sort of about the gay marriage debate (but not really…)

The Problem

Since President Obama stated several weeks ago that he was in favor of same-sex marriage, the debate has heated up to an incendiary proportions.  Add that with a pinch of Chik-Fila controversy and you have yourself the political and religious battle of choice for the week.

My goal with this blog post is to not to debate that topic of same-sex marriage–there are millions of other bloggers out there doing just that–my goal is to simply critique one aspect of how we treat each other while we are debating the topic.  I’m frequently disheartened at how poorly we humans have been treating each other when attempting to discuss these issues.  The Internet seems to be a hotbed of verbal assault that quickly turns ignorant and nasty on both sides.

There has been a lot of robust dialogue online lately on the topic of gay marriage.  Whether it’s a Facebook status, Twitter updates, blogs, articles and all ensuing comment threads that follow.  As a result, religious and non-religious people alike start throwing Scripture out there to either defend their own point or tear apart the other’s logic. The discussion almost always ends up souring and devolving into a series of threats and insults aimed at exposing each other’s ignorance.

Oddly enough, I’ve found that in these discussions, the passage of Scripture Matthew 7:1 pops up quite frequently.  What’s even weirder is that it’s not just Christians or religious people that are using this Scripture to defend their point.  Non-religious people are using it too.

Matthew 7:1 is the famous Bible verse which says “Judge not, or you too will be judged.”  Or for some reason people still like using the old King James with this one: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

A typical conversation on the same-sex marriage debate will go something like this:

Example 1

Liberal Lonny: Plenty of gays love Jesus.  They attend the church where I go.

Conservative Carl: God clearly says fornication is a sin and that no homosexual shall enter the kingdom of heaven.

Liberal Lonny:  Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.  Only to love people.  And “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”  Love, not judge.

Example 2

Christian Cathy: Gay marriage is wrong!  The Bible says so.

Secular Sam:  Doesn’t the Bible also say “Judge not, lest ye be judged?”  Try following your own Bible.

Example 3

Secular Sam:  You’re just being a hateful, homophobic bigot.  How can you deny people the right to get married in this country?  Obviously you’ve never read the Constitution.

Christian Cathy:  “Judge not, or you too will be judged.”

By and large, non-religious people loving using Matthew 7:1 on religious people when insults, judgmental calls and accusations of sin start flying; religious people don’t like using that phrase until they’re accused of being hypocritical.  Then they throw up “Judge not” like some protective energy shield from enemy laser blasts.

Why are conservative and liberal, religious and non-religious people so quick to use this Scripture?

The problem is that most people–religious and non-religious–assume they know what Jesus meant here when he says “Judge not.”  We tend to use “Judge not” as sort of an all-purpose “Get out of Jail Free” card.  We don’t really understand what the word “judge” means and what Jesus meant by it.

The Context

The “Judge not” verse was small part of a famous sermon that Jesus preached, referred to as “Sermon on the Mount.”  Jesus has just begun his ministry, preaching His message and healing the sick.  Amazed because Jesus was physically healing people of all kinds of diseases, pain, paralysis, demon-possession and seizures, people from miles around were drawn to him, like bees to honey.  So he began to teach them on top of a mountain.

So what does Jesus preach about?  Quite simply, the kingdom of heaven.  He reveals the nature of this kingdom.  Like a company, school even the government, when a new president or leader assumes office, he sets forth a new administration, a new set of goals, policies and agendas.  That’s what Jesus is doing.  As the “Prince of Peace,” He’s all about the kingdom of heaven.  And so He begins to describe His kingdom to them.

He touches on all kinds of topics, and each is more radically counter-cultural and counter-intuitive than the first: who’s going to be in this kingdom (the poor, the needy, the grieving, the peacemakers, etc.), murder, adultery, divorce, revenge, how to treat your enemies (love them), being generous, prayer and fasting (for those of you juicing or on the Master cleanse…).  He even talks about worry.

Through all of this, it soon becomes obvious that Jesus isn’t merely giving a list of “do’s and don’t’s”; he doesn’t just say “don’t commit adultery”; he says “don’t’ even look at another person lustfully.”  Um, really, Jesus?  That seems impossible.  And it is.  So why is Jesus giving us a glimpse into this glorious, beautiful, but impossible kingdom?  He’s getting to the root of our behavior and why we do what we do–it’s our hearts.  Jesus is far more concerned with our hearts and motives behind our behavior.

Let’s get back to worry just for a second.  Interestingly, he talks about worry right before he starts talking about “judge not.”

The amount of worry in our lives is inversely proportional to how big we think God really is.  Worry has more to do with how we relate to and God, rather than the actual circumstance.  When we worry, we’re making a judgment not about our situation or circumstance, but on God’s ability to handle it.  When we worry, we’re making a judgment about the character, nature and essence of God.  We’re saying to Him “You can’t handle this… I’ll do a much better job of controlling and managing this problem.”  We’re ignoring His power, His sovereignty, His love, HIs faithfulness, His concern for our good and His glory.

“Judge not” has more to do with how we relate to people.  Jesus is not commanding us to not have opinions (that would be silly) or to not determine right from wrong (wouldn’t that just invalidate everything He’s said up to this point?).

Rather, He’s commanding us to look beyond our actions and into our hearts.  He’s revealing what’s wrong with us deep inside of us.  When we judge others, when we tear apart somebody else’s essence, nature or character for the purpose of making ourselves seem better or more right or righteous, when we drag somebody else’s character, value and worth into the fray, that’s when we’ve judged.  We try to control our own image and sense of “rightness” and validation by pushing others down.  We try to make ourselves look better, even if it’s just to ourselves.

So the next time we’re tempted to throw out “Judge not, or you too will be judged” (or any other kind of defense)  in a battle of words and wit with someone, let’s ask ourselves first why we’re using it.  Is it care and concern for the nature, essence, respect and worth of the other person as someone who is created in the image of God?  Or are we reducing them down into an argument that must be squashed, an opinion that must be obliterated, an opponent that must be humiliated?

The Message translation version of Matthew 7:1 says this: “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults–unless, of course, you want the same treatment.  That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.”

In his latest album, John Mayer croons in his song “The Age of Worry’: “Alive in the age of worry/Smile in the age of worry/Go wild in the age of worry/And say, worry, why should I care?”

I think John Mayer was partially right.  We do live in the age of worry.  But we also live in the age of the critical spirit. This spirit continues to feed upon itself in a never-ending vicious circle.  Do we really want to add to that?

Critique, yes.  Reinforce the critical spirit, no.

So let’s stop hiding behind Scripture to prop up our own feeble sense of righteousness. Let’s stop contributing to the brokenness of the world.  Let’s actually try to understand what Jesus said and meant and what He was about.  Jesus let Himself be torn apart and battered when He was crucified so that we wouldn’t have any right or reason to tear each other apart anymore.

Love, not judge, indeed.

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