The Big Problem With People Who Justify Judging Others

I noticed one of the craziest things from a blog post I published not too long ago. In that blog post, I mentioned that I felt like there was a “revolution of love” that was taking place inside of the church. My observation was that people in the church are starting to become more accepting and less judgmental of those that don’t fit the “Mormon mold.” My assertion was that this would be a good thing for the church in the long-run, and for the most part, people agreed. The gospel net is large, and we want people in all their variety. But then there arose a small group of members who expressed their irritation and frustration with the fact that I had, in their minds, written so harshly against the “judgers.”

Some people posted comments indicating that it was their “right” to judge and even their responsibility to judge. It seemed as if a select few wanted to retain their right to call people out when they perceive that others aren’t living up to their own expectation of what it means to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That’s the funny thing. Everyone has a different understanding of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint or a “Mormon,” and some people can’t help but impose their “version” of Mormonism upon those in their wards, branches, and even in their own families.

Others mentioned that it was one of their “weaknesses” to have a propensity to judge and that they needn’t be judged for that weakness. What I saw happening was mind-boggling. The self-admitted judgers… didn’t want to be judged… for judging others. Does that even make sense? Elaborate blog posts, Facebook comments, and other means of communication were used to downplay and deflect the severe damage one can do to other members of the church because of their incessant judging and criticizing of others. This can happen without even saying a word. Our body language can deliver a sermon on how we feel about another person without a word even being said.

There was yet another contingent of people who mixed up the difference between judging for yourself, and actually judging others. Of course judging between right and wrong for yourself is important. Of course we’re required to make daily… even minute-by-minute judgments. But that doesn’t mean we have the ability or right to judge and label others, especially when we rarely, if ever, have the whole picture.

Those in the church who find joy in “casting stones,” I feel, are in the minority… but their impact is felt by so many. Like giant demolition wrecking balls, they’re crushing everyone who gets in their path and making church attendance an unbearable thought for too many tender souls.

Why is it so hard to just be nice?

What is it that makes it so hard for people to just be nice to each other? What is it about the sermon on the mount that even some stalwart members of the church don’t understand? What is unclear about the Savior’s request to “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.” What is it that keeps people from seeing the good in others, and why can’t we just keep our thoughts to ourselves if they’re not aimed to lift and to bless? Why do so many people derive so much pleasure from trying to correct other’s faults before they correct their own faults?

It’s impossible to misunderstand the Savior’s intent on what he’s said about judging. Judging others IS. NOT. GOOD. In fact, the way you judge others will be the way you are judged in the hereafter. In reading the scriptures, I can come to no other conclusion than to know that Christ detested one thing above all else. It was the judgy, self-righteous, scheming, gossiping, hypocrites. It just oozes from the pages. Especially from Matthew chapter 23. It’s the bold and the boisterous, as well as they who prefer to just whisper behind your back who put the membership of the church on edge. Not the guy who is embarrassed to sit in the pew because he smells like smoke.

Both my wife and I have different friends who specifically stopped going to church in their younger years because they were made fun, left out, or picked on. One of these people has come back to church. The other still has a hard time coming back. But both of them believe with all their heart that the church is true. It wasn’t doctrine. It wasn’t history. It was a lack of feeling wanted and included.

Wounds to the soul can linger.

Just a few weeks ago, I witnessed a man publically criticize a few sisters in the class whom he felt were not being doctrinally accurate. But as I quietly listened to the one-way exchange, as far as I could tell, he was the one who was doctrinally wrong while these sisters appeared to be in harmony with the teachings of the modern prophets. Regardless of who was right or wrong, no one likes to be embarrassed in front of others… and maybe that’s just enough to get someone to not want to be around. The things you say… people remember, and they may never be able to forget. Wounds to the soul and psyche, unfortunately, can linger forever.

I know that someone is going to read those last two paragraphs and say… “well those people just get offended too easily.” But I’m tired of hearing that excuse by people in order to give them a perpetual right to be offensive any time they want. Everyone will eventually get offended regardless of how thick their skin is. It’s a human reaction to being degraded and threatened, and the result is a “fight or flight,” response, neither of which are good for the church or the individual.

Please don’t take me wrong. I’m not saying that this is the norm. What I am saying is that when it does happen, it can alter lives and eternities… and all it takes is one experience to put someone down a thorny path.

The two types of “judgers.”

Judgers usually manifest themselves in one of two ways. The loud and boisterous have no problem calling others out right in front of other people. They might give a biting or sarcastic remark that echoes in the cultural hall or they might make a subtle jab at you during a Sunday school lesson. According to them, they’re just “saying like it is” or “calling it like they see it.” They’re just “speaking the truth” as they leave a wake of destruction everywhere that they go. I remember when a guy in my stake called me out in public because I hadn’t shaved in a few days and I had some scruff on my face. I looked around for a minute and thought it was a joke. “You’re kidding right?” I said to myself. He wasn’t kidding.

On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got the much more subtle method of judging. This form of judging is done with whispers and epithets… and usually, goes by the formal name of gossiping. It’s usually carried out by people who are wholly insecure in their own skin and can find no other relief but by bringing others down and making them look bad. Have you ever been on the receiving end of a circle of gossipers? Have you ever had to go to a meeting or an event in life wherein you knew that there were people at that event who had been bad mouthing you behind your back? It’s no fun. But of all places… at church… as James says, “These things ought not to be.”

Have you ever wondered why Alma gave up his judgment seat and entered into the ministry full time? It was because members of the church couldn’t figure out how to be kind to each other. Alma gave up his judgment seat for one major reason: Because he “saw and beheld with great sorrow that the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes” and that “that they began to be scornful, one towards another, and they began to persecute those that did not believe according to their own will and pleasure.” (Alma 4:8)

The Pot Stirrers

“I often wonder why some feel they must be critical of others,” said Elder Wirthlin. “It gets in their blood, I suppose, and it becomes so natural they often don’t even think about it. They seem to criticize everyone the way Sister Jones leads the music, the way Brother Smith teaches a lesson or plants his garden. Even when we think we are doing no harm by our critical remarks, consequences often follow. I am reminded of a boy who handed a donation envelope to his bishop and told him it was for him. The bishop, using this as a teaching moment, explained to the boy that he should mark on the donation slip whether it was for tithing, fast offerings, or for something else. The boy insisted the money was for the bishop himself. When the bishop asked why, the boy replied, ‘Because my father says you’re one of the poorest bishops we’ve ever had.’”

An old Church News article revealed that “Some members fret over outside voices that try to destroy or discredit the Church. However, our greater concern probably lies with the “wolves” who, wearing sheep’s clothing, blend in with the flock. “Ravening” is an apt description of what they do: hungrily search for prey. The damage they do, not to the body of the Church but to individual souls, is immense. Other wolves in sheep’s clothing, perhaps not fully grown, are also among us. They divide and scatter the flock, as it were, with such negative influences as discord, gossip, and backbiting. They feed on the burr of contention.”

This stuff is destructive!!! Massively destructive. Which is why I truly believe that the futurity of the Church depends completely on the kindness and mercy of its members. People want to feel safe at church. They want a refuge from the storm. Joseph Smith once said that, “The nearer we get to our Heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs.” Not judge them or condemn them.

If God looks on the heart… then we should too. If God is merciful to us… then we should strive to be merciful to others, regardless of how different they are from us. Our concern is not between God and others. Our concern is between God and ourselves, and God is going to look at how we’ve treated others as a measuring stick for how much we profess to love Him.


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  • Dave Roskelley

    I love this article and wish only that you had incorporated into your comments the JST translation for the doctrinal reference you used from the sermon on the mount:

    JOSEPH SMITH TRANSLATION
    MATTHEW 7: 1-2

    Judge not unrighteously. (compare Matthew 7: 1-2)
    1 Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people.
    2 Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment.

    To often people misunderstand the concept of “judgement” and further convolute the discussion when they move to self judgement vs the judgement of others. Obviously we must ant times make judgments, for our selves, about our associations, our standards, our actions, and those decisions have and effect, on our own mental & physical health and upon those we come in contact with. Righteous Judgement, that which is in harmony with the spirit, reflecting the example of the Savior, is both possible, and commanded. It is an understanding of what that means that is often lost on those who would judge others and or themselves harshly. We are to view ourselves and others in terms of who we may become as eternal beings. Our judgement and actions should always be lifting, seeking to bring joy, love and enable us and other to come toward, to find peace in the rest of the lord. when we act, in harmony with the spirit of truth, showing love unfeigned, we will judge ourselves and if necessary as guided by the spirit, “righteously” as commanded.

  • I wonder if there is a correlation between doing home teaching and visiting teaching the way the Savior intends and the destructiveness of judging. What I mean is that if we go into each other’s home and really get to know the “whole picture” and learn to love others in spite of their weaknesses and serve them, won’t we learn to love and have mercy, give grace and forgiveness to each other rather than harshly judging? And won’t we feel more inclined to follow the Savior more closely when we feel safe from condemnation among fellow saints because they know and love us? I know this has worked for me. The more deeply I get to know someone, by visiting them on their turf, and truly listening to them the less I’m inclined to criticize and judge unrighteously.

    On the other side, I have been persecuted at times to the point of not wanting to go to church; however, I long ago determined that I would never let ANYONE come between me and the Savior. No matter how painful it is to go to church I go because I made covenants with Jesus Christ, not any individual members. I want to be found where I’m supposed to be when I’m supposed to be there so that I can maintain my relationship with the Savior. I, and our family have been blessed for doing so.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and testimony. It is uplifting and encouraging.

  • Clara Susan Morey II

    How do I begin and then continue to repent of the damages caused over the years by my judgmental words, inadvertent and intentional? How do I assist humbly to magnify the grace of the healing process of those who have been damaged by my words and are still reeling in the continual memories and self-condemnation brought about through my unkindness? Help me, please.

    These, whose grieving and sorrows I now recognize, are my Earthly siblings. I am 60. I have been blind. I am seeing now how much, even desperately, we need each other. We need each other to accept us as we are.

    And I don’t know how to repair the damages I have done. Please help me?

  • jacklstickney

    ‘Judging harshly’ isn’t part of the Gospel, but unfortunately it is part of this fallen world in which we live. You see it everywhere; yet I agree, we shouldn’t see it in the church. Recently, I’ve noticed it in direct put-downs of personal opinions given in Sunday school settings. I don’t think they were malicious, just articulated poorly. Greg wrote of ‘tender spirits’; I know these exist. As a member of the church for my whole life, I’ve seen my share of judging; and some directed at me. What helped me get through it was continued strengthening of my testimony and discovery of my relationship to Christ. As we all are ‘agents unto ourselves’, it’s important to shed attitudes of ‘victim-ness’ and stand strong in the light of the Gospel; not being ‘tossed to and fro’ by every wind of opposing thought or judgement.

  • Darla Gaylor

    I loved your “Revolution” post. Actually read it the morning before giving a talk on “Keeping our testimonies centered in Christ;” I referenced it, just the sentiments, during my talk.

    Always appreciate your thoughts, Greg.

  • Susan Jones

    References: James 3:10, Virtue of Kindness-April 2005 by Joseph Wirthlin, wolves in Sheeps Clothing-Church News-Sat, Sept 6, 2003.

  • Man

    There are many reasons to judge situations and people’s potential actions, especially when it comes to protecting those over whom God has giving us responsibility to protect. Judging motive is difficult, and, in my opinion, requires a firm relationship with God. This articles seems to address the idea of choosing to not judge people who are not the same as us at Church. Which could be wise. However, the idea of, “all you need is love” is just as damaging as the idea of judging without right or without qualifiable data. Humans need something more than love. We need God, which is far more than just love. I have not read your other article, however, I would be remiss if I did not share that judgement of core ideas, doctrine, beliefs, and actions that are false, can be massively detrimental to the souls of our brothers and sisters. It is our responsibility to educate, instruct, guild, and at times, correct. That must happen through the Holy Spirit. And if possible, it needs to be done from a place of love, UNLESS the Spirit so instructs. I find it so interesting to how often we believe we know the mind-set and characteristics of God (and therefore what He would have is do in any given situation) that we forget to wrestle with God. We must do this to find truth, we must question our own weakness, and then if the impression is justified through the spirit and doctrines of God, we’re good to say whatever is being instructed to us to say. Conscious purpose to follow God’s instruction is key in my mind.

  • jock1234

    A superb read, thanks Greg!

  • One of my favorite quotes from Joseph Smith: “…and I say unto you that there is more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over the ninety-and-nine just persons who are so righteous; they will be damned anyway, you cannot save them.”