In 2014 Mormon Hub discussed psychological reasons we judge and feel judged at church. That article gives some great tips for overcoming the tendency to judge. Most of us have moments where we make snap decisions about others, which may be unfair or unkind, but we are ultimately the curators of our own thoughts. We can decide what things we dwell on, speak up about, and act upon. We can also choose which things to dismiss, forgive, and rethink.
In the Joseph Smith translation of the Sermon on the Mount Christ commands,
“Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.” JST Matthew 7:2
The true meaning of this reference should be clear, but, ironically I’ve heard it used as a justification for all kinds of uncharitable judgments because the JST adds the qualifier that we should “judge righteous judgment.”
Discerning the Difference
Sometimes the line between a righteous and an unrighteous judgment can become blurred. Over the years, I’ve spoken to friends, family and church leaders on the subject and have compiled a series of questions to help me as I think of others. This is not a compete list, and as I continue to explore the subject, I will probably add more criteria to my personal litmus test, but I’ve found these questions helpful in making my own judgments, and perhaps someone else will too.
1.Does this thought come from a place of genuine love?
If I find myself making snap judgments, I try to think about my feelings for that person. Do I have a charitable spirit in mind when I think of them? If the answer to this question is no, I may need to rethink my conclusions.
Consider what Paul said to the Corinthians on the subject of Charity,
“though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).
Knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom can never replace a lack of charity, so that is the quality we should lead with when making judgments.
2. Do I know the full story?
Have I walked a mile in their shoes? Do I know their intentions and the reasoning behind their actions? Maybe they’re trying to break an addiction. Maybe they came from a home where that was the norm, and they have to overcome habit and upbringing. There are always at least two sides to every story and in the end, only Christ has a perfect knowledge of us.
“…man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
3. Is this thought helpful to me or to the person it’s directed toward?
If someone is unaware of their harmful behavior, it may be appropriate to address it with that person, so that they can change. I have to gauge the situation, my relationship with the person and their willingness to change. If it’s clearly something they’re aware of, mentioning it to that person may be perceived as criticism or nagging.
If it’s something which could help me make good choices later on, I acknowledge the thought and try to keep it to myself. Gossiping to others will never help any of us develop spiritually. If a thought isn’t useful for anyone involved, I try to throw it out and focus on loving that person.
4. Is it eternally significant?
Will this judgment make a difference in the next life? If not, it may be too petty to qualify as a righteous judgment. For example, deciding that my neighbor is a sloppy person if she comes to church with messy hair has no bearing on my eternal salvation or that of my neighbor. But making an unrighteous judgment about her character, could have a negative impact on my own eternal progression.
In the Sermon on the Mount Christ teaches that we shouldn’t let small things bother us. He says,
“whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…” (Matthew 5:22).
Focusing on things that don’t matter from an eternal perspective can prevent us from reaching our divine potential.
5. Is their behavior any of my business?
If someone’s choices do not affect me or my family, I don’t need to worry about their actions. They have their agency; they must use it. On the other hand, when we make important decisions in our own lives—like who to marry, where to go to school or who to be friends with—we have to righteously judge others, to ensure we stay spiritually, physically, and emotionally safe.
As parents, friends, leaders and in any other capacity where we are concerned with behaviors of others, we can consider the way Joseph Smith lead the early Saints. When asked how he governed the large body of saints, Joseph Smith replied,
“I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2011), 281–91.)
We can and should help those around us understand truth, but how they act once they know what’s right is up to the individual.
6. Am I determining a punishment for something outside of my stewardship?
As common judges in Israel, Bishops have a responsibility to address the church standings of ward members. I, however, have no business deciding in my own mind that my neighbor, brother, visiting teacher or stranger on the street deserves disciplinary action, because that’s outside of my stewardship. We must be careful not to assign or exact punishment for actions over which we have no rightful responsibility.
Similarly, Elder Dallan H Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has warned against our exacting “final judgment”, in his 1998 address “‘Judge Not’ and Judging.”
“I believe” Elder Oaks said, “this commandment was given because we presume to make final judgments whenever we proclaim that any particular person is going to hell (or to heaven) for a particular act or as of a particular time. When we do this—and there is great temptation to do so—we hurt ourselves and the person we pretend to judge.”
Repentance is available for all
Through the Atonement of Christ, we are all able to seek forgiveness when we fall short. We can repent when we judge others unrighteously, and those we judge are also capable of repentance. We are all entirely dependent upon the mercy of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ to become who we were meant to be.
When church members participate in petty, gossipy, unkind or otherwise unrighteous judgment, the spirit leaves. On the other hand, when we encourage a culture of acceptance and love, nonmembers and investigators can feel more comfortable attending meetings, and coming to Christ at any stage in their spiritual journey.
What do you think makes judgment righteous? Leave us a comment and let us know.