Why I long for a judgmental church

That’s a strange thought, isn’t it; that somebody would actually want to be involved in a judgmental church? I assure you my reasons extend well beyond my obviously eccentric personality; my reasons are at least somewhat reasonable and principled.

I think…

[As an aside, I’m taking a break from ngrams today. For the two readers who like them, I’ll pick it up next week.]

First, a clarification. What do I mean by “judgmental?” As with the word “discrimination” one needs to be careful in their definitions. By judgmental I do not mean the tendency of some people to always find fault in those around them, no matter how trivial, while simultaneously ignoring all the good. Nobody has any use for that.

However, I don’t want to water down the word until it is washed of any real potency. Yes, I do still want others to find my faults. Yes, I do still want them to bring those faults to my attention. And yes, I realize that is almost certainly going to be rather uncomfortable.

So even a clarified version of “judgmental” should still leave us wondering why any sane person would desire that.

Assuming I am sane…

I’ll give you three reasons.

The character

It’s a fact; I don’t measure up. So when others fail to point this out to me I have to wonder a few things. Have they failed to see my failures? That seems unlikely, except for those I don’t know very well.

Do they notice? Then why aren’t they saying anything about it? Why remain silent?

The answer seems obvious; ettiquette. We don’t go around telling other people how messed up they are because it’s just rude. Well, yes, kind of. If that’s all I did with everybody – “Hi, I’m Paul, let me tell you how much you’ve ______’ed up your life.” – then we probably wouldn’t have too many friends.

But I’m not talking about always telling everybody everything that’s wrong with them. I’m talking about occasionally, strategically, tactfully, appropriately, respectfully telling another person they’ve messed up.

We still don’t seem to do even that! At least, not all that often. Why not?

Sometimes I think it’s because we’re concerned that they won’t handle the news very well. They’ll take it personally. They’ll hate us. They’ll overreact. All of which makes me think,

“Just how low is your opinion of me?”

Think about how insulting that is, really. If I am making a mess of some area of my life and you would rather keep silent to “keep the peace” than bring that up with me so that I might become a better person, then you must think I’m some kind of self-righteous prick living on my moral high horse who refuses to take any correction from anybody.

And maybe I am, but if that is the case then you really need to tell me!

But if you do bring it up with me – if you do confront my failings with civility and compassion – the message that sends me is actually extremely positive in large part because you believe I have the character to accept such correction with grace. I’m not going to lash out. I’m not going to hate you. I’m not going to start telling others about what a (fill in the blank) you are.

No, I am going to accept that criticism as any man of character would. I will thank you for bringing it to my attention. I might even ask for your help in correcting it. But above all, the message this sends is that you firmly believe that I’m the kind of guy who possesses such depth of character that you are willing to take the risk to bring these issues to my attention.

And that, my friends, is an impressive compliment in our present time when so many people have skin thinner than an onion peel. While others cry and object at the slightest hint of moral correction, you actually believe I have enough strength of character to accept correction with dignity and poise.

Thank you for such a deep compliment.

The potential

The essence of judgmentalism is to point out that there is a disconnect between what is and what ought to be. If I judge something (an action, another person, how supper tasted) then I am comparing that thing to some template I have in my mind about how that thing should have been. In many cases when my wife cooks supper my judgment of the comparison between is and ought to be is, “pretty darn close.” She’s a good cook!

But when I look myself in the mirror – and sometimes when I look at other people – I see somebody who falls short. I do not even measure up to my own mental template, so I seriously doubt other people look at me and think I measure up. I’m not that good of an actor.

So there’s a gap between is and ought, and when we point out that gap we send a message of potential. When Denise makes a magnificent meal we congratulate her on it, just as loudly as I get congratulated when I make grilled cheese sandwiches. But if Denise were to make grilled cheese sandwiches I might (probably in jest) ask her what’s wrong. She has vastly more cooking potential than I do, so asking her why she made grilled cheese sandwiches when I know full well she is capable of much more than that is, in fact, a compliment on her cooking potential.

Asking me what I made grilled cheese sandwiches might get you a snide remark and an extra-blackened meal.

But if you point out my failings in other areas of my life (where there is real potential, unlike cooking) then that sends a message not unlike asking Denise why she made grilled cheese sandwiches; it tells me that you believe I have much greater potential than I am currently living out. There is a gap between who I am and who I might be; who I should be, who I can be. I am designed for greatness.

Once again, thank you for that compliment.

The ability

Lastly, there is another message inherent in any act of judgment. Not only do I possess the potential to be something better than what I am currently being; I might actually be able to get there. This is another character compliment. By pointing out my shortcomings you are implicitly telling me not only, “You have more potential than this,” but also, “You actually possess the ability to reach your potential.”

If I didn’t truly believe that somebody had the character to become a better person – if they lacked any ability to get there – then you can be fairly certain I would never bring up their shortcomings. I would never bother “judging” them (in this sense of the word) because, really, what’s the point? Even if they tried, their potential is merely theoretical, not truly practical.

When another person tells me that I have this-or-that shortcoming, and that there is this potential “better me” out there to strive for, they are implicitly telling me that I could actually get there. That the “better me” is within my grasp, if I just reach out and work for it.

So an act of judgment from another person carries with it three separate compliments. And if we take such judgments as the compliments they inherently are, then such judgments – if shared appropriately – represent acts of kindness and compassion between people who have reached that point of depth in their relationship.

And that, I dare say, is a feature that any healthy church should exhibit. That form of judgmentalism is something I crave.

How about you? Are you up for three compliments today? Let me know if you are because I’ll gladly tell you everything that’s wrong with you!