Should we judge those who judge?

Judge not, that ye be not judged, at least that’s how the Authorised Version puts it.

Words followed words today, tweets followed tweets, judgement followed judgement. All in an oscillating cycle between being right and in being right, or thinking you are right, being wrong.

It was Mark Driscoll’s tweet that set the cat among the pigeons:

I took a moment to take in my shock. But only a moment. I thought I was managing to stay above the fray by tweeting a link to his without any judgement.

But who am I kidding? There was judgement in those words, bucket loads. And predictably it got the retweets I thought it would. And the responses from those agreeing and adding their disdain that he could say such things.

One response, however, stood out from the crowd. It was not an affirmation that I’d backed the right horse, but a gentle prod that perhaps I shouldn’t have got on my high horse.

I cannot do anything other than speculate on the motives Mark Driscoll had for his tweets. I can only comment with any certainty on those driving mine. I was confident I’d get support from those perpetually outraged by his statements. I thought it might even earn me a little kudos in the twitter world.

What I was really doing was looking for support in me being right and someone else being wrong.

I was judging. I could build a defence, I could argue that Jesus saved his harshest words for the judgemental Pharisees, I could say he was representing a view of God that is flatly contradicted by the man Christ who called us to take the plank out of our own eyes before pointing out the speck in another.

That’s what I’m doing now. Publicly taking the plank out of my eye. My tweet was based on wanting to serve my own purposes and rubbish another. And the sneering tone that lay beneath my words made that worse.

But it also leaves me with a question: when and how should we respond to those who judge? Do we let their words go unquestioned, do we let them paint a picture of God that is not who we worship? I simply do not know. I think there’s a space for criticism, there is a space for rebuke: I think that can be healthy. I even think that can happen on twitter and blogs, but I know for me it’s not a forum where that is easy.

I think it’s all too easy to write things in order to provoke a response, words that inflame and do not inform. It is too easy to build an audience, too easy to like attention, too easy to judge the wisdom of your words by the hits or retweets. I know that I have to be immensely careful of my motives when I write. It is also easy to see criticism as an affirmation that you are saying something worth being said.

For now, I simply apologise to Mark Driscoll for judging him this afternoon.

Update:

I like to think that this blog is a place where I think out loud. I do my best to be as honest and open as I can. It’s also been pointed out by Annie Carter in the comments that her tweet to me was actually referring to Mark Driscoll’s original tweet. Yesterday’s post caused a bit of a stir, was I trying to stop people disagreeing? Was I saying to deny what you thought? What role is left for anger?

Simply, I wanted a better tone of conversation. I think it is possible to disagree without judging, and I think there is a place for rebuke. It’s just in my case I was judging and I am not convinced that twitter is the best place for rebuking someone. I think this opens up a much wider conversation as to how Christians do disagreement in public, and my hunch is that we should do it a whole lot less than we do. And I think in a context such as twitter were conversations get confused and responses are short, the potential for perceiving something that wasn’t quite meant is manifold.

I think Anger can be a good thing, I think it highlights things that are not how they should be. But anger unmediated and detached from a relationship can be harmful, and that’s where I think we have to act with care.

I found Mark Driscoll’s comments objectionable but what I had missed until it was pointed out to me was Cornel West’s objection to Obama swearing the oath on MLK’s Bible. So here’s a thought to ponder: why did they provoke such different responses?

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4 thoughts on “Should we judge those who judge?

  1. I respect a considered position that includes an apology. When someone has changed their mind, something powerful has happened. But it only works when we believe the apology to be genuine. I’m judging when I think this one is. I was also judging that others in recent news were not. Though I’m not secure in either case: only the Judge of All the the Earth gets it right every time.

  2. And the irony of it all is that my tweet was actually in response to Driscoll’s. Talk about confusion! In retrospect, however, I think that both yours and his were uncalled for. Hey, probably mine too. We’re often too quick to tweet, but I admire you for thinking this through and admitting your error. At the same time, I do think that we should be free to question others. Many times it’s not what we say/tweet but the way that we do it, as well as the motive behind it – as you point out. Thanks for showing grace and humility here.

  3. Wise words here, it’s a hard balance to keep; between judging and disagreeing then rebuking. Certainly think it can be so dangerous to try do it where you have a character limit and misunderstanding and simplifications abound…

  4. Really good thoughts here. I appreciate your humility and thoughtfulness on the situation.

    Perhaps the root is this: How much thought do we put into our words before we use them? For me, it’s rarely (if ever) as much as it should be. Between emails, text messages, and various forms of social media, we’re using words perhaps more than ever before in history, which makes it easy to forget that they still have weight. Especially when something said online rubs us the wrong way, it’s tempting to fire off a quick reply without considering whether or not what we have to say really needs to be said. I struggle with Twitter, because the character limit makes it hard to say anything contrary to the original opinion with grace and charity–which means I’m often better off saying nothing.

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