Matthew 7:1 is one of those scriptural phrases that people like to quote pretty regularly. I daresay even most people from non-Christian backgrounds are familiar with the phrase. It goes a little something like this:
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
It’s like the perfect trump card in every argument right? If you are trying to tell me I’m doing something wrong then I just whip out the whole “stop judging me” phrase and SHUT DOWN. Except it rarely works that way, and then it just turns more into a defensive argument back and forth about who is judging who and why and then the internet explodes!
Now for a little clarification, at least from an LDS perspective. We believe that through the years and many different translations of Biblical writings, some information was, well, literally lost in translation, or just plain and simply lost. As such, we also believe that through the guidance of God, Joseph Smith was directed to translate certain portions to restore them to their accurate form. One such notable passage happens to be Matthew 7:1-2, which states:
1 Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people.
2 Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.
So then the commandment isn’t to do absolutely no judging, but to judge righteously. So now we can quibble about what exactly a righteous judgment is.
Righteous and Necessary Judges
In our society we accept certain types of judgment as necessary.
An obvious example is that within the legal system there are judges, and if you find yourself needing to stand before one, he or she will most definitely and openly judge you. If you were to look at the judge and say, “Hey, judge not!” I somehow doubt that it would go over well for you. But if you try please do report back.
Math teachers have it pretty easy, either you got the answer right or you got it wrong, so they can just grade you based on those answers pretty easily. But those English teachers, man, they have to read and judge before they can grade.
Another notable judge from my life has been adjudicators for auditions. I am a singer/pianist/clarinetist. I’ve been auditioning for things since elementary school. Some poor person had to sit there and listen to a bunch of elementary students play their instruments semi-proficiently and decide which ones were best so they could go to elementary honor band. For the record, I did make it into Elementary honor band, and yes, I am that big of a band nerd. However, several years later during my senior year of high school I was not so lucky with my All-State band audition. I had practiced so much, and not to toot my own horn, or buzz my own reed as it were, but I was doing really well. My clarinet teacher had been an adjudicator for previous years and she was confident I would make it. In my warm-up I played the pieces PERFECTLY, my best friend was there, she can attest. I went into the audition and I played so horribly it was outright embarrassing. My clarinet teacher was in the hallway listening and when I came out she asked if that had actually been me playing and let me know that that was the worst she had ever heard me play. (Thanks- I really needed that.) Now there was a miracle that came out of that bad audition, but that’s a story for a different day. But anyway, telling them they couldn’t judge me based on one performance wasn’t going to help.
In all of these situations the people doing the judging are in a position to judge because they are experts in their field. They have done all the studying, know all the procedures, and as a society we accept that they are able to “judge righteous judgments” because they know what they are talking about.
What they should not do is be judgmental about things outside of the scope of the situation with which they are presented.
In the following examples think of righteous judgment on a broader scope than the typical “churchy” idea of righteous, think moral, correct, and fair.
I showed up at my court date once after receiving a speeding ticket and got to stand before the judge, who judged me as guilty, because I was in fact speeding. Now in that instance I was speeding on a down hill trying to catch a light because it was a ridiculously long wait if you missed it and I was running late for work (again). But, the fact of the matter is that I did indeed knowingly break the law and was caught doing it. He decided that I did in fact need to pay the ticket which was a “righteous judgment.” However, if the judge went on to decide that I was a terrible person and an unfit teacher because I was not responsible enough to leave on time so that I didn’t feel the need to speed, that would be over the top, would not be taking into account the rest of the picture, and would be an “unrighteous judgment.”
If an English teacher comes across a paper that is full of spelling and grammatical errors, lacks focus, and does not meet the objectives of the assignment and gives the student a bad grade, that is a “righteous judgment.” If the teacher goes on to assume that the student is lazy, didn’t even try, and will never amount to anything that becomes “unrighteous judgment.”
And finally, those adjudicators who deemed me unfit for All-State judged righteously based on what they heard from me during the audition. However, if they had gone on to assume that I was the worst clarinetist in the state, hadn’t bothered to practice, and wasted their time, that would be incorrect and “unrighteous judgment.”
Judging- what it is and what it isn’t
So, how does this apply to us lay people?
I regularly see people on the internet accusing other people of judging when no judging was happening. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of judgment that does happen, but let’s just make sure we understand the difference.
Here’s some items that are not judging:
- Facts and Statistics- When you ask a question and someone shares a factually based answer, this is not judgmental. They are the facts.
- As a subset of this, stating a procedure, rule, or specific doctrine is also not judgmental, it’s a fact. This is what the procedure is, this is what the doctrine states.
- You can decide whether or not to believe the fact or doctrine, you can decide that the statistics or procedures don’t apply to you, but if someone simply states what they are, they are not judging you, they are informing you.
- If someone does not ask and you take it upon yourself to inform them, it may or may not qualify as being judgmental, but it’s almost definitely rude. But if you do ask a question and someone gives you the information you requested, even if you don’t like it, it’s not judgmental.
- Opinions based on facts, etc.- this can get tricky because there is a fine line that often gets crossed, but simply stating your opinion is not judgmental especially if someone has asked for opinions or advice.
- Disagreeing- this is another item that has a fine line before it can turn into judging, but simply and respectfully disagreeing with someone is not the same as judging.
Here’s some things that are judgmental, and not of the righteous variety:
- Assuming intentions
- Questioning intelligence, level of commitment, moral caliber, or quality of love
- Insinuating that you are better than the other person or a group of people
I’m going to give examples from different types of arguments I regularly see online.
Car seats. Oy please don’t ask car seat questions on online forums, just google the information, it just turns into a fight. You could substitute a variety of mom topics in here- safe sleep, breastfeeding, introducing solids, screen time, etc. etc.
Possible question: Is it ok to move an 18 month old to forward facing because their feet are jammed against the seat and they are getting fussy?
Non-judgmental factual response: It is statistically safer in a collision if small children are rear facing. Most recommend at least 2 years, but even up to 4 years.
- Simply stated a statistic- not judgmental
Non-judgmental factual response: In Arizona, state law requires children to be rear facing until age 1, and have met the height and weight requirements on their car seat. So if they are over 1 but are smaller than the specific car seat requirements the law says keep them rear, if they are under 1 but meet height and weight requirements they should still be rear facing.
- Simply stated a law- not judgmental
Non-judgmental opinionated response: Because of the statistics that show that children are safer when rear facing, I feel that it is important to keep them rear facing and have chosen to keep mine rear facing even if they fuss about it. There are extenders you can get to help them have more room for their feet.
- Stated their opinion based on statistics and their personal choice, offered an idea for help- not judgmental
Non-judgmental opinionated response: I had a similar issue with my child becoming extremely upset about being rear-facing. As she met the legal height, weight, and age requirements I chose to go ahead and switch her forward facing as I felt that the trauma being caused by forcing her rear-facing outweighed the smaller chance of getting in an accident with a collision forceful enough to hurt her. I also felt that the anxiety and distraction that her screaming was causing me was increasing my risk of getting in an accident.
- Stated their opinion and personal choice despite the statistics- not judgmental
Judgmental response: How is this even a question for people? I mean seriously. Of course you keep your kid rear facing even if they fuss. Wouldn’t you rather your kid be alive and fussing? If you really love your kid then you wouldn’t even wonder if it was ok to turn them around. I love my kids so I am keeping them rear facing until age 4.
- Questioned intelligence by wondering how they could ask the question, questioned the quality of parents’ love who do turn their kids around, insinuated that she was better and loved her children more than other people- highly judgmental
Other examples of judgmental responses to other issues:
- People with messy houses are lazy
- When I see people allow their doctor to put Ilotcyn in their baby’s eyes, I know they are either uninformed or too spineless to stand up to their doctor
- I’m not going to give that chemical crap (formula) to MY baby
Living your Religion
I am most familiar with LDS standards of living, which are fairly unique compared to the general public, and can cause a lot of room for questions on how strict people are etc. I’m sure other groups face similar squabbles within their membership. Unfortunately sometimes people forget the standards for kindness as they hash out the details, which begins to fall under the next part of the judgment scripture: “why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
I’ve been seeing a lot of questions about tattoos coming up in some LDS mom groups I follow so that’s the example I’ll use, but you could substitute a variety of topics- what’s ok to do on Sunday, when it’s ok to not wear garments, specifics for the Word of Wisdom, piercings, media, etc.
Possible question: I recently lost a loved one and want to do something big to memorialize them, something I will see regularly so I can remember them. I’m thinking about getting a tattoo, do you think that would be ok?
Non-judgmental factual response- Several times Prophets and Apostles have counseled against getting tattoos.
- cited specific counsel- not judgmental
Non-judgmental factual response- While we are counseled against receiving tattoos, it will not affect your church standing as far as receiving a temple recommend or serving in most standard callings. However, on a case by case basis, potential missionaries will be asked to keep their tattoos covered at all times or may not be able to serve. Also some higher level callings (as in regional level as opposed to congregational) will also be asked to make sure tattoos are covered or may not be extended the calling.
- explained policies- not judgmental
Non-judgmental opinionated response- As we’ve been counseled against it, I personally have chosen not to get tattoos. Perhaps you could find a different meaningful way to remember them like a special necklace or ring and/or a piece of art hanging in a prominent place in your home.
- simply stated their opinion based on counsel and offered an idea that might help- not judgmental
Non-judgmental opinionated response: Yes we’re counseled against it, but it won’t affect your church standing, I might do the same thing in your position.
- simply stated their opinion despite counsel- not judgmental
Judgmental response- I don’t understand how anyone could think this is ok. Counsel is a commandment, and people need to be listening better. If you really had a testimony this wouldn’t even be a question. I follow everything the Prophet says so I definitely don’t have any tattoos.
- questions intelligence, commitment, and testimony. Assumes the other person’s intentions are to be disobedient. Insinuates that they are better. (And apparently forgot to listen when we were counseled to be kind- mote vs. beam)- highly judgmental
Quick, everyone run for the hills! Just kidding. This is definitely one of the trickiest categories for having civil discussions. And I think that Thumper’s mom was definitely inspired when she came out with the old adage, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” But, you can find nice, tactful, and respectful ways to disagree without being disagreeable, rude, and judgmental.
We’ll use birth control coverage as the example here, but again, substitute in whatever topic you can think of. Sorry, I didn’t take the time to look up specific stats, etc, and those aren’t the point here anyway, the point is how to put together responses, I’ll let you do your own homework to find the stats. 🙂
Possible post: Call your representatives to make sure that birth control continues to be covered with no out of pocket costs.
Non- judgmental response: Insert facts and statistics about birth control use and it’s benefits to women.
- citing statistics- not judgmental
Non-judgmental response: Insert statistic about how much it costs to provide at no out of pocket cost.
- citing statistics- not judgmental
Non-judgmental opinionated response: We need to make sure that we continue to provide this benefit for women’s over all health, prevention of unwanted pregnancy, etc, etc.
- simply stating an opinion- not judgmental, someone may disagree but you have not attacked them or their position
Non-judgmental opinionated response: I am concerned about the cost of this benefit on an already overstretched National budget, and the increase in insurance premiums for the already overstretched household budgets of many Americans. I wonder if there are other ways we could help, or if there are higher priority items that also require budgeting.
- Simply stating an opinion/ concern, offering the possibility for compromise, did not attack the other position- not judgmental
Judgmental response: If you aren’t pro- free birth control then you are anti-women.
- Assuming people’s intentions- judgmental
Judgmental response: People that want free birth control just don’t want to take responsibility for their finances and choices. Just keep your legs closed if you can’t afford it.
- Assuming people’s intentions, and questioning their morals, and just rude/crude- judgmental
Other examples of politically judgmental responses/ statements:
- anything that assumes or insinuates that the other side is stupid or uninformed. I know a lot of people on both sides of the political spectrum of varied education levels, and who do a varied amount of research. Just because someone came to a different viewpoint based on the information received does not make them stupid, it’s also a sure fire way to shut down discussion.
- All they care about is…..
- If you don’t support [insert platform] then you hate [insert group]
Righteous Judgment in our Daily Lives
Essentially every decision we make involves some amount of judgment, we judge styles, media, appropriate activities for our children, etc., but this gets trickier as it involves our lifestyles and the people with whom we choose to associate.
If there is a person in your life who is making decisions that may affect you or your family in a negative way, it is not only within your rights, but your responsibility to righteously (think fairly, morally, and correctly) judge if their behavior is dangerous and whether or not you should continue associating with them or to what degree you will continue to have them in your life.
Looking beyond the scope of how their behavior effects you and judging the circumstances that led them there would no longer be righteous judgment. Assuming that they don’t want to change is also unrighteous judgment. Deciding they are a lost cause or what type of Eternal rewards they will or will not receive is most definitely outside of your place to righteously judge.
The last type of judgment I mentioned, the lost cause or Eternal rewards type, this would fall under the jurisdiction of Final Judgment.
I do believe that someday we will stand before God and our Savior and be judged of all our works, actions, intentions, thoughts, and desires. They are the only ones qualified to judge us not only righteously, but perfectly and finally because only they know our WHOLE story. For us to attempt to pass that kind of judgment is unfair and completely unrighteous.
Our job is to hope for, love, and assist others, not to judge their worth or their Eternal standing with God. I think we will be pleasantly surprised by how merciful His judgments will be. So when righteous judgment does become necessary in this life, be fair and careful, but do your best to lean on the side of mercy.