CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

To Judge, or Not to Judge

Aug 23, 1998

Even in our biblically illiterate culture there is one verse which non-believers know and know very well: “Judge not, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1).

It seems that whenever a moral point is being made, whether pornography, abortion or whatever, inevitably someone will throw this verse into the debate and smugly act as if that’s the end to the matter. “Well, I recall Jesus saying something about not judging others, so don’t point your finger at me.”

Of course, taking a verse like this out of context is a good way of deflecting guilt or excusing immorality. But the biblical view of judging, or better, discerning, is much more complex. In many places the Bible tells us we should judge – that is, make moral assessments, prophetic judgments, ethical evaluations and the like.

Indeed, the entire Christian life is about choosing between good and evil, discerning sin in our lives, and judging it on the spot.

We are also to act as salt and light in a culture that has lost its moral bearings. This means at times declaring black and white in an age of 99 shades of grey. Ezekiel 3 and 33 spell out the obligation to warn others that their sins have consequences and a change of behaviour is in order.

Stories of politicians’ moral failures are good examples of how modern culture refuses to make moral judgments – or at least makes them in a very selective manner. Often when some public figure falls through moral failure, one will either hear Matthew 7:1 quoted or be told that what a person does in private is their own business. As long as politicians deliver on the economy or jobs, the way they live at home should bother no one.

Such a view just doesn’t stand up under scrutiny. What we are talking about here is the issue of character. The issue is not muckraking, dragging up the past or putting politicians under the spotlight.

We expect politicians to bring many qualities to their job, among them honesty, loyalty, commitment and faithfulness. Character is all of a piece. What a person does in private tells us a lot about what they will be like in public. If a person is willing to cheat on his wife, for example, is it not possible that he will also cheat on his electorate?

This is not a question of being judgmental and throwing the first stone. We all need to be judged, and self-judgment is the place to begin. But a society that says a person’s moral condition has or should have no bearing on public life is asking for trouble. One might as well dispense with the police, law courts and any other semblance of morality. All societies, like all individuals, need a moral code to survive. Moral anarchy may sound good in theory, but it is not possible in practice.

The bottom line is integrity. Character counts. It is the most important qualification for public office. Without good character, good government is not possible. Morality, more than anything else, is the key to a healthy and lasting democracy. Without character, a nation will soon founder on the rocks of moral relativism.

We have paid a terrible price in this country for the false separation of morality from social problems. Australia’s rising tide of social pathology will only be reversed when we once again acknowledge that character and morality are not optional extras but the essence of civilised society.

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