Yesterday was “Senior Sunday” at my church, a day where we honor our graduates. Towards the beginning of the service, the estimable Sherri Matthews directed a choir of teenagers in a rousing version of a spiritual called “Ain’t Judgin’ No Man.” Under Sherri’s expert direction, the piece was performed beautifully, but labored under the heavy weight of irony. If only it were true.
“Ain’t judgin’ no man for the life he leads, ain’t judgin’ no man.
Ain’t judgin’ no man for the life he leads, ain’t judgin’ no man.
Ain’t passin’ no judgment on my fellow man,
I’m leavin’ that in the Good Lord’s hands.
Ain’t judgin’ no man for the life he leads, ain’t judgin’ no man."
In point of fact, this is exactly what we do. Making judgments about our fellow man is actually what we do best at church, especially we Baptists. If being judgmental were an Olympic event, we would be like the Kenyan’s in the marathon…total domination!
Show up at church wearing shorts and a t-shirt, we’ll judge you. Vote for the “wrong” political candidate, we’ll judge you. Have a beer with your pizza, we’ll judge you. Endure a soul-crushing divorce, we’ll judge you. Send your kids to public school, we’ll judge you. Home school your kids, we’ll judge you. Get too excited during worship, we’ll judge you. Refuse to stand up when everyone else is getting excited during worship, we’ll judge you. Show up at church while gay, we’ll judge you. Let your cell phone go off during the service and I’ll judge you!
See, church is the place we come every Sunday to judge how we’re measuring up, not to some dusty old 2000 year old standard, but to each other. For those of us who are doing well, it can be a very satisfying experience. But for the poor slob who is dealing with a laundry list of personal and professional failings, it can feel like a visit to the principal’s office, only there are 800 principals.
But maybe the real problem is with the writer’s of this song. What idiot goes around all day not making judgments about his fellow man? I do it all the time. It’s called profiling and is a crucial part of the survival instinct. If I encounter a burly, tattoo-covered man in a wife-beater at 2 in the morning outside of an ABC store, I’m going to assume that he isn’t about to ask me my opinion on the symbolism of a Shakespearian sonnet. From his dress, body art and build, not to mention the bottle-shaped paper bag in his hand, I will judge him to be dangerous and get back in my car. Why was I at the ABC store at 2 in the morning? So, I wouldn’t run into anyone from church, of course.
But, wouldn’t the world be a better place if the words to this song were true? How cool would it be if we actually did leave all the judging in the Good Lord’s hands?