When did Mormons get so allergic to judging? As of September 2016 everything seemed fine. But sometime in the late fall/early winter an allergen spread like wildfire throughout the ancestral home of Mormonism and by January 2017 its immune system was generating antibodies like a The Piano Guys video racking up likes on Youtube–lines had been crossed and it was time to retire judgment for good! This is what Jesus would do, after all, when faced with the prospect of a religious-freedom hating casino magnate becoming the president-elect, and how could we do other?
Speaking of The Piano Guys, they too have boarded the anti-judging bandwagon, mistaking Mother Theresa’s defiance of segregation, Marian Anderson’s struggle to overcome racial prejudice, President Obama’s unflagging commitment to a peaceful transfer of power, Jesus Christ’s message to those in positions of power and authority and Elder Uchtdorf’s pithy advice to cut each other some slack with the siren call to kiss the ring of power.
Closer to home, a commenter on a recent post invoked the second Great Commandment as a reason to cease being critical of the president-elect and limit ourselves to saying things like “I can’t imagine how hard this has been for you.” My head is spinning–conservatives take over the political process in the United States and suddenly we’ve entered a post-judgment era?
Now, I realize that we’re all sinners and need mercy and that Elder Uchtdorf’s advice to “Stop it!” is sound when it comes to the kinds of interactions he addresses. I’ve even expressed my own concern about unrighteous judgments here, lest you assume I am in need of another call to repentance. But the sanctimonious rejection of judgment that lately seems to be filling the whole earth like the stone cut out of the mountain without hands is not a good-faith appeal to improve ourselves. Rather, it is an oversized pillow used to stifle legitimate debate.
As the author of several posts critical of the arguments marshalled by Church spokespeople to justify endorsing the president-elect at his upcoming inauguration, I also realize that some of you are reaching for your keyboards to type: “More self-serving liberal drivel!” And you wouldn’t be totally wrong, but neither would you be justified in persisting in your call for suspending judgment. Not only would you be shooting yourself in the foot by limiting the range of legitimate expression about the exasperation you feel about me but you also would be missing the message of a prophet that left a lasting impression on me since I saw him deliver it back at the BYU late in the last millennium:
Elder Oaks noted here that
…mortals must refrain from judging any human being in the final sense of concluding or proclaiming that he or she is irretrievably bound for hell or has lost all hope of exaltation.
In contrast to forbidding mortals to make final judgments, the scriptures require mortals to make what I will call “intermediate judgments.” These judgments are essential to the exercise of personal moral agency.
The Savior also commanded individuals to be judges, both of circumstances and of other people.
The scriptures not only command or contemplate that we will make intermediate judgments but also give us some guidance—some governing principles—on how to do so.
Hopefully this clears up a common misperception: judgment isn’t (just) a synonym for “Go to Hell!” This kind of (final) judgment is bad, and we shouldn’t be doing it. If by “Don’t judge me, bro!” you mean, “Don’t be a jerk!” that’s fair too. In such situations the governing principles outlined in the talk above are critical: “Judgment is an important use of our agency and requires great care, especially when we make judgments about other people.” But within those guidelines, judgments are possible and sometimes even necessary.
At this juncture I’d like to ask that you follow me like a leopard, for my argument is about to get complex (well, not really, but read on):
- I bear no personal animosity towards the president-elect, his supporters (unless the guy who kicked me in the shin and stole my watch supports the president-elect; in which case lots of personal animosity there), or any of the thousands of people–including, to my regret, representatives of the Church–who will participate in the ceremony on Friday at which President Obama is expected to peacefully transfer power to the president-elect.
- I am not claiming that I am beyond reproof, that my judgments on this or any other issue are righteous. That’s all up for debate, and it’s a discussion we should be able to have without people losing their minds about glass houses.
- I’m still going to judge the president-elect and those who endorse and otherwise support him for reasons I’ve already articulated and may yet articulate.
- That doesn’t necessarily make me a devil, nor would refusal to judge necessarily make me a saint.
I’m going to start wrapping this post up with a trite observation: Good judgments don’t grow on trees; making them requires work. Fortunately, Mormons have the best tools–scriptures, living prophets and the Holy Ghost–at their disposal to help them. And unless the future is nothing like the past, we’ll have lots of opportunity to use them. So let’s pick up where we apparently left off last fall, refrain from smothering disagreement with appeals to holy writ and our shortcomings and become known far and wide for making (domestically, of course!) the greatest judgments the world has ever seen.
In closing, a reminder that to every thing there is a season:
The truth of charity is different than the truth of criticism. To call forth the best in ourselves and others requires both, but they cannot be practiced in the same moment. – Thinking the Twentieth Century / Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, xvii