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“Everyone in our church is so judgmental.”

So said one of my children when returning home from their sophomore year of college.

“What are you talking about? Our church certainly has made many faults, but I would have never put some of the members of the church in the judgmental category. Help me understand where this is coming from. Can you give me some examples you have seen or heard that I may not be aware of?”

As that child went on to try and explain the reason they said that, their real heart condition became clear to me and eventually them. This child was not walking close to the Lord, and they moved attention off their own guilty heart by looking at others.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of grumpy, judgmental, older “Christians.” You know that, and I know that. But what we often forget is that, in this sin-soaked world, when someone’s conscience is bothering them, rather than repent, many blame others.

Billy Graham and the Angry Golfer
This point is illustrated by the classic story of a pro golfer playing with evangelist Billy Graham, President Gerald Ford, and Jack Nicklaus, as told by R. C. Sproul in The Holiness of God.

“A well-known professional golfer was playing in a tournament with President Gerald Ford, fellow pro Jack Nicklaus, and Billy Graham. After the round was over, one of the other pros on the tour asked, ‘Hey, what was it like playing with the President and Billy Graham?’ The pro said with disgust, ‘I don’t need Billy Graham stuffing religion down my throat!’ With that, he headed for the practice tee. His friend followed, and after the golfer had pounded out his fury on a bucket of golf balls, he asked, ‘Was Billy a little rough on you out there?’ The pro sighed and said with embarrassment, ‘No, he didn’t even mention religion.’

‘Astonishingly, Billy Graham had said nothing about God, Jesus, or religion, yet the pro stomped away after the game accusing Billy of trying to ram religion down his throat.’ What had happened? Simply this: The evangelist had so reflected Christ-likeness that his presence brought the same feeling to the pro as experienced by Isaiah. He knew he was ‘lost, a man of unclean lips, and living among a people of unclean lips.’ In the life of Billy Graham, the lost pro had sensed the presence of our Holy God.” (Sproul, R.C. The Holiness of God. Wheaton: Tyndale, 1985)

The Convicted Turns into the Victim
What makes this worse today is that we live in a day when many are looking for a way to be the victim. Being a victim gives one power. Everyone empathizes, gives attention, and releases the victim from real responsibilities. In a sense, they get a “handicap-parking sticker” that gives them special privileges. I have written more about this in a very important post on Emotional Blackmail and Self-Absorption.

When Dealing with Older Prodigals
Truly there are some judgmental older Christians. They make their standards on disputable matters the standards of everyone. Or they gossip about the sin of others. There is no compassion. This is wrong, and Jesus condemns it. The church is to be a hospital for sinners.

However, not everyone who feels wrongly judged is wrongly judged. Sometimes they are feeling guilty because they are guilty. They may be having their own Billy Graham moment when the Holy Spirit is convicting their conscience. And rather than run into the light, they run from it.

If you are the one who has been blaming others, fear the Lord and run to him for salvation. Your concern is not the opinion of others but the Other. The solution for a guilty conscience is repentance and receiving the forgiveness of the Redeemer.

If you are interacting with one who is blaming others, seek to discern the source of that accusation. Ask him or her to give you specific instances. And just like the golf pro, you might find the turmoil comes from within, not from without.

The good news in the story above is that, after talking it through with my child months later, that child understood what I was saying and came around.