Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Judgement, Planks and One Universal Truth

Doing anything in the Christian circle will rapidly show you how judgmental people can be. Whether it's going to church, Christian colleges, Bible studies, or simply hanging out with a group of Christians in a social setting. Unfortunately Christians can be some of the most judgmental people you may ever know. Somewhere along the line, Christians thought it was their right to look down their noses at anyone and anything they deemed unrighteous and inflict anything from physical to emotional pain.

Going to a Christian college brought this home more than any of my previous church experiences, mostly because I lived amongst it every single day, not merely encountering it on Sundays and Wednesdays. When you live immersed in a strictly Christian culture, you begin to see so much more. But for as much judgement as you may witness, you also witness the flip side if you're willing to look for it.

I never would've called myself a judgmental person going into college. I had a hodgepodge of friends in high school, most of whom were not in the least bit religious, and while I didn't always agree with what they did, I never held their actions against them as a litmus test of their value. They just were who they were, different beliefs, political views, language choice, behavior and all.

When I started Christian college, we were taught to judge each other in new student orientation. Of course it wasn't called that, it was called "confronting your brothers and sisters with love." It involved scrutinizing the people you came in contact with, watching for what they were doing "wrong." What was considered wrong was anything that broke the rules the school had established to govern us. When you observed someone doing wrong, you were told that the loving thing to do was to go to that person, pull them aside and let them know what they were doing wrong and ask them to fix it.

While I like to assume the motives behind the school encouraging us to do this were pure, the result was a campus festering with sideways glances, mutterings, misunderstandings, and instant judgement. It didn't matter what you were really doing, it only mattered what it looked like you were doing. It didn't matter your intention, all that mattered was others' perceptions. It didn't matter the condition of your heart, just the condition of your appearance. It didn't matter how you were really living, just how it looked to the people around you.

For a while I was one of those sideways glancing whisperers that couldn't believe what that girl was wearing! But it didn't make you feel better about yourself to be doing the judging. It just made you feel like you were becoming someone you hated and spiraled you into self loathing. Then the tables turned. I very quickly found that I was the one getting glanced at sideways, whispered about, and more misunderstood than I'd ever been.

I still don't know all of the reasons people decided I was a scum-worthy Christian, why they told new students to "watch out for me" because I was "trouble." I don't know why people who never met me decided they knew enough to approach my friends about me and explain why we shouldn't be friends. Someone decided a great rumor to spread was that I "dated around" (in the Christian circle, I learned this can be the equivalent of sleeping around, unless you actually are sleeping around, then you get the same treatment), even though I only had one actual boyfriend on campus during my whole four years. But being outspoken, friendly, laughing a lot, having lots of guy friends, and some shred of self confidence was read as "trouble."

Getting slapped with a false label by the Christian community in which I lived crippled my faith in Christians for a long, long time. I became cynical, jaded, angry and turned to an attitude of carelessness. I didn't want to be like any of the people I saw eyeballing me as I walked across campus, or who confronted my friends on my behalf. I didn't want anything to do with this judgmental group of hypocrites who had been told it was acceptable to determine my worth without even speaking one word to me.

I think it would be fair to say that I walked away from Christianity for a while. I never stopped believing in Jesus or the greatness of God and his sovereignty over my life. But I did stop reading my Bible, attending church regularly, and caring about a lot of the things that I used to care about. I had dutifully followed the rules for a while, but I decided that was pointless too. Who cared about rules in an institution that enabled people to treat each other so poorly?

But as with all negative life circumstances, I believe it happened for a reason. I knew something good had to come out of it, had to. I couldn't reconcile a bad situation without some good coming from it. And what I found as good was the opportunity to connect with similarly treated people. And that was the flip side. Once you know what it's like to be ostracized and imperfect, you are able to understand and relate to others in a completely new way. It's one thing to say, "I know what it's like when people don't like you," and a completely different one to say, "I know what it's like to be made into something I'm not by a community I thought I could trust." And we knew what it was like to be burned at the Christian stake by our peers.

We were the broken, dismissed, different, shameful. But we were also the fighters, unwilling to accept that this behavior and attitude applied to all Christians. We refused to give up on a faith system that we knew was truth, in spite of the broken, messed up people who followed it. Because we knew what the judges did not, we're all broken, shameful, wrong. None were exempt, we had just learned it differently. Eventually everyone who comes to Jesus learns one universal truth: we are all epically flawed, shamefully broken, totally wrong people.

If you've grown up in a Christian setting, doing what you're told and trying your best to please everyone (the church, your parents, and yes, God), eventually you can get a complex. That complex leads you to look at your life and think, hey, I'm not so bad. I didn't steal or lie or do anything as bad as that guy. I'm doing okay. And that leads to a false sense of security, that in some way, you did something in your life to merit God's good grace, that you are doing this Christianity thing the right way, that you are righteous.

But at the same time, that attitude digs its own grave. Because in reality, you didn't do everything right, you didn't do anything right. Your self righteousness led you to pride, that nasty little piece of brokenness that deceives everyone into thinking they're something better than what they really are. And that pride is what keeps you from fully understanding, fully appreciating and fully needing Christ's sacrifice. See, we broken folk understand we need something way bigger than ourselves to make us right with God. We know that no matter how hard we try, every day we do something to screw up, because as we know quite well, we aren't perfect. And in that we learn just how much we need Jesus. We don't need him a little bit, for the times we accidentally slip up. We don't need him once a year, when we make that one big mistake. We don't need him on Sundays, when we acknowledge that he exists from our cushioned pew seat.

We need Jesus all the time, every second of every moment of every day of our lives. We need him when we think we don't, and when we know we do. We need him when we make little mistakes and big ones. We need him because he is God and we are not. We need him because our best attempts to be "good" are like dirty rags compared to his real goodness. We need him because he's the life-giving water to our souls, the one who leads us into a relationship with God, the one who saves us from ourselves and the mire we've been stuck in for so long. We need him because he will give us more than we could ever imagine for ourselves and it will be good.

It took me a long time to fully grasp the "plankeye" parable Jesus tells in Matthew 7:2-4 because I always got hung up on a mental picture of a plank sticking out of an eye. But if you ignore the literal you will see it's the perfect metaphor for us judgmental Christians. We go around looking for the mistakes of others, maybe with bad motives, maybe with good. Maybe we hope to help people, show them a better way. But have we taken that first step of examining ourselves? What's the "plank" in our lives, driving its way into our ability to really see.

For those of us who have been judged, sometimes it's very easy to see our plank. We know our weaknesses, our wrongs, the ways in which we stray. But even then we can gloss over the "little" things, and so we must examine. And if you find yourself in the group that's doing the judging, that's looking down its collective nose at all those wrong-doers, beware. That plank may be invisible to you, but it is there nonetheless. "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

** A follow-up post is coming on love, accountability/guidance and tackling the balance between the two. For now, you can find some of my stance in this post. **

EDIT: The follow-up post has been written. Find it here.


Pam Manners said...


You are an incredible writer and have wisdom beyond your years. What a wonderful post!

eliseloyola said...

Thank you, Pam! :)

Unknown said...

Thanks for this post and the follow-up as well. I am blessed by the truth in both as this has affirmed everything God has been impressing on my heart lately. Keep up the Spirit led writing sister :)

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