Here is what I think is one of the most misleading (and untrue) statements in the Christian faith.
“I don’t mean to judge, but…”
Every time I’ve heard that phrase uttered, the next thing to follow has been a judgment.
- “I don’t mean to judge, but Betty needs to lose some weight.”
- “I don’t mean to judge, but Frank doesn’t give enough money.”
- “I don’t mean to judge, but your theology is bad.”
Every time a sentence begins with, “I don’t mean to judge…” expect it to end in judgment. The truth is, we can’t judge. We shouldn’t judge. Jesus tells us not to. So in order to ‘soften’ the blow (and Christianize it) a little bit, we add in that phrase. That way, if people take it as a judgment, we have a qualifier to let us off the the hook.
“But I told you I wasn’t judging! Don’t be so defensive.”
You did mean to judge. You did mean to hurt someone. You meant to be divisive, mean spirited and arrogant.
And if there is one thing I’ve learned in all of my non-judgmental statements it’s that it’s usually an area where I need to receive grace and forgiveness. Not every time, but a good portion of them I find that if I analyze myself first, I’m not meaning to judge the other person but really myself.
A recent (and embarrassing) recent example. As we sat down for the opening of our study conference this weekend, the opening prayer included words like, “God give us soft hearts, open minds and discerning spirits….”
My immediate thought was, Yeah God, give other people soft hearts, open minds and discerning spirits….
In effect, “God, I don’t mean to judge others, but you need to change them and give them a better theology.”
It’s in those moments that we realize the poisonous nature of the phrase, “I don’t mean to judge, but…”
The reality is that we either mean one of two things by such a phrase:
- We mean to judge because we perceive ourselves as better than them (arrogance), which in reality may be more of an issue than whatever we are commenting on.
- We are struggling with the same issue but can’t bring ourselves to recognize that because of the pain, hurt or embarrassment.
What we need to do before we utter such a phrase is to stop, take a breath and examine our own hearts. Are you wanting to judge someone but know that it’s wrong? If so, keep the comment to yourself. Are you wanting to say something to someone else knowing that it is an issue you are personally struggling with? Then instead of saying something, take time to pray and ask for God’s grace, not only for you but for the other person with whom you are talking.
These sorts of mean-spirited and hurtful comments are not appropriate for Christians to be making and we need to stop pretending differently.