By now it is universally accepted that people – especially young adults are leaving the church in masses. One reason, it seems, is because Christians are perceived as being prideful and critical towards others.
How did we acquire this image of a judgemental character?
Face it, Christians are perceived as being arrogant about their beliefs, never trying to find out what others think about issues. Don’t believe me? Try this….have a conversation with someone that you entirely disagree with. Attempt to listen to the person until he/she has completely made their point. It’s difficult to do, isn’t it? And that’s armed with the awareness of holding back. We try to point out something that is wrong in the other person’s suppositions making them feel small or marginalized. We seem to focus on other people’s faults and failures rather than on motive and simplification. To Christians we think that we’ve stood our ground against sin, raised our banner to overcome evil, but all we’ve really done is tried to prove that we were right, rather than what is right in God’s sight.
There is a BIG difference between condemning people and helping them become sensitized towards God’s standards. A lot of it has to do with grace, mercy and love. We tend to talk more about the issues than “DO” anything to actively alleviate them. We forget that sin is on both sides of the arguments. We are failing as churches as being perceived as agents of love and cultivating love in our communities. (Barna Group Survey indicates only 20% of non-Christians see churches as instruments of love in their communities). We are missing the point of reflecting Jesus to outsiders. But, how to shift this stigma is a daunting if seemingly impossible challenge.
Let’s break down where these judgmental attitudes exist.
First, Christians come to the wrong conclusions. We stereotype young adults by what they wear and what they say and what they do; rather than acknowledging that they are a generation that expresses themselves differently. Thus, giving the impression that we don’t care about their lives.
Second, we may have the right answer, but we present it at the wrong time. When to say something and when to be silent is a tough call for many Christians. And, when it comes to outsiders, those outside the faith, Paul clarifies, in 1 Corinthians, that we have no right to judge them. Also, our interpretations may be correct, but our motivations may not be correct. Jesus challenges us to choose compassion over retribution any day of the week (John 8:7), because if our fixation is on the sin then it will be impossible to demonstrate love.
Finally, a small but very real attitude felt by non-Christians is favoritism towards fellow Christians – and against nonbelievers. It gives the impression that we are determining who has the greatest spiritual value and the highest potential. It makes those outside the faith feel inferior and worthless. Who would want to hang around people who radiate that kind of attitude? So, to summarize, wrong conclusions, wrong timing, wrong motivations and ill-directed favoritism, all add up to damaging worth and heartfelt relationships amongst fellow humans.
What can we do about this? Well, we can begin by rejecting arrogance. God, not humans, has the only right to judge. It is actually God’s kindness that leads us towards repentance (Romans 2:4). Many times we tolerate our own pride, but we need to see ourselves for the people we really are – needing and hurting, but with a great amount of potential! And, friendship with nonbelievers does not need to be a choice between two impossible extremes. When Christians create relationships built on respect, these alliances are accepted with genuine respect.
So what are some of the actions that will cultivate mutual esteem?
Don’t always need to be right.
Empathize; walk in their shoes for a day.
Be genuine and transparent.
And, offer friendships with no strings attached.
If we want to change the perception that Christians are judgmental, we need to see others as God sees them. We need to demonstrate grace by finding the good in others and seeing their potential, as God does. Author Philip Yancey offers us great insight when he says that the opposite of sin is grace. We need to move beyond trying to fit others into our box of expectations and help them to discover God’s purposes.