There’s a lot of judgment in the readings for Advent. The readings for the four Sundays before Christmas talk a lot about Jesus coming to make all things new, which is the good news. The bad news, or maybe I should say the scary news, is that he will come to “judge the living and the dead.”
That got me to thinking about how many of my anti-church friends say that one of the reasons they don’t go to church is that church has often been judgmental. For example, GLTB friends tell stories about how the church not only excluded them from participation but told them that they were going to hell.
It’s hard to swallow the judgmental pronouncements of self-righteous Christians who don’t seem to want to take logs out of their eyes but love to point out small particles in our own eyes.
So, what are we to do with Advent lessons which talk about judgment when our own experiences with judgmental Christians have been irritating or even painful?
I think Pope Francis has given us a clue.
When asked if gay people would go to hell, he replied, “Who am I to judge?”
In other situations, however, he upheld church traditions like the all male clergy.
I think he embodies the difference between judgment and judgmentalism. That is, the Pontiff recognizes that there are a lot of stories and statements of judgment in the New Testament as well as in the Hebrew Bible. The reason why he doesn’t come off as being judgmental is because his tone indicates that he sees himself as one day having to face the holy God who will judge him as well as everyone else. Seeing oneself in the same spiritual predicament as everyone else is a potent antidote to self-righteousness.
The problem, in my view, isn’t judgment but judgmentalism, i.e. religious folk who 1) think they are better than other people and 2) kind of enjoy scaring the hell out of people. Kind of like sadists, they get a perverse buzz out of taking on the role of both judge and executioner. Unfortunately, there seem to been a lot of clergy who have that description.
It would be naïve if not insane to not teach our children how be good judges of situations and people. To survive all of us have to learn to distinguish between the wolves and the sheep around us. Being a good judge of character, however, does not require being judgmental. In fact, the people whom we are most critical of often exhibit character traits which exist in us, if we are honest and humble enough to recognize them.
What Pope Francis is showing us is how to acknowledge that God is a righteous judge as well as a loving savior on the one hand, while on the other hand not being judgmental of anyone. We all, in fact, are on this journey together.