When not asking questions leads to judgment

Several years ago, I attended a church with my best friend from college. Overall, I enjoyed the service and appreciated the commitment that the congregation and the leadership had to their beliefs. But I took issue (and still take issue) with some of the positions the pastor took and their effect on the community at large.

During one sermon, the pastor talked about his experiences taking a stand against abortion in the community (Federal Way). He, along with several from the congregation, stood on the sidewalk of the local Planned Parenthood with tape over their mouths. Their intent was to emulate the voicelessness of children being aborted. Just to clarify: this article is NOT about abortion (my personal stance — pro-life or pro-choice — is irrelevant). Several days after the pastor’s sermon, I e-mailed him and asked what resources he had available to provide to the women who were going into the clinic.

His response concerned me. He literally said that he did not believe it was his duty or role to provide any resources. Were I a woman walking into Planned Parenthood I would feel terribly judged by this pastor’s actions. And, having used Planned Parenthood's services, I can say that (even as a man) I have seen protestors and burned with anger. For starters, no outsider can know what services a client is using. Additionally, even if the pastor were right about a person’s intentions, he did not have a list of adoption agencies, crisis housing, or agencies that could assist financially with all of the costs of pregnancy.

I’ll be honest, I have forgiven this pastor for his arrogance (believing that he could sufficiently understand another’s situation without having had a conversation with that person).  Nor do I hold a grudge. But, occasionally, something random sparks my frustration and I get a little riled up again.

Most recently this occurred when a friend of mine, who is a pastor, posted a status update on a social networking site regarding his experience in a grocery store checkout line.  He mentioned his frustration that the woman who checked out in front of him used an EBT card (food stamps) and had an iPhone. The gist of his update was that it was/is inappropriate for someone to use government assistance AND have seemingly luxury items.

In some ways, I agree with him. It is important to be both frugal and responsible with subsidized resources. But I also have a different perspective. I am going on eight weeks of unemployment and, even though I have applied for over 80 jobs, I have no real prospects (and I am NOT being picky). And, when I was very close to being out of food (and having no money or income), I applied for an EBT card.

Not surprisingly, I qualify. While this is not my ideal, I recognize that this is temporary and I do not believe that I am abusing the system (I have been working since I was 16 years old and have never needed government assistance in the past).

And I have an iPhone. In one of my previous work situations, it was essentially necessary. Now, it would cost me more to switch phones than it costs me to maintain my service. Additionally, I contacted my provider and was able to get a discount and an extension on my bill. This, too, is temporary.

I can think of several situations in which the woman in question would have the need for EBT and have reasonable use for an iPhone. Maybe she is a victim of domestic violence and the phone was donated to a shelter for both basic use and emergency situations. Or maybe someone put her on a family phone plan and is covering the cost of her phone. The simple truth is that I will never know. But, because my friend did not ask questions, he will not know either.

The challenge, then, is to ask questions (when appropriate) or at least consider possibilities. To make assumptions is to effectively put tape over one’s mouth and end the possibility of actual understanding. It is ineffective and, unfortunately, manifests itself as judgment. The difficulty in opening a conversation is that one may not like what he/she learns. But it opens the door for learning and deeper understanding.

About Kyle Franklin

Kyle A. Franklin is a recent graduate of Gonzaga University, where he earned his Master's in Religious Studies. He completed his bachelor's degree in history and religion at Pacific Lutheran University in 2007 and has worked in both the ELCA Lutheran Church and the United Methodist Church.

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  1. It’s amazing how many “christians” today are putting Republican Party anti-poor values ahead of the values of Jesus, who showed special love for the poor. I think their actions, more than their words and proclamations of faith, show where they’re really coming from.

  2. I learned in counseling to get the facts before allowing myself an emotional reaction. This is the step that is often skipped when rushing to judgement. Also, iPhones are only .99 cents if they are an older model (She typed on her iphone).

  3. The Reverend Deb Conklin

    I’ve always appreciated that the story in the Gospel of John about “the woman caught in adultery” made it into the official Bible. In that culture this was an offense that was to be punished by stoning. But Jesus said “Let whomever is without sin cast the first stone.” And one by one those who were so quick to judge walked away. We ALL need to ask ourselves to look past surface impressions when we are tempted to judge. It is seldom appropriate to ask direct questions of the person we are tempted to judge. Usually we need to check our own attitudes, and learn more about the issue – from the other persons perspective, or potential perspective.

  4. @Deb: Do you think maybe Christians set themselves up to fail when they take on a “sheep vs goats”, “chosen people vs the godless world” mentality? I can’t imagine that having such a worldview when in fact most people, Christian or not, are just trying to get by in life, can have a net positive impact on people’s actions. It was something I observed back when I was being brought up in fundamentalism.

  5. I finally found the verse I wanted. Lol. Not as up on my Bible as I used to be. 1 Samuel 16:7 NKJV

    7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the L ord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
    That’s my main point. We can only see isolated actions and we can never know someone’s motives.

  6. As Kyle and Jan observed, I am grateful for the one who looks at my heart. The one who believe he can separate the sheep from the goats is mistaken.

  7. Although I agree that those standing on the sidewalk should have alternative resources for women going into a planned parenthood, I thought I would post a few articles about the ministry that prays for these women and babies. What do you think?


  8. CD–I appreciate the resources you posted. My primary concerns, though, are centered around the fact that the person in question made assumptions about the services the women were seeking. And, as a pastor in the community, he becomes the image for the greater Christian community and, in this particular situation, came across as judgmental. The actions cut off communication (quite literally with the tape across his mouth) rather than fostering any sort of understanding.

    I don’t often ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” but I am pretty confident that Jesus would be with the people rather than standing on the sidelines without any sort of communication…

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