Thursday, September 13, 2012

Free to Judge: Entitled to Condemn, part one

In my upcoming book, Fundamorphosis, I write about the transformation I underwent when I exchanged my fundamentalist upbringing for a new kind of Christianity. One of the factors that spurred on my own fundamorphosis was the judgmentalism that was so prevalent in the churches I had grown up in and even pastored. If we disagree with someone, we think that we have the right, even the responsibility, to pronounce the harshest of condemnation upon him or her.

I began asking myself, if Jesus so clearly told us not to judge one another, then why are we so prone to give ourselves permission to do it anyway?

There are a lot of answers to that question. But rather than looking at it purely from the perspective of individuals, I've been thinking about how systemic judgmentalism is. We have a church culture of condemnation - not just in fundamentalism but all across the American church.

Where does this church culture of condemnation come from? Why is it so common in fundamentalism and in the broader Christian church in America? 

I think that the perceived need to judge others is deeply rooted in the ethos of the American church experience. I think that this attitude of being entitled to condemn is the fruit of two well-documented and yet troublesome trends in American Christianity: the air of independence of American churches and the consumerism of American church attendees. Today, I'll talk about the air of independence, and tomorrow I'll talk about consumerism.

The Independence of the American Church

Americans are fiercely independent. Our forefathers and foremothers sailed out into the great unknown with only the prayer that a distant land may exist in which they would be able to live in religious and personal freedom. They birthed a nation with a declaration of its independence. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are woven into the DNA of what it means to be an American. Some two hundred years later, it should not be a surprise that we remain committed to the value of independence.

The unintended consequence of carving out our own corner of the world is that in many ways, we cut ourselves off from the world. This is especially true for people who were seeking religious and ecclesiastical freedom. They held with suspicion the denominational and church structures of the old world. New churches were established that did not have the deep roots of the past and were therefore unaccountable to them. 

While certainly, it is noble to purse the freedom to worship without the bounds of a state or dictatorial church, it is also dangerous to remove and relinquish all ties to our past. If we are completely independent, than we are also free from the guardrails that a greater respect for church history would afford us. Without these guardrails, we can end up running rush-shod over anyone we want. 

As Americans, we think that our independence is our greatest value. When we value independence so highly, we can develop an attitude of superiority. And, if I am superior to others, than it just makes sense that I judge them as well. In all of this, we easily forget that other things - like grace, understanding, and longsuffering - are of greater value in the kingdom of Jesus.

What's been your experience with systemic judgmentalism in the church? Where do you think it comes from?



Jim Darling said...

Thanks Robb. I have been wrestling with this idea of independence. The question I have been asking is "What would it look like if there were a group of Americans who laid aside their right to personal Independence for the sake of a greater purpose? What would it look like if a group of people submitted themselves under the wisdom of a collective group for the purpose of Glory and the Gospel? I don't have the answer... thoughts?

Robb Ryerse said...

Jim, I think the hardest part of that is convincing Americans that independence is not the most important thing. It's so ingrained in us that it is. Certainly, a community of people that tried to lay down their freedom and pick up love and grace instead could do some amazing things for the kingdom. But that would be some journey!