsettling, and dying to self, uncomfortable. But the Lord disciplines those He loves (Heb 12:6; Prov 3:12). In the same way, we should hold those we love accountable for their sinful lifestyle.

On the flip-side, it's important to let go of any bitterness or hatred against gay Christians that could become a foothold for Satan in our own hearts. God's wrath is enough. Instead, we should fear for their hardened, confused, or unrepentant hearts and pray for them.

But, when it comes to those who've committed very disturbing crimes like child-abuse, we need to act—and fast. For as Christians we are to be upholders of justice (Heb 11:33) and to correct oppression (Isa 17:1), contending for the weak, poor, and vulnerable members of our society. Therefore, we should always judge child-abusers righteously and hold them accountable for their actions—whoever they are. Sex-offenders and child-abusers should immediately be reported to legal authorities to face the consequences for their crimes. And the onus should never be placed on the victim to reconcile with the abuser. (If this does occur, it has to be at the behest of the victim, not the abuser or the church). And abusers should never, ever be protected or concealed by the Church as the Roman Catholic Church was accused of doing a few years ago when archbishops, cardinals, and bishops allegedly harbored known pedophile and ephebophile priests, relocating them to other parishes while keeping their identities secret—and allowing countless other children to be victimized as a result. This was not only shockingly poor judgment on part of the church leadership, but an inexcusable travesty of justice.

The same sadly goes for then 14- and 15-year-old Josh Duggar; his parents should have reported the multiple incidents of sexual abuse of several minors to police immediately, not have dealt with it all secretly behind church walls, and proceeded to wait over a year to alert local authorities. I am not questioning whether or not Josh was rehabilitated or counseled effectively here. He should have had church counseling (although widely accused sex-offender Bill Gothard's Quiverfull ministry hardly seems the appropriate place for this—not to mention the personal friend and ex-cop the Duggars enlisted to talk to Josh at the time who is now in prison for child-pornography). I am questioning the fact that Christians yet again concealed a sex-crime instead of handling it transparently and with sound judgment. Josh needed to face the consequences for his crimes as a member of society, not just as a member of the church. This may sound harsh, but it is sadly what his grave mistakes called for. The mess that this tragic situation became was, in my opinion, the result of an unhealthy, cult-like form of closed-doors Christianity, which the Quiverfull movement, and the Roman Catholic Church, have sadly represented in these cases.

Accountability between believers, therefore, involves sound, prayerful, and principled judgment—sound judgment of both the sin itself and the fitting consequence of that sin, as well as an understanding of when it is a church-matter, and when it is a matter for local authorities.

In addition to practicing peer-to-peer accountability between believers, Jesus warns us to watch out for false teachers in our midst. As mentioned above, we are each called to guard the faith with courage and conviction and to "test everything." I like how Paul words this to Timothy when he writes, "Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge." (1 Tim 6:20).

While we should pray for our pastors and honor their positions of authority, we must also hold them accountable to preach, and not stray from, God's Word. Pastors, theologians, Christian speakers and writers are all fallible. While we should never be witch-hunters, we do need to watchmen, encouraging our leaders to stand firm in the faith, and fight the good fight in the spirit of loving encouragement.

Ultimately, if Christians were not to pass judgment on false teaching, foolishness, and sinfulness, nor to discern good from evil, we would become far more like the world, and a lot less like Christ.

Context: Judging the World

And so, in a fallen world that loves the lie, and hates the truth that is Jesus Christ (John 15:18), how should believers apply righteous judgment?

2 Timothy 4:2 instructs us, "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction." If we are to correct and rebuke, we are by extension to proclaim what God's Word says about sin. And we are to do this with gentleness and respect—pointing sinners to the hope they have in Christ.

We should, however, treat the sin of unbelievers differently from the sin of Christians. Unbelievers are not held to the same standards as those who are born again, because they are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, do not subscribe to biblical principles, and have not yet been made new in Christ. This is why we can't judge them in the same way as we judge other believers. As Paul said, "Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside." (1 Cor 5:12-13). We should reach out to unbelievers, pray for them, speak the truth in love to them, and witness to them—not obsess over their unbiblical behavior. Ultimately, God wants to draw them to Himself, not for us to condemn them mercilessly. For of course, the old adage, hate the sin, not the sinner, comes in to play here.

But the reality is, our culture celebrates sin. Our children are growing up in a new era in which Christianity is more counter-cultural than ever before. Sexual immorality is unashamedly lauded in the mainstream media. Homosexuality is celebrated on Emmy-winning TV shows like Modern Family, for example, which received mass acclaim for airing an "historic" gay marriage proposal...Bruce Jenner is dubbed a "hero" for adorning his body with breast implants and wearing women's clothing...Promiscuity is promoted everywhere we look.

Sexual immorality is becoming so deeply embedded into the fabric of our society that it's hard to distinguish it anymore as we become increasingly desensitized to it. The shock-factor we felt back in the 80s when celebrities like Madonna first flaunted their sexuality so controversially has less impact now that an anything-goes mentality so widely prevails. We might have talked briefly about the antics of Miley Cyrus last year, but she's just one of the many skin-baring, hip-gyrating young stars stooping to new moral lows in the name of "being themselves." These young women are selling their bodies, and people are buying in droves.

As Christians, we are certainly called to go against the cultural tide when it comes to sexual purity. Paul was forthright in his treatment of sexual immortality, including homosexuality; he stated unequivocally, “do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor 6:9-10). Clearly, sin is serious in the eyes of God. It should be serious in our own eyes as well.

It's not about performing some machine-gun style of evangelism, however, that bombards people with threats of fire and brimstone or a Westboro Baptist-like approach to attacking homosexuality in our society. Crazy people such as these can make us want to distance ourselves from speaking the truth about sin at all for fear of being associated with such hateful bigotry and extreme kookiness.

Certainly, we should focus on the good news of the gospel—not obsess over the bad news of sin. However, sharing the gospel necessitates an acknowledgment of the gravity of sin. If we don't acknowledge the consequence of sin (separation from God), then we can't proclaim the gospel-solution (reconciliation to God). For without hell, there is no need for salvation. Sharing the gospel involves shedding light on (not detracting from) each person's life-and-death need to receive the free gift of redemption. It involves embracing our freedom in Christ and dying to the desires of the flesh. Unless we understand that sin leads to death, the gospel doesn't make any sense—or it becomes a false gospel. We simply can't brush sin under the rug.

Furthermore, lack of righteous judgment when it comes to sin leads to enablement. And enablement leads to hopelessness. A common misapplication of Jesus' commandment against judging others is to avoid calling sin, sin, altogether. It is this misunderstanding of Scripture that helps fuel the growing trend in the Christian church today to keep things "PC." A growing number of Church leaders are shying away from addressing polarizing issues of right and wrong that could cause division in their congregations or scare people away.

But as uncomfortable as we may find these culturally controversial topics, we must, when the opportunity presents itself, speak the truth as Jesus did with loving concern. To ignore or down-play sin is tantamount to telling people they have no need for a Savior.

Jesus certainly didn't mince His words when it came to matters of sin and its fatal consequences. He mentioned hell 23 times as is recorded in the Gospels. And when He went to dinner at a Pharisee's home, He told the Pharisees, "Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering." (Luke 11:52) Not exactly cordial dinner conversation! Jesus was far more concerned with speaking the truth to them about their sinful hearts than sparing their feelings and sticking to safe topics of discussion. When the disciples came to Jesus and told Him the Pharisees were offended by what He had been saying, Jesus answered that the Pharisees’ failure to see the truth right in front of them would be their downfall and He continued to uphold the truth, even when it offended people (Matt 15:12). It is this that is Christ-like behavior! Not the benign, feel-good version of worldly "love" that is tossed about today as "Christ-like."

For when a rich young man ran up to Jesus and fell on his knees before Him, asking, “Good teacher…what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus spoke forthrightly, telling him to leave everything he had and follow Him. Jesus was exposing an area of sin—a heart-problem—in the man. And the man went away sadly because he had great wealth. But the Bible also tells us that, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” (Mark 10:17-21). It was because Jesus loved the man so much that He spoke the truth to him about his sin. He didn't try to win him over right then and there. He didn't tell him what he wanted to hear in order to make him feel "safe" and gain a new follower. Instead, Jesus wanted the man to hear what was good for him. If we really love someone unconditionally and self-sacrificially, we will want to be truthful with them even if they reject us because of it.

So, how should we handle tough, hot-button issues like homosexuality? Firstly, it is important to make the distinction between sin in our culture and the sin of individuals. In short, we should stand firmly against the former, and show grace towards the latter, without compromising on the truth in either context.

When my friend, Julie, was attending beauty school in New Jersey a few years ago, she was confronted with what many Christians would consider to be a particularly challenging question. Knowing she was a Christian, one of her fellow students asked her: "So, do you think I am going to hell because I am gay?" But, Julie answered his question simply and without hesitation: "No. I think you are going to hell because you are a sinner, just like I am. I would be going to hell too if my sins weren't covered by the blood of Christ."[3] Julie's Spirit-led response demonstrated the humility, truthfulness, and love that the gospel demands. She didn't try to finesse it, or pretty it up. She set forth the truth gently and plainly, and left the rest to God. In other words, Julie's response reflected sound judgment.

But, the question is: what is to become of sound judgment such as this in a culture that has replaced "traditional values" with the "new normal"?

Sound Judgment and the New Normal
Due to the continued integration of progressive views into the ideological, political, and social fabric of our society, it will undoubtedly become more and more challenging for Christians to live out our faith biblically. (In some cases, Christians have already been penalized legally for doing so). At the start of 2010, the Obama administration included gender identity among the classes protected against discrimination under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). On July 1, 2011, the EEOC ruled that job discrimination against lesbians, gays, and bisexuals constituted a form of sex-stereotyping and thus violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. On April 20, 2012, the EEOC went further and ruled that gender identity was also a protected class under the ban on sex discrimination found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. On July 21, 2014, President Obama signed Executive Order 13672, adding "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to the categories protected against employment discrimination in the federal civilian workforce including government contractors and sub-contractors. It is not out of the realm of possibility that in ten years or so, churches that refuse to officiate gay weddings, will be in danger of losing their 501c3 status.

In the face of these developments, certain influential megachurches could be headed in the direction of capitulating on the issue of traditional marriage. A few seem already to be laying the groundwork for this by seeking to be safe-houses for practicing homosexuals, who are being treated as a special group—a different class of people from pedophiles, adulterers, and pornography-addicts, etc.

The fact is, sound judgment is under attack both inside and outside of the Church. Feelings and experiences are trumping reason and discernment. Emotions rule. Nebulous concepts such as, "Christians shouldn't judge others," are thrown about lazily. Shallow statements like, "don't judge!" are becoming coined phrases. It's sloppy theology at it worst. And it's causing many believers to lose their biblical bearings.

There is an alternative to either bigotry (which is rooted in judgmentalism) or capitulation (which lacks any judgment at all) in our response to culturally controversial issues like gay marriage. That alternative is to exercise sound judgment based on biblical truth. Sound judgment, being motivated by our love of God and of others, is patient and merciful while uncompromisingly just and truthful. Sound judgment is merciful because it doesn't gloss over sin, but instead offers hope and redemption in the washing away of that sin in the blood of Christ.

It is important that believers who uphold biblical inerrancy continue to stand firm on the solid rock of God's Word even if a growing number of Christian leaders are not. Be prepared. Take courage. It's going to be an uphill battle. But don't lose heart. Jesus has already overcome the world.

Jesus exhibited sound judgment. Certainly, then, so should we. If we don't, who will?


1. or LGBT, or GLBT, or LGBTI...or whichever your preferred alphabet-soup initialism

3. Paraphrased

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