Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.Matthew 7:1-5
The Maine Conference United Church of Christ recently met for its annual meeting. Among the business, workshops and lunches, the almost two-day meeting included several worship services. One of those worship services was led by a Maine UCC pastor who took the opportunity to—albeit gently—mock, scold and snarkily refer to those forebears of our faith who went about the business of constructing church buildings and all that usually accompanies church buildings—like church organs. And, at the same time, this particular pastor just happened to mention his own current ministry call with a church that has discovered the grace and wisdom to follow the truer, better path of selling their building, and finding another church willing to take away their large, not so long ago expanded but now “worthless” organ, and moving into a smaller, more central location from which they will be able to more freely involve themselves in mission.
That this pastor and this church have found their way to a place where they can divest themselves of their building that had become too large and too financially demanding is no doubt a marvelous achievement, and a deeply faithful one. The problem is that this pastor has now taken on the ungracious posture of seeing a unique sort of virtue in the decision-making process through which he and his church traveled, casting earlier versions of the congregation as less than faithful in their attachment to the building and its accoutrement.
It’s one thing to make an honest assessment of one’s church, and to set out on a path that allows the church to continue its witness into the future, even to the point of selling its building. It’s quite another to see one’s path as more faithful than the path taken by one’s predecessors, and to then take the opportunity to disparage those earlier church folk.
Making judgments while looking through the rearview mirror is all too easy. And, I suspect that it’s also an easy thing to experience comfort and assurance in the processes and decisions one makes—at the unfortunate expense of those who cannot speak for themselves. Or, if they are still alive and can speak for themselves, they are—explicitly or not—dismissed as having done it wrong.
Mainline churches like the congregations of the United Church of Christ in Maine have undergone tremendous changes over the years. Occasionally church folk make bad decisions, with bad intent. But, more often, church folk have made decisions that they have believed to be faithful. They have done the best they could with the grace and knowledge bestowed upon them at the time. To look back with such a judgmental eye is simply not fitting for those who claim an attachment to the way of Christ.
Jesus had a thing or two to say about making judgments. Those of us who look back and find foolishness in the decisions of the past ought to be cautious before making such claims. After all, we cannot be sure of what will come of the decisions that we make. We should endeavor to employ the same amount of graciousness, if not more, that we expect from those who come after us.