I was recently accused of being judgmental for my belief in the traditional definition of marriage. In other words, rather than debating the merits of my position, it was easier for her to name-call. This trend seems ubiquitous nowadays.

Interestingly, it’s not even about winning the argument anymore, which would be a marked improvement. Sadly, most people can’t make the argument. So instead they rely on empty insults to do the heavy lifting for them. Of course, this approach doesn’t build bridges. It burns them down. It ends the conversation, which I think is generally the point.

In my experience, however, most people – to include myself – don’t have a natural appetite for truth or dialogue or even understanding if it conflicts in any way with their preconceived notions. It’s just easier to cloak ourselves in an attitude of unearned moral superiority than it is to do the hard and messy and sometimes painful work of a) developing relationships with people with whom we disagree and b) entertaining the extraordinarily remote possibility that we could be wrong. Our default position, therefore, is to simply shut down the conversation by falsely questioning someone’s character in order to hide the fact that we cannot intelligently question their conclusions.

In any event, it wasn’t the first time someone accused me of being judgmental simply for having my very own opinion on a matter. But my question for anyone that accuses someone else of being judgmental is this:

Is it possible to accuse someone of being judgmental without being judgmental yourself?

Of course, the answer is . . . well, it depends. It depends on your definition of judgmental. If you’re meaning of judgmental is that we should never pass any judgment at all about anyone, then I think you’re looking beyond the mark.

Because the truth is that we exercise our judgment all the time and in countless ways, and for good reason. Even the choice not to judge is judging that people are either always above reproach or that whatever their faults it’s never any of our concern. Both assumptions, however, are not only wholly untenable, they are unkind.

For example, imagine actually attempting to never judge anyone for any reason. If you’re single, yikes! That would mean that that creep that just asked you out, yeah, you can’t say “no” simply because he’s a creep. In fact, you can’t even think that he is a creep without crossing the proverbial judgmental line. So, what do you do? Do you abandon rational thought and just go out with him? Not likely.

But you’re a really good person. You know, the kind of person that doesn’t judge. So instead of acknowledging that he might, in fact, be a creep, you chastise yourself for even thinking it and conclude that he’s just not your type. But even then, how do you know that he is not your type? Are you not judging of what type he is and that that type is not particularly appealing to you?

The problem, you see, lies in our understanding of what it means to be judgmental. To clarify, it is not judgmental to have an opinion, even as it relates to the morality of an individual’s behavior or actions. In fact, to suggest that it is immoral to judge behavior is judging behavior. In other words, it is a non-sequitur.

On the other hand, however, to think that your opinion is somehow relevant to the inherent worth of another human being is judgmental. But we can determine that a particular behavior is immoral without dehumanizing the individual whose conduct is morally blameworthy. We can tell the truth without thinking that we are better than those that either don’t know the truth or refuse to live accordingly.

We can (and should) discern not just differences in peoples’ abilities, but also their worthiness for certain privileges – our trust, for example – while simultaneously acknowledging that the inherent worth of even untrustworthy people is equal to our own. Said another way, we trust only those individuals that are trustworthy without suggesting that untrustworthy individuals are inferior to us.

Thus, the real challenge isn’t that we never judge. That would require us to refrain from having any thoughts about anyone, either positive or negative. That’s not possible. In fact, it would be irrational, even dangerous, to attempt it.

No, the real challenge is that we judge righteously (see John 7:24). In other words, we do our best to look directly at the mark without thinking that those that can’t, or won’t, are somehow worth less in the sight of God.

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