A few days ago, I stumbled across a news article posted to Facebook. The horrific picture of a badly beaten woman had jarred my sense of human decency. As I read the article, trying to understand what had happened to her, I found myself delving into a world of judgment and assumption.
The story went something like this: A woman, fearing for her safety, attempted to call the police when her husband came at her with a gun. Angry that she was attempting to make the call, he knocked the phone out of her hand and proceeded to beat her with his pistol. Lying on the floor, weak and badly hurt, she managed to crawl to her cell phone. However, in the rural area in which she lived, she was unable to get a signal. All that was at her disposal was a wifi signal, so she snapped a picture of her bloodied face and posted it to Facebook with a cry of help attached.
So what was I judging? I kept assuming that this woman had been more interested in “getting attention” than getting help by posting a picture. The detail that she could only pick up a wifi signal was at the end of the article, and so I read through, not feeling sympathy toward a frightened and injured woman, but with disdain for someone who put her “family drama” online.
After discovering my error, I was awash with shame and guilt. How could I not be? If it had been up to me, my initial knee-jerk judgment about her motives would have done her no good. Left up to me, I would have left her to face an abusive husband alone.
So I shared the story, along with my reflection about my own sense of judgement. I acknowledged that I needed to do some self-examination, to identify whatever it was inside of my heart or mind (or maybe both) that chose to blame the victim and to ignore the obvious path of compassion.
By the next morning I had received three responses in my inbox about my post. I would like to recap those responses, and offer my own understanding of them here.
The first condemned by flippant attitude about this woman’s need and my “blame the victim” reaction.
Well, okay. But wasn’t that what I had already said? The response was harsh, but I read it and accepted it–but there wasn’t much that person could say that I hadn’t already considered. But she was right in her analysis: I was dodging the real issues at hand by falling back on judgmental attitudes. By blaming her and painting her as attention seeker, I was ignoring the fact that she had just been savagely beaten. The real issues I should have been focused on was domestic violence and society’s willingness to turn a blind eye… but instead, I distracted myself with an attack on an innocent woman’s integrity. It was easier to write her off as someone not worth of compassion than to put myself at risk on her behalf or to do something that would help to bring an end to domestic violence.
The second person sang my praises for being “so brave”, for being willing to expose my own weaknesses.
That simply isn’t true. It doesn’t take courage or bravery or heroics to recognize that you have acted like a self-righteous, judgmental fool. But it does take self-awareness. And self-awareness takes a willingness to look at a situation from someone else’s perspective and to even look at the way you look to others. Unwilling hearts refuse to acknowledge that our actions (or inactions) have consequences and that other people must bear the weight of those. But willingness means we must deny ourselves, and any claim that we think we have to our own sense of righteousness. We have to acknowledge our own lack of perfection and we have to open our eyes and hearts to the ways in which others are being harmed in this world.
The third response was the one that really blew me away, though. This person chastised me for posting my confession and indicated that those who were outside the church would only see my admission as one more piece of evidence that the church is full of hypocrites. If a minister acts that way, how are people supposed to assume the church as a whole behaves?
Well, all I have to say to that is: The church needs to be vulnerable.
We are not viewed as hypocrites when we acknowledge our own limitations or errors in practicing our faith. When we readily confess our weaknesses and our faults, when we recognized that those things can and do lead to harm, we are showing the world who we really are: imperfect people seeking the perfection of Christ.
We are viewed as hypocrites when we talk about compassion and mercy, when we go on and on about not judging others… and then we do judge and deny compassion and mercy.
People see us as giant bags of wind when our actions do not fall into line with our words. Sure, we can talk a big game about love and compassion, but if our behavior doesn’t line up with that, we need to acknowledge it. After all, acknowledging our transgressions is the first step in repentance.
When we pretend we haven’t messed up and continue to go about preaching our message of love and then act unloving, people will rightfully see us as hypocrites.
The church should not be less willing to publicly speak about our hang ups and fears, our moments of sin, the times that we didn’t live into the merciful nature of God. We need to be more willing. We need to be willing to take a long, hard look in the mirror. We need to see the world for what it is, and to see how we have made it an ugly place rather than a place of endless beauty. We need to see our sins.
On that particular day, I did see my sin. I saw it in the bloodied, bruised face of a battered woman. I didn’t attack her. I didn’t pistol-whip her. But I didn’t treat her with compassion either. I didn’t see her as a child worthy of love and mercy… and I didn’t see her as a child of God who did not deserve the acts of violence against her… and I didn’t see her anguished cry for help. I only saw my sin: my judgement.
If the modern church is going to make a difference in this modern world, we need to be more vulnerable. We need to be more willing to examine ourselves and confess what it is that we see. It is only when we cast aside our own claim to perfection that we make room in our lives for Christ to perfect us.
The world needs to see who we really are so that they can see the profound ability of Christ to transform our worst selves into something beautiful. Only when I can acknowledge my leap to judgment can I begin to pluck out of my heart those things that lead to judgment. And when the things of this world are no longer clogging my heart, there will be room for Christ’s grace to transform me, and by transforming me, transform the way I interact with the world.
If I have to acknowledge my every last fault so that others might see Christ at work within me, then so be it.