I’m a Black Catholic. And I was an Altar Boy. But I haven’t gone to Confession in years. I was voted Most Likely to Succeed in high school, yet I failed many times in my college career.
I’m sure you’ve formed an opinion of me based on the above. Applied something to me based upon your perceptions of rights or wrongs associated with each sentence. And no doubt, based just on these sentences, before you’ve even met me, you’ve judged me.
Every year leading up to Easter Sunday, Catholics practice Lent – a period of holy fasting and sacrifice symbolic of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert (Note: While Lent is associated mostly with Catholics, it is actually encouraged and celebrated by people from every walk of life looking to “test” themselves). Every Holy Week, we attend a Good Friday Mass, within which we recreate the events that happened during the Crucifixion of Christ as described in the Holy Bible. The Mass is set up a bit like a play: the priest recites the words said by Jesus; one of the deacons voices Pontius Pilate, another each of the disciples; and the congregation voices the crowd that mocks and insults Christ.
At one point during the Mass, just as it is written in John 19, Pontius Pilate addresses the crowd. He presents Jesus to the people, saying, “Here is Your King!” The “crowd” – we as a congregation – shouts in reply:
Crucify Him! Crucify Him!
It hits harder when said aloud. Just imagine how that must feel – to be sized-up by people who don’t understand you or your purpose. They’re calling for your head. They see your very existence as a threat to their way of life. You’re ridiculed. Your clothes are gambled off. They judge you. Surely, your dignity is as much torn to shreds as the clothing they ripped away from you. Today, judgment doesn’t come in the drastic form of crucifixion. The public outcry, however, is very much still intact.
Those who identify as Christians look to the Holy Bible (often good-naturedly referenced amongst Christians as an acronym for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”) to determine how best to go about their lives. One of the biggest teachings and stances in the Bible is that Believers should “go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). This means that once you accept Christ into your life, you’re given an expectation to adopt a ministry – something that allows you to spread God’s Word to those who may not know it.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions…
Well, that’s a little harsh. But most Christians aim to teach those who do not believe in God about Scripture, in the hope that they can help non-Believers believe. The potential problem, is that sometimes this “helpful” approach causes some Christians to assume they exist at a higher place than other people. In the earliest beginnings of Christianity in America, Spaniards encountered Native Americans and attempted to “civilize” them by establishing missions and teaching Native Americans about the Bible and the Catholic faith. Spaniards told these Native Americans that, by becoming believers in the Catholic faith, they could be “saved” and “promised eternal life.” For some Spaniards, this “spreading of the faith” was actually a front that allowed them to take over Native American villages and lands; the Spaniards made Native Americans assimilate and encouraged them to abandon their “savage” traditions. This takeover, Spaniards insisted, was “the will of God.”
Of course, most contemporary Christians don’t have false pretenses. Most legitimately want to introduce others to “the glory and goodness of God.” But often to do so, just as the mob did Christ, these Christians pass judgment upon those they intend to help. Some Christians take this to the extreme. They condemn atheists and skeptics who claim to not believe in God, warning that this may result in their “going to hell.” They also critique and chastise fellow Believers and their actions (such as preachers who protest against homosexuality). Arguably, overtly aggressive preaching and “beating others over the head with the Bible” can push away those who may be even remotely interested in believing. After all, it would appear your welcome to me comes with a threat.
Most Christians are initially welcomed into their faith by being baptized. Baptism serves two purposes: 1) it allows you to be born anew by being “cleansed” of your sin (or to cleanse a child of “original sin”); and 2) it serves to welcome you into a community of other Christians. Baptism is the equivalent of saying, “Yes, I am accepting God as my Lord and Savior.” Therefore, Baptism also serves as a public display of accountability to your fellow Believers. So if you lax off in attending church, miss service for a week… or a month… or a year… if you don’t tithe, if you don’t do “Christian-like things,” your fellow Believers can and will take notice.
“… if anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her…”
Often, when one Christian accuses another of slacking or puts them on notice, the person who is judged, in an effort to save face (or avoid accountability), often plays the victim. They selectively quote Scripture and lash out at the person who calls them out. Often the conversation includes an offering up of something the judging Christian has done that’s equally as “bad,” if not “worse.” (“Who are YOU to judge ME?! Didn’t you just do ___ on ____ with ___? That’s what I thought! Only God can judge me!”) In a sense, this is the judged calling into question a fellow Christian’s authority – if God rules all, why should I have to answer to you? I answer to Him. And I will answer to Him when life is over.
Obviously, no one on earth is “without sin.” Nobody’s perfect and we’ve all been guilty of wrongdoing. It’s often easier to point the blame at someone else, to put the faith and its practitioners on blast, than it is to own up to things, to check yourself and say “Okay, but forreal, though… I know I was wrong for that.” True – God is the ultimate judge for those who believe in Him. But here’s the caveat: there might still be consequences now even though you intend to answer to God later. If you are a Believer in Christ, playing the victim and the “Only God can judge me” card will only get you so far. The Bible itself says that “the wages of sin is death.” So, as a Christian, if you’ve sinned even once, you shouldn’t even be alive. The only reason you are, is because Christ died for our sins. You get to live a little longer because God felt we, the imperfect, were something His perfect Son, was worth dying for.
If you ARE a Believer, then you have to accept that your fellow Believers will judge you. And it’s not (necessarily) because they’re ashamed of you, or they’re pointing fingers at you. It’s because they expect you to and know you CAN do better. You can’t be afraid of accountability when you signed up for this (see baptism earlier). Some Believers don’t advocate the “picking and choosing” of certain things in the Bible that you might have adopted. They see a hard line between wrong and right. They don’t compromise on their convictions, and they believe you should do the same. The Bible is God’s word; and while everyone might interpret it in different ways, if you only halfway follow the The Bible, you’re pretty much halfway following God. You may not like it, but this is the consequence and life of being a Christian – you willingly accept that you (and your fellow Christians) must hold yourself to a higher standard.
I should get to the point. Look back to John 8 of the Holy Bible, where that phrase – “Let the one amongst you without sin cast the first stone” – is actually stated by Christ when an adulterous woman is brought before Him. It’s not intended to be the defensive statement many Believers use it as today. Christ spoke those words in the name of mercy and self-reflection. Can you really judge someone who’s just like you? Christ seems to ask. Haven’t you done something you weren’t proud of at least once? How would you feel if I put you on the spot the same way you’re doing her? But hey, if you haven’t and you’ve lived blemish-free, go ahead and stone the adulterous woman! After all, you think she deserves it.
Christ’s messages, in my opinion, were more rooted in mercy and love than they were in chastisement. Christ saw His own death coming, but didn’t act to prevent it because 1) it was God’s will; and 2) out of love, He accepted that He couldn’t make everyone understand His purpose. He could only preach His gospel, seek out Believers, and pray they’d follow Him (though Christ knew in advance who all would follow and who would not). I encourage contemporary Believers to take a similar approach. Spread and hold steadfast to the faith. Encourage fellow Believers to stay on a faithful path and advise rather than accuse. But let’s be more welcoming and not paint Believing as a ride you must be “this tall” to get on-board. In doing so, we may shut out the very people most interested in learning to love the Lord.
I didn’t write this to change your opinion of me. I wrote this to make you think. If it didn’t or if you still think I’m in the wrong, I’ll give you the hammer and nails. Feel free to crucify me.