I never claimed to be the sharpest tool in the shed. In fact, on many things I am very slow on the uptake. Just ask my wife. Subtle hints are completely lost on me. I try to tell it plain, tend to hear it plain, and sometimes forget that not everyone is like that.

From time to time I have been horribly misunderstood and sat in the wake of someone blowing up at me, calling me “hateful,” “judgmental,” or worse, and I was left wondering, “What just happened?”

I once had a conversation took a turn towards more of the “Who are you to judge others and say they’re wrong?” side of things. OK, so it has happened more than once, but I was taken aback a bit in this particular instance because my language and demeanor was one of explanation and not declaration. At least that’s what I was trying to get across. Unfortunately, what I was saying and what they were hearing were miles apart.

Once I had a couple of members of the youth group who stopped coming to Sunday service for a while because of something the pastor said. Something that they completely misheard and misunderstood.

When we hear/read something, we filter it through our own understandings and ideas. It helps when communicating to be aware of the other person’s filters and point of view. When taking in what someone is saying, it helps to be aware of their filters and ideas … and our own as well.

One filter that many people have now days is that to disagree or voice disagreement in any way is a form of being judgmental or intolerant, or many people also have the filter that Christians just simply ARE judgmental, and so any time a Christian voices disagreement they are automatically seen as being hateful or judgmental.

Here’s the deal. Many times whenever I, or others I have witnessed, expressed some form of “You shouldn’t _____,” it gets heard as “If you _____, you are a despicable, sinful piece of trash!” At least that’s what is implied by the tone and fervor of the response I sometimes get.

But now who’s being judgmental?

If I say, “You shouldn’t drink alcohol,” how do you know my meaning and motive? What variety of meanings could that statement have? Here are just a few off the top of my head.

  1. Is the person being addressed a minor for whom it would be illegal to drink alcohol?
  2. Are you a friend who I know to be prone to addictive behaviors?
  3. Do you have a track record of bad results when you drink and I’m just concerned for you?
  4. Maybe I understand that there’s nothing inherently evil about alcohol, but I have a general experience of nothing worth-while coming from the consumption of alcohol and think it unwise.
  5. Or maybe I think drinking is of the Devil and if you partake of his vile drink you are courting darkness and demonstrating that you possess a wicked and corrupt soul. SINNER!!

Oddly enough, if I say, “You shouldn’t drink alcohol,” because I am a Christian, many people assume number 5. However, generally, unless I am quoting a direct “Thou shall not…” from the Bible, when I say, “You shouldn’t ____,” I’m giving an advisement of what I believe to be wise behavior, not a judgment about a person’s moral character.

  •  Don’t listen to this song.
  • Don’t watch that movie.
  • Don’t go to that place.
  • Don’t hang out with those people.
  • Don’t read those magazines.
  • Don’t share those things on social media.
  • Don’t do that thing.
  • Don’t make that choice.
  • Don’t ______.

When I make those sorts of comments, I know that I am no authoritative voice or judge in your life. I do hope to be an influential one, but that is about it. You’re not answerable to me. I have no position, authority or grounds to pass judgment, and my comments, even if I were passing judgment, have no power or control over you. The sentiment is not, “If you do X, then you are a bad person.” The statement is, “If you do X, then it will turn out bad for you. I care about you, so please don’t do X.”

Most of the time that I see, read, or hear about Christians being labelled as judgmental, intolerant, hateful, etc. what is really taking place is that they are expressing a compassionate concern and advising the person as to what should or should not be done, with that person’s well being or benefit in mind. Different people communicate this with varying degrees of success, but seldom do I actually witness the judgmental, “You’re a dirty, rotten sinner!” attitude so often accused.

Here’s a breakdown of how this may work on a couple of different hot-button issues:

“Abortion is murder.”

  • What they hear: “Evil baby killer!!”
  • What was meant: “That is a human life who didn’t ask to be in this situation. It’s not the baby’s fault. You’re not a murderer. Please don’t end an innocent life.”

“Homosexuality is a sin.”

  • What they hear: “God hates fags!!”
  • What was meant: “God has a design for human sexuality, and we should use and enjoy sex within the limits of His design. Like fire, when it’s in the fireplace, it lights and warms the house, but get it out of the fireplace and it can burn the house down.”

For various reasons, some deserved and some not, there is a large segment of society that filters all Christian statements through a filter of hate or judgmentalism.

Are there hateful and judgmental people who proclaim to be Christians? Of course. Does Christ or the doctrines of Christianity teach hate and judgmentalism? No. Christ teaches love and compassion that is able to stand in the face of what God calls sin, admit that it is sin, but still have a heart of compassion for the individual. In John 8 Jesus treats the woman caught in adultery with compassion, turns away her assailants who seek to kill her, and even says that He doesn’t condemn her. But in no instance does He say what she had done was ok, and He even ends the exchange by imploring her to stop sinning. Compassion and admission of sin at work side by side.

Do Christians do this well? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are Christians in the world.

If there is one thing I could hope my friends from “the other side” get from this is that when you hear/read a Christian say, “X is a sin,” or “You shouldn’t do Y,” please do not let your knee-jerk reaction be an assumption of hate and judgmentalism. Chances are, if they didn’t care about the person (community/state/nation) in question they wouldn’t be saying anything at all.

Most Christian activism is not based on bigotry, hate, or just wanting to force our views on everyone else. (Yes, there are some people who are simply jerks, but it can be argued they’re not actually “followers of Christ”… different issue.) We actually do love and care about people and believe God’s Word presents Truth. And we do not want our nation, our communities, or the individuals around us to suffer the harm done when we venture outside of the way God designed things to work. That’s not a stance of hate. That is a stance of love.

We are not judging “those people,” we are seeking to love our neighbors by arguing for our position, trying to persuade people to see a different point of view, and advising those around us of a wiser and better way.

You may not think it is a wiser or better way, but that is a whole other issue. We certainly should have that conversation, but that conversation cannot take place as long as one side has an erroneous understanding of the position of the other.

You don’t cast us all as hateful, judgmental bigots trying to set up a theocracy, and we won’t assume you’re all a bunch of godless, anti-American communists, conspiring to tear down the foundations of society.