"Stop Being Judgmental!"

Peace and Blessings:

Thank you again for your website. I have been trying to understand the issues related to the necessary discernment we all exercise in sorting good and evil, vice and virtue. As a parent, I must teach my children the differences. But sometimes when I discuss this, the person throws the word "judgmental" like a grenade, and it's another "conversation stopper".

Where is the line? I don't expect to nor do I try to judge the state or eternal fate of another's soul; I know this is only for God. But there ARE times when a gentle word may be needed to remind another that some statement or action is not in line with the Church's teaching, for example, on abortion or contraception. Are we now expected, in this post-Vatican II Church to abandon all discernment of good and evil?

Please answer and give me some guidelines for the difference between what we cannot do (Judge others) and what we must do (judge actions?). Thank you.

In His Love,
Chris Kelly


Dear Chris,

Good to hear from you. What an important--and difficult--question! We live in a society where people are constantly judging each other--from tabloids and talk shows to the most respectable media all the way down to gossip among friends and at work. Most of this falls under the categories of defamation (it may or may not be true) or detraction (true, but damaging). We have no business even listening to it, but it is pretty hard to avoid and, let's be honest, not participate in.

A second area (and I think this is what you are asking about) is how to instruct, which of course involves judging behaviors, saying what is right and wrong. I would try to use C.S. Lewis' criteria. Avoid moralizing on a behavior that you are not personally tempted by. For example, he did not write about gambling; it was one vice he felt no inclination toward. For myself I can speak from personal experience about sloth, greed, envy, revenge, dishonesty, swearing, drinking, etc. One inclination I do not know from the inside is homosexuality so I would avoid moralizing on it except in as much as know lust in general.

Now it is different if I have an office which requires me to instruct--and sometime judge--others. I certainly have that as a pastor to my parishioners. You of course do as a parent to your children. (According to the Bible that office lasts until they get married; it doesn't end when they turn 18.) Even if you have never been tempted by drugs, for example, you have a duty to warn your children about that danger. I would likewise have an obligation to alert my parishioners, especially the younger ones, about the dangers of homosexual behavior.

Sometimes people will throw in my face that I have no place to talk about birth control since I am not married. My response is that, considering the hostility it provokes, I would prefer to avoid the topic. However, the Lord has some clear words about the watchman who fails to warn the people about a danger (cf. Ez. 3:17ff.) That's a good text for parents by the way. And once you've pointed out the peril, be a peace. In other words, Don't nag.

One final observation: Be aware that in our culture, "Don't judge," has become a slogan to 1) avoid facing the issue of right and wrong and 2) allow a tacit acceptance of a moral evil. I heard of a parish minister who tried to talk a young woman out of an abortion, but when he couldn't convince her, he actually drove her to the clinic. He had no right, he said, to judge her conscience. It sounds very tolerant and compassionate, but suppose it was some other decision. For example, someone wanted to join the Ku Klux Klan. If he couldn't talk the person out of it, would he then drive him to a cross burning?

As you note, when someone tosses out the word "judgmental" they do mean it as a conversation stopper: "Don't mess with a judgment I have already made." I received a letter from a young woman who said I had no right to judge that abortion was wrong. She used the example of a friend who got an abortion after being raped. The starting point of course would be our shared judgment that rape is a horrible wrong, then try to ask if something were also wrong with taking the innocent human life which resulted. No easy thing because so many emotions are involved. Nevertheless, the very intensity of the emotions indicates some moral compass has been touched.

Hope this is of some help, Chris. You do have my prayers.

God bless,

Fr. Phil

Homily on Judgmentalism & Tolerance (a parody)

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The Fiery Furnace

Jesus Teaching Concerning Heaven

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