I’ve been working my way through a series entitled “The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity.” It’s an examination of 10 core tenets of progressive (or liberal) Christianity offered by Richard Rohr, but really based on the book by Philip Gulley.
Now we come to the third commandment: “The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments.”
Gulley is concerned here with broken or estranged human relationships. The church should do more to repair/restore these relationships, but is too busy condemning people’s behavior. Christians need to stop judging and start helping.
Now, we can begin by acknowledging that the goal here is commendable. Bringing reconciliation to broken human relationships is a fundamental biblical value. The Bible has much to say on topics like forgiving one another (Luke 17:4) , being reconciled to one another (Matt 5:24; Acts 7:26), husbands and wives reconciling (1 Cor 7:11), and the removal of hostility between groups (Eph 2:16).
So, Gulley is correct that horizontal reconciliation between humans is an important aspect of Christianity.
The problem, though, is how Gulley thinks that reconciliation is best achieved. And it is here that Gulley takes a biblical value and puts a decidedly progressive/liberal spin on it. Reconciliation between humans is best achieved, he argues, when the church is less concerned with “making judgments.”
If only the church would get rid of its “culture of judgment” (54), stop offering “judgment and blame” (57), and “surrender its fondness for black-and-white, either-or thinking” (61), then it could better help people reconcile with one another.
Now, again, it depends again what one means by such statements. If the concern here is merely with a church’s overall tone or attitude, then point made. Churches need to careful, even in the midst of dealing with sin, to be gracious, patient, and charitable.
But, if these statements mean that the church should not be in the business of calling out people’s behavior as sinful or wrong, then that is something very different. Indeed, that sort of approach has a number of problems:
1. To say we can never declare a behavior to be wrong is profoundly unbiblical.
The Scriptures are packed with examples of God’s people calling out certain behaviors as wrong. Jesus did this. Paul did this. And even we are called to do this: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault” (Matt 18:15).
At this point a person might object, “But who am I to tell someone they are wrong? I am a sinner too.” But, the Bible never requires a person to be sinless before they speak out against sin. Personal perfection is not a prerequisite to standing up for what is right (otherwise no one would ever be able to condemn sin, including those who want to condemn those who judge!).
The proper basis for calling something sinful is not personal perfection, but simply whether God calls it sinful.
2. To say we can never declare a behavior to be wrong is ultimately self-defeating.
The rich irony for those people who say we shouldn’t judge is that they themselves are judging. They are declaring a behavior to be “wrong” (in this case, the behavior of judging), while at the same time insisting we shouldn’t declare that behaviors are wrong!
Thus, this approach proves to be profoundly inconsistent. It is equivalent to sawing off the branch you’re sitting on.
3. To say we can never declare a behavior to be wrong is ultimately selective.
One curiosity of the progressive insistence that we should not be people who “judge” is that it is selectively applied. When it comes to sexual ethics, for example, we are told we should not judge others. But when it comes to racism, environmentalism, abuse, or other similar issues, then apparently judging the behavior of others is allowable–indeed it is required!
4. To say we can never declare a behavior to be wrong undercuts the process of reconciliation.
The fundamental problem with the progressive approach to judging is that it undercuts the very goal it is trying to achieve, namely human reconciliation. Such reconciliation can only happen when wrongs are acknowledged, owned, and repented of. And in order for that to happen, judgments must be made about people’s behavior. And that behavior must really be wrong–not just wrong in someone’s opinion. Otherwise, reconciliation is just a mirage.
In the end, we can affirm that human reconciliation is an important biblical value. And we can also affirm that churches should not have a judgmental tone or attitude–they should always operate with grace, patience, and a spirit of love. But, none of that requires us to abandon God’s clear teaching that some things should be declared right and other things declared wrong.
That is the proper form of judging. And it is not something to avoid, but something we are called to do. As the prophet Isaiah said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isa 5:20).