Ethics is about doing the right thing, doing what you ought to do in a situation. It’s about choices, and the Bible clearly says none of us make all right choices. We sin.
While informed Christians know they are sinners like everyone else, we sometimes get to thinking we are better than other folks because we don’t do some of the things they may do. We may even have unstated lists in our heads that differentiate the “bad sinners” from the “good sinners,” though we generally would not use such language.
For instance, Christians can be a lot harder on those involved in sexual sin than on those caught up in pride and greed. You can be guilty of the latter and be a deacon, but not the former.
One of the results is that Christians can become judgmental of people who commit the sins church-goers may not commit. And even if not judgmental, the Christian can be perceived as such.
Five years ago, David Kinnaman wrote the following in UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why it Matters:
“Nearly nine out of ten young outsiders (87 percent) said that the term judgmental accurately describes present-day Christianity. This was one of the big three—the three most widely held negative perceptions of Christians (along with being antihomosexual and hypocritical). Just to put this in practical terms, when you introduce yourself to a twentysomething neighbor, and you mention your faith, chances are he or she will think of you as judgmental.” (182-183)
What does it mean to be judgmental? Kinnaman defines it as pointing out “something that is wrong in someone else’s life, making the person feel put down, excluded, and marginalized.”
There can’t be many of us Christians who want to be seen as that kind of person, but we are by most younger adults. It’s not just a matter of what “outsiders” think of us but it effects what they think of Jesus. When Christians are judgmental, Kinnaman says, “Some part of their potential to be Christ followers is snuffed out.”
A prayer: Lord, help us to pursue what is right, what is ethical. But as we do so, Lord, please help us to remember than we are all sinners in need of Your grace. Help us to not look down upon others who struggle with sins that happen to be different from our own. Help us to love them and to show it by how we relate to them. You have been loving and forgiving to us; help us be loving and forgiving to others.