One of the most difficult things about being a Pastor is that at times I need to correct something or someone. There is a disturbance of some kind. Maybe someone is being disorderly and a number of the faithful come to see me and basically say to me: ‘You’ve got to do something’.
It is, of course, one of the jobs of a Pastor to keep order in the community and to reach out when someone, often unknowingly, has jumped some sort of community boundaries and is causing some difficulty.
In today’s world, this loving task of correcting someone is prevented by the modern aversion to ‘judgement’. It has become a sort of cultural axiom that judging is a bad thing. One often hears, “Don’t judge me!” as an almost insuperable barrier that is meant to stop the whole human process of growth. But we have to make a distinction between two different senses of the word ‘judgement’. We make judgements many times a day: what to wear, what to do, the order of accomplishing our tasks of the day etc. We also make judgements of the actions of others: how a person is driving, what a person means to say, how best to work together on a project. One must admit that we judge things and people many times a day.
But there is a more suspect meaning to ‘judgement’ that is condemning someone which today can be merely ‘writing someone off’. This is certainly something that a Christian cannot do. We can certainly condemn a decision, a judgement, an action or a belief of someone; but not the person who initiates this. The adage of ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner’ is something that fits this in common usage.
But, it may be seen as an act of charity when one points out to someone that what he or she is doing is not right, even when the communication is not welcomed. This is often the case because we all have a habit of personalizing what we do. A simple example: I clean up a room, working hard to make it look spic and span. This is then my job that I have accomplished. A friend comes in and does not see the cleanliness, but instead criticizes the room as being ‘dirty’. We are moved to anger because we have personalized our work and therefore my friend is criticizing me. This, of course, can lead to trouble!
This issue of personalization and the related problem of the territoriality that it implies can make it very difficult to bring someone’s attention to what may be wrong with something that the individual is doing.
This is especially true in the moral realm. When you know of someone who is doing something that is morally wrong, it is an act of charity to point it out to them (privately). It is very easy, however, for the doer of the wrong to get angry at being (or so they feel) personally attacked. This is even true when the one who points out the wrong in question does it privately and charitably.
But even when he does it angrily, this is still an act of compassion. One could just walk away and leave a person in pernicious error. Then the person will continue liking us, but is left uncharitably in his error by someone who purports to be a friend.
Most people stay away from admonishment (this is the technical spiritual term for what I am trying to present in a positive light) of another because they fear that they could do them some harm. After all, I can be wrong. So why upset someone else by correcting them when I may be completely wrong in my evaluation of what is going on? In one sense, this hesitancy is very good. One should not cavalierly go about correcting others while the beam is in our own eye (as the Lord reminds us). Admonishment should be done only when the seriousness of things makes our silence unconscionable. It should also be done in an undogmatic way. After all, we can be wrong. And, most importantly, it should be done privately and charitably. The last thing we should do is gossip with others about it. Admonishment needs to be an act of love and be supportive of the other. The Truth can also be used as a weapon. This is a great sin akin to blasphemy. For Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. So, we are using Jesus to try to tear down a person!
When we try to lovingly admonish someone, it is an act of charity. This is good to remember when someone admonishes us for our own good. As the Psalms assert: “If a good man corrects me, it is kindness.”