John 8:15-16 “You judge by human standards; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.”
In Alabama a judge sentenced shoplifters to return to the scene of the crime and hold up signs that say, “I am a thief, I stole from Wal-Mart.” The thought is that this public humiliation would prevent them from stealing again, and deter others from facing the same embarrassment.
During the “Great Revival” when Christianity spread from the East throughout the wild frontier of America, many churches created “anxious benches.” As one person describes them: “The anxious seat or bench located towards the front of the congregation also proved effective. Reserved for those who felt troubled and agitated about their spiritual state but who were still unable to break with the past, the anxious bench set “sinners” physically apart where they became the main focus of attention.” The preacher and the congregation would focus in on the people in these pews trying to hype of the emotional appeal in order to prevent future sins, and deter others from ending up in the anxious bench.
While the anxious bench may not remain in most churches, the vestiges are still deep in American Christianity. 87% of Young Adults feel as though “judgmental” is an accurate term for Christianity. To many, the church can elicit emotions of guilt, embarrassment and humiliation. Family members and friends are pressured to go forward during altar calls.
The problem with this perspective is that it focuses on the wrong motivation. The story of the Bible is that our faith should be motivated by God’s love and grace, not by self-righteousness, guilt or peer-pressure. For, as Jesus says in John 8:15-16, we are not to judge, but it is God who judges us; however God’s final verdict is not embarrassment or shame, but sacrificial love.
Why do so many young adults think the church is judgmental? Can the church still proclaim that the Christian faith is transformative while not being judgmental? Is your faith more motivated by guilt or God’s love?