To Judge or Not to Judge, That is the Question

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I ended my reflection last week with this quote from 1 Corinthians:

 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you” [1 Corinthians 5: 9-13].

I shared it in the context of asking how do we love those who live a life that the Church does not bless? I think the above quote from Saint Paul offers the following insights.

  • Notice that sins or behaviors about which Saint Paul is speaking are not limited to those involving sexual immorality. Idolaters, greedy people, robbers, revilers and drunkards are included in this group. We cannot merely be a single-issue Church. We cannot focus on one thing at the expense of minimizing the others.
  • We are not to judge those outside of the Church, leaving judgment to God alone. Therefore I think we have the opportunity to love people, first and foremost, where they are. Sometimes I wonder if we are afraid to love people who live or act differently than that to which we are accustomed. Do we feel uncomfortable? Do we avoid situations that would cause us to face this discomfort?
  • However Saint Paul also says that we are to judge those inside the Church. In other words, if some of the friends we make begin to show an interest in learning more about the Orthodox faith, we should invite them to “come and see” [John 1:39]. As their interest grows in wanting to know Christ in the fullness of truth, they should be encouraged to develop a relationship with the priest of the parish, who begins a process of speaking the truth in love while engaging them in a catechetical relationship. They learn the message of the Gospel and our Lord’s commandments and teaching as handed down to the Apostles and those who followed them. This is the Church, “the fullness of Him Who fills all in all” [Ephesians 1:23]. Hopefully this leads to a free decision to be received into the Orthodox Church.
  • But how do we avoid the pathway of presenting our Faith merely a collection of moral teachings? How do we remember to observe all that we do in the context of seeking His Kingdom? His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, at the 19th All-American Council, offered a wonderful response to the pressure we often face to focus on certain specific issues about which the Church needs to address, for or against. He says, quoting Saint John Chrysostom:

“Paul does not confine his accusations (referring to 1 Corinthians 6:8) to a short list of types of sin but condemns all equally. He is not so much getting at particular sins as making a general admonition that will secretly convict anyone who may have such things on his conscience” [Homily 16.8]. To bring a sense of peace and unity, the best emphasis is that we have all sinned. We are all sinners. We all need our Savior. We all can be healed. Singling out this particular sin is not an Orthodox approach, especially in thinking that we are all the more righteous in doing so. People are broken in different ways and require different types of care. Those who are greedy need to learn to become generous. Those who harshly criticize others need to learn to be long-suffering and loving. And yes, those who are unfaithful to their spouses, and those who engage in same-sex sexual behavior, need to learn purity. The Orthodox Church can teach them, can teach us, if we are willing to learn, willing to change, willing to repent, willing to become the persons that Christ desires of us.”

I couldn’t have said the above any better. Thank you, Your Beatitude.

The blessing of the Lord be upon you.

The unworthy +Paul

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