1. DO give credit where credit is due.
2. But do not assume that if there’s some good that means there is no danger there.
From my experiences in various churches over many years and places, these seem to me to be pretty important ideas – especially when the matter is question is practical loving of neighbors. That is where the Christian “rubber meets the road” most often by far.
So if someone’s theology is a bit weird,
their Bible knowledge is shallow or biased,
their politics are destructive, even hateful,
or their terminology is prejudicial –
let’s be careful to not stop our evaluation at those places.
For example, in one church a newly attending interracial couple was invited to a very conservative long-time member’s house for a meal. The elderly host was very welcoming and loving, and she was in fact already praying for them every day. But when they told me about the visit they laughed, because they were truly shocked to learn the host had Fox “News” on all day, and right-wing radio at the same time. Knowing well that those media outlets are not open-minded nor promoters of diversity, they were amazed that a person who feeds on that propaganda would love and welcome this interracial couple, one of whom was a felon.
So – should we give that host credit for loving behavior in the concrete case of loving her neighbors? Yes! Or do we judge, maybe even despise or reject them, for their bad choice of political-social teachers? Well, let’s be careful, but be honest.
Here’s a brief explanation from the brilliant Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan.
There is always a great need to
eye very critically any religious individual or group
and to discern
beyond the real charity they may have been granted
the various types of bias that may distort or block it.
– Bernard Lonergan
I agree with this.
What lessons might we get from this quote?
- Critique. It is ok, even very necessary, to critique fellow believers, or those who claim to be.
- Give Credit. It is important to see, and give credit for, any real attitudes and practices of love that they have. Love, after all, is the core of the Gospel.
- What Goes Around … . I think #2, acknowledging the love, honoring the love, pretty well protects us from the judgmentalism that Jesus warns against. We are not, after all, rejecting or condemning the person. (“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” Mt 7:1,2. Or “Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” Lk 6:37.)
- Honesty. Be aware of, admit it when there are biases at work in the person or institution, in spite of the good present. This is, after all, just being honest. (This is a good part of why I don’t want to be a Jesuit, or a Roman Catholic, though I often find myself quoting them.)
- Disruption. Acknowledge that those biases can interfere with the actual practice of charity (love of neighbor). Do not assume that because there is real love there, there cannot also be some ignorance, arrogance, misinformation, judgmentalism, or even hate.
- Danger. Do not let go of the truth that those things (ignorance, arrogance, misinformation, judgmentalism, or even hate) are truly dangerous to us and to others we care about.
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. So be as wise as snakes and as harmless as doves.” Jesus, in Matthew 10:16
“Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” Jesus, in Luke 12:57