“Who am I to judge?”
This is a statement you have likely heard many times. Often it’s spoken by someone who judges without a second thought, until they are caught making an error in judgment.
Judgments are a reality of life. We all make them. We all need to make them. They range from the simple (Should I wear long sleeves or short? Should I have a bowl of cereal or make pancakes?) to the life-changing (Should I marry this man? Should I take this job?). Although we don’t like to admit it, we also make judgments about people. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Christians will say: “Jesus tells us not to judge others.” Unfortunately, in my opinion, this belief has led to a lack of accountability in our society today. I believe that society as a whole is misunderstanding what Jesus actually said.
When he translated the Bible through revelation from God, Joseph Smith added an important clarification to Jesus’s statement in Matthew 7:1: “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment” (italics in the JST). The Lord knows that we will make judgments. He wants us to make judgments. But he wants us to make them in the right way with the right intentions.
You will also hear Christians recount the story of the woman taken in adultery, found in John 8. The retelling, for simplicity’s sake, often ends with Christ’s statement: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). Sometimes, they take the time to point out that everyone left without stoning the woman, stopped by their own consciences. Rarely do they mention the end of the story, when Jesus tells the woman, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).
Jesus didn’t excuse the woman’s sin. He knew that she was still accountable for it. But he used a word that is sometimes used synonymously with “judge”: condemn. It’s easy to mistake judgment for condemnation. It is not our place to condemn anyone to eternal damnation. We seem to think, though, that if we recognize the bad qualities of a person, or acknowledge those qualities, we are condemning them and saying they are past redemption.
No one is beyond redemption. Many of the evils we see in the world today are still within the scope of Jesus Christ’s mercy and redemption, if those who perpetrate the evils will seek repentance and forgiveness.
Until that repentance and forgiveness occurs, we are still responsible for passing righteous judgment. A person’s actions in the present moment will impact and influence us. When it comes to the people we choose to hold prominent positions in our society, we need to be choosing those who will have the best influence in our lives and in the lives of our children. By failing to hold people accountable for their evil actions—their pride, their greed, the pain they inflict upon others—we are preventing them from making those changes that will bring them closer to God.
After all, if we condone the wrong, they will never choose to do what is right.