Lectionary This Week: February 28

Monica Lewinsky recently gave a TED Talk that cast her story in a whole new light. Lewinsky revisited the aftermath of her affair with President Bill Clinton and the personal toll that our collective judgment had on her. In her words she was nearly “humiliated to death” — literally — as she considered suicide.

She recounted the cruel jokes, media images, soundbites and labels. She says she was “branded” (think about the violence of that word) as a “tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and of course that woman.” Hearing Lewinsky recall the way she was personally attacked made me think deeply about judgment, shame and human nature.

This week’s New Testament lectionary reading addresses judgment and cautions us not to do it. For the sake of others and for the sake of our own souls, we need to substitute judgment with loving compassion.

Romans 2:1-11(NRSV)

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

Judgment, Shame and The Church

Fear of judgment may be the single biggest reason that people avoid church.

I recently had a conversation with several friends who echoed that very sentiment. They stayed away from the church for years because they felt like they weren’t worthy enough to attend. They believed that “churchgoers” would judge their unworthiness, so it was better to just stay away.

I wish I could say that they were wrong. But more than forty years of church attendance has shown me the best and the worst examples of Christian behavior. Although good examples outnumber the bad, the damage done by a few, judgmental hypocrites is astonishing. That kind of judgment reinforces the shame that individuals already feel and pushes them away from the church.

More than 150 years ago Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter to expose the hypocrisy of the church and 17th century “slut shaming.” Hester Prynne is not the only participant in the affair, but as the woman who bears a child out of wedlock, she alone was forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” for adultery.

Unfortunately, I witnessed 20th century “slut shaming” as a teen when young pregnant women were brought in front of our entire congregation to confess their sin under the guise of preventing gossip. What did that do to prevent judgment and shame? What did that do to show love and compassion? Nothing. People still judged and the women (who already felt shame) were humiliated.

What if Christians abandoned judgmentalism in favor of compassion? What if we truly took the words of this passage to heart? What if we loved more than we judged?

Across denominations, people are looking for a new wave of revival in the church. How about this: Let it be a revival that is marked with compassion instead of judgment — and let our compassion reform our hearts, our minds, and ultimately the church.

Image: Monica Lewinsky Mural by Erica Zebowski at Flickr