Book Club Discussion: Those evangelicals are so judgmental!

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

So I’ve been reading through our book club selection - unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons—nodding my head and humming in agreement with every negative statistic that the authors uncover.

Eighty-five percent of non-Christians think that Christians are hypocritical, the book says. “Well that’s because they are,” I think to myself, “especially evangelicals.” The first word that comes to most people’s minds when they think about Christians is “anti-gay,” the book says. “Well, that’s because the Religious Right opposes basic civil rights for gays and lesbians,” I tell myself. “They’re giving the rest of us a bad name.” Nearly nine in ten young outsiders say that the term “judgmental” accurately describes present-day Christianity, says the book.  “Well, clearly, that’s the fundamentalist’s fault,” I respond, “THEY’RE the ones being judgmental.”  

...Oh, wait.

As I've been reading through the book’s chapter on judgmentalism, it has become increasingly clear to me that I'm very judgmental myself.  And lately, I've suffer from a sort of reverse-judgmentalism that makes me unrelentingly critical of conservative evangelicals.  In other words, if there’s something wrong with the world, I tend to assume that it’s probably James Dobson’s fault. While the Religious Right blames everything on the liberals or the gay community, I blame everything on the Religious Right. If this sounds like a vicious cycle, it’s probably because it is.

In unChristian, the writers conclude that “stereotypes kill relationships.” (p. 190) Boy, isn't that the truth! And while a good deal of conservative Christians need to be reminded of this, so does a know-it-all blogger from Dayton, Tennessee.

Sure, a lot of Christians I know make ridiculous stereotypes about so-called “liberals” like me. They assume that I’m flighty and that I lack conviction. They assume that I’m just going with the flow, that I haven’t read my Bible enough, and that I “drank the Kool-Aid” when I voted for Obama. Most have no idea how long and hard I have struggled with certain theological issues—like heaven, hell, pluralism, determinism, and free will—and how much I’ve wrestled with certain political positions—abortion, gay marriage, poverty, war. They hear through the grapevine that I’m not so certain that all Buddhist go to hell or that I’m probably going to vote for a democrat and they put me on their prayer request lists, rolling their eyes at my “un-biblical” worldview.

But I do the same thing to them! When I’m on the campus of the Christian college here in town, I find myself making judgments about the students. I assume that they come from privileged Christian homes, that they’ve been sheltered their whole lives, that they believe whatever their professors and pastors tell them to believe, and that they would judge me the second they knew what books were on my bookshelf.  When  I meet someone who identifies himself as Reformed, I  make all kinds of assumptions—that he is stuck up, that he thinks Calvin must sit on the right hand of the Father, that he delights in the idea of people being predestined for hell, that he will call me “uninformed” and “unenlightened” when he finds out that I’ve explored Open Theism.

(Notice how my judgment so often corresponds with my own defensiveness and insecurity. Hmm....)

Sometimes I tell myself that it’s okay to be critical of the religious establishment because Jesus was critical of the religious establishment.  But I think this is a cop-out. I can be critical of certain theologies and positions, without looking down my nose at those who hold to them. Besides, Jesus had unique authority when it came to correcting the Pharisees, and He gave very clear instructions regarding judgment to those who wanted to follow Him:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? [I always imagine that the people listening to Jesus laughed a little at this point.] You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

So, if my standard of judgment is judgmentalism, where does that leave me?  Could I measure up to my own standards? When I go around barking about how conservative evangelicals need to pry the log of judgmentalism out of their eyes, do I make a fool of myself with my own?

 I know what it feels like to get labeled. It’s awful, and I hate it. But if I intend to treat people the way I want to be treated, I’ve got to ease up on my more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ—even the Calvinists.  I’ve got to remember that a person is not defined by his or her religious, political, or denominational affiliation. Everyone has a story as deep and varied and nuanced as my own.   

It’s so much easier to blame other people than it is to “be the change” and simly do what Jesus said to do. (If you just made a judgment on my use of the phrase "be the change" consider yourself caught in the act!)

If Christian are ever going to correct the attitudes identified in “unChristian,” we’ve got to start with our attitudes toward one another. And I’ve got to start with myself.


So, who do you find yourself judging? Christians? Non-Christians? Republicans? Democrats? Calvinists? Dispensationalists? People who still listen to Boy Bands? How do we break the vicious cycle of judgment?

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