On my principle of never wasting a piece of writing, here's this month's attempt for the church magazine.
The other day I heard someone quote the text 'Judge not lest ye be judged' in a way that seemed to imply something along the lines of 'Don't disagree with my beliefs and I won't disagree with yours'.
On the other hand, some people seem to feel that the world has become a hostile place for Christians and that to express any conviction other than 'anything goes' is no longer permissible in wider society. Some Christians seem to be asking the question: 'Don't we have a right to express our views just much as anyone else? Why is that it we are seen as being judgemental when we stand up for what we believe?'
I often joke that my 'easy answer' is 'there is no easy answer' and this seems to be one of those situations. I offer this article as a think-piece in the expectation that not everyone will agree with me but perhaps it will start an interesting conversation.
To begin, you'll probably not be surprised that I believe that Christians do have a right to express our faith and our views. Indeed, I believe that Scripture tells us that we have an obligation to do so.
Of course, in a democratic society, other people also have the right to express their views. Here is where I expect some possible disagreement: I think that Christians risk being seen as judgemental when we fall into the trap of thinking that the wider would should agree with us and when we become become outraged when people don't. Sometimes the Christian media gives me the impression that it it never occurred to us that people of other faiths (or even of no faith) might have given quite a bit of thought to their position and come up with a sincerely-held and strongly-held view that is very different from our own.
When I was an adolescent, I was puzzled to be told by adults in the church 'There are no questions about faith that are out of bounds' and then to find that people got angry with my questions. Many years later, I realised that I wasn't supposed to ask questions like 'Why do we believe this?' I was supposed to ask the question 'What is the right answer to my question?'. Then, I was supposed to accept the church's answer and go away and believe as everyone else did.
I sometimes get the impression that the Christian Church has this attitude toward witnessing. It seems that we naively expect to put forward our point of view and have it gladly received. We get frustrated and maybe even angry when our seeds of wisdom fall on rocky soil, as Jesus said that some of them would most certainly do.
Scripture also tells us that no one can profess faith in Jesus as Lord except by the Holy Spirit. It's our duty as Christians to witness to the Gospel in the same way that a witness to an accident tells the court what she saw. But, just as the witness in court cannot control the court's decision, it's not our job to change the hearts of people: that's God's job. I think it's when we begin think that we must change people's hearts that we risk being seen as judgemental.
In witnessing to the Christian faith, there will inevitably be some people who see us as being judgemental; as the saying goes, 'You can't please all of the people all of the time'. There are many people in our society who think that to have a strongly-held religious conviction or belief is necessarily to be judgemental. As the person did the other day, they might quote 'Judge not lest ye be judged' in that way.
However, biblical judgement is not about having strong convictions, it's about judging someone as worthy or unworthy of being in God's Kingdom. The bible also tells us that this kind of judgement is not for us to do but is to be left to God.
Let's not fall into the world's trap of believing that to have a strongly-held view on a matter of faith or ethics or morality is to be 'judgemental'. As we come into Lent, we will need to see clearly in order to turn again and walk in God's direction. We cannot walk in God's direction if we don't have a clear idea of what constitutes godliness.
But let's also recognise that what God asks of us is to tell our story to others, to give witness to what we have seen and experienced of God. Let's recognise that it is not up to us to convert people or to change their hearts. Equally let's walk with peace, patience, kindness and gentleness toward others and leave the final judgement to God.