When Others Judge

Advent is a time when it makes sense to seek a bit of a new start. This past year has piled on many different challenges, each challenge establishing its own new “normal.” We’re slightly embarrassed by how hard it’s been for us to respond thoughtfully to our email. However, we refuse to dismiss any reader query even after a period of substantive delay. That said, we now attempt to answer a reader’s question that arrived several months ago:

How do you respond to being judged? How is it different when the judger is a parishioner vs. someone in authority such as a priest? Is it different when the thing you’re being judged for is something that’s true (e.g. being LGBT) vs. when it’s something false (e.g. having a sexual relationship that violates your church’s teachings)?

It’s hard to imagine a single person who likes being judged by others. We often go to such great lengths to avoid being judged by others, even when we find ourselves falling prey to the idolatry of people-pleasing. However, judgment happens because it’s an easy thing for people to do. Christ warned us all about judging the speck in our brother’s eye before seeing the plank in our own. It’s easy to tell when something is out of place in another person’s life and incredibly hard to tell when something is out of place in your own.

The two of us talk regularly about various spiritual challenges we are facing. We can’t help but note that harder spiritual challenges frequently demand more difficult, more consistent, and more persistent action. We’ve committed to the sojourn together. Discussing the various ways we fall short does not feel like a judgment from on high, but it does involve making reasoned judgment about what is best for one or both of us to grow toward Christ.

Thinking about the way we use judgment between the two of us helps us respond when we are judged by others.

  • Is the person commenting on something he or she has directly observed?
  • Is the person committed to accompanying one or both of us along our spiritual journey?
  • Is the person identifying actions that he or she must undertake directly to offer more meaningful support?
  • Has the person considered the costs associated with taking his or her recommended course of action?

We find that our response is different when all four questions get answered “No” than when there’s at least one “Yes.” Even when all four questions get answered “No” we try asking whether there’s any truth in what a person has said. It’s a lot easier to let things go when people are projecting their own stereotypes upon us.

The easiest question to answer in the affirmative is, “Is the person committed to accompanying one or both of us along our spiritual journey?” We tend to view the local church as an incredibly important spiritual community. If a person is in our local church, then we’re more likely to consider the merit something he or she has said. There are certain people who have a track record of saying assorted uncharitable things about us that aren’t true. We do our best to remember where they are coming from and to pray for them to grow spiritually themselves.

We also don’t mind talking with people when they are concerned about something they have observed directly. It’s not judgmental gossip if they have seen it themselves. Many times, incorrect judgments happen when people are unfamiliar with something. As celibate people navigating in a parish compromised of married people, we regularly encounter people who think that it’s appropriate to make an analogy between their before-marriage lives and our lives now. If they are parents, they frequently think about the relational counsel they would give their own children. We find ourselves explaining the differences between teenagers and people in their early thirties, and we’ll also share our experiences from various celibate communities. We try to remember that 1) everyone always has the potential to learn something and 2) learning occurs in communities. All people, especially the two of us, have blind spots. If someone points something out to us that they’ve observed, we consider what they’ve seen and examine our consciences.

Generally speaking, when we experience negative forms of judgment, people have not considered the third and the fourth questions at all. People rightly observe that we live together. They might decide our arrangement is scandalous. We have considered various facets of how living together spurs us both towards Christ-orientated ways of life with our spiritual directors, close friends, and each other. However, we’ve also noticed that the people who are most vocal about how living together is inappropriate are those who are completely unwilling to learn more about how we care for and support one another. Many people will use decreeing “righteous judgment” as a way to excuse themselves from the demands of being in a caring community with others.

When all four questions get answered “Yes” judgment rarely feels like judgment. Living life together in community demands that people have hard conversations together in order to help one another grow towards Christ. People work together to figure out the best ways forward that lead everyone to spiritual maturity. There’s a sense that we all are doing our best to pursue Christ together, learning along the way.

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