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Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Gift of Discernment Part 9: Why Your Judgmentalism Blocks You from Discerning God and His Voice

While many church members were engaging in speculation and odds-making regarding big General Conference announcements, a fascinating news article about church members was published, which received hardly any mention nor discussion by members.

In the article (here), Dr. Jana Reiss summarizes survey results of Early Returning Missionaries (ERMs). In one study, “a third of millennial Mormons who went out on a mission came home before their assigned time.” With 67,049 full-time LDS missionaries serving as of today, that would mean we’re talking about 22,126 ERMs.

Why did they return home? A second study conducted by the University of Utah (U of U) found that among ERMs, 36% returned for mental health reasons, 34% for physical health reasons, 12% for previously undisclosed transgressions and 11% for disobeying mission rules.

Upon returning home, most ERMs felt that people assumed they were returning for issues related to transgressions. “They feel stigmatized and ashamed, whether or not there was sin involved.” The U of U study found:
  • Nearly six in 10 respondents said their wards were unfriendly or indifferent about their ERM status.
  • Nearly half said their local church leaders treated them poorly. 
  • Fewer than a third reported a chilly reception in their own families.
But that’s not even close to the worst of the situation:
  • 73% said they had feelings of failure. In fact, the majority of ERMs had feelings of failure regardless of the reason they returned, regardless of whether their early return was related to personal conduct.
  • 66% felt uncomfortable in social settings.
  • 44% felt uncomfortable answering questions about their missions. 
The long-term effects for ERMs is particularly disturbing. 34% had a period of inactivity. Of those, 33% have never returned to the church. 47% of the survey respondents reported they are not as active in the Church as they were before they went on their mission. (Conversely, ERMs who felt their ward members received them well upon their early return were less likely to experience a period of inactivity).
“Because a mission is voluntary service, the phenomenon of being culturally stigmatized and feeling like a failure for returning early is incongruent with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (U of U study)


Over the decades, I've personally observed:
  • A commonly-held belief that if you're nice to a sinner, you're perceived as tacitly accepting of the sin. So conversely, we are expected to disdain the sin and withhold love and support to the sinner as a demonstration of our doctrinal or lifestyle disagreement. 
  • Many members fly like pieces whenever they’re faced with some circumstance they've never personally encountered. And because it’s new, different or “is contrary to their traditions,” we automatically consider it uninspired at best and evil at worst.
  • To avoid judging, many instead “offer their opinion” while still insinuating, “I’m right and that's it, no compromise.”
  • Many shun the different, the outcast, the people who smell like smoke, have bloodshot eyes, maybe haven’t bathed in two days, the mentally ill, as well as those who haven’t been to church in half a year or don’t have a temple recommend. And heaven forbid they've ever had church discipline! That’s spiritual leprosy!
As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf stated,
“We can so clearly and easily see the harmful results that come when others judge and hold grudges. And we certainly don’t like it when people judge us. 
But when it comes to our own prejudices and grievances, we too often justify our anger as righteous and our judgment as reliable and only appropriate. Though we cannot look into another’s heart, we assume that we know a bad motive or even a bad person when we see one. We make exceptions when it comes to our own bitterness because we feel that, in our case, we have all the information we need to hold someone else in contempt. 
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, said that those who pass judgment on others are “inexcusable.” The moment we judge someone else, he explained, we condemn ourselves, for none is without sin. Refusing to forgive is a grievous sin—one the Savior warned against. Jesus’s own disciples had “sought occasion against [each other] and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened.” (“The Merciful Obtain Mercy”, April 2012 General Conference)
The aforementioned statistics and statements are a harsh reality that we have become a people who cut down others in God’s name, despite the fact that the sword was never ours to swing.

Are these behaviors -- by church members -- truly indicative of "The Lord's Chosen People?" "A Righteous Generation" with "Noble Birthright?" "The Elect of God?" A “Royal Priesthood?” A “Chosen Generation?” Even "The Anointed?"

How can we, collectively, consider ourselves God’s people when our collective judgmentalism ruins and destroys those who are generationally destined to help lead the church and the families that comprise it?

Is “eating our young” something we are proud of?

It’s no wonder that "there is none that doeth good" (Psalm 14:1; 53:1-3). It’s because “man is nothing” (Moses 1:10) to the extent that we “are less than the dust of the earth." (Helaman 12:7). Additionally,
"It is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:10-18
When you judge another, you only deepen the spiritual depths in which you live. It increases your disharmony with the Lord, His characteristics, His attributes, His personality and His doctrines. The Lord has told us members of the church what will happen to such members very soon:
“Behold, vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, a day of burning, a day of desolation, of weeping, of mourning, and of lamentation; and as a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth, saith the Lord. 
And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; 
First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord.” (D&C 112:24-26; emphasis mine)


I believe there is only one way to rise above the spiritual death and decay of judgmentalism: Jesus Christ. I can tell you by direct, personal experience that He, the greatest of all of us, is also the least judgmental of all of us. The amount of love He has for us is incomprehensible.

1.  You must quit fooling yourself by believing that you are somehow better, and more righteous, more chosen than you really are. 
“Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.” (Psalm 138:6)
“Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly.” (Proverbs 3:34)
2. You must acknowledge that there is a direct correlation between your judging others, and how you are (and will continue to be) judged. In other words, you never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5


Perhaps the most important thing you can do to dig yourself out of the pit of judgmentalism is to passionately study the Savior. I mean, make not just knowing about Him, but knowing Him, a primary focus of your life. Then emulate what you read about Him.

Jesus’ counsel to the Nephite Twelve illuminates this concept:
“Ye shall be judges of this people, according to the judgment which I shall give unto you, which shall be just. Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). 
Once you come to really know Jesus -- His characteristics, His personality, His overwhelming love for all of us and His mercy, you discover something beautiful about Him. For example, when the apostles James and John were infuriated when the people of a Samaritan village treated the Savior disrespectfully (Luke 9:51–54), Jesus’ response effectively put them in their place:
“For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (verses 54–56).
Wow, what a concept. Look at that again. Jesus came not to destroy others. Not to tear them down. Not to demean them. Not to guilt trip them. Not to prove that He was somehow smarter and better than the rest of us.

No. He came to save us. And He beautifully, magnificently did so with just four little letters.



In a previous post, I asked, “Pop quiz: During His mortal life, who did Jesus hang out with?"

His disciples? Yes, of course. But if you go back and read your scriptures, you'll see that
"as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. 
And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? 
When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Mark 2:15-17)
Jesus not only hung out with, but actually sought out the company of and invited into His house, the publicans (tax collectors -- the most despised people in society) as well as the sinners (the prostitute, the adulterer). I can only surmise the list of invitees could have included the formerly blind/lame/leper, the Samaritan, the poor, the sick, as well as other outcast/despised/dejected/rejected classes. In other words, the lowest of the low in society. THAT is where you’d find Jesus.

Who would Christ be dining with tonight?

Not only that, but when He encountered these outcasts, He didn't walk up to them and immediately start chewing them out because of their sins. Instead, you see Him start a conversation.

For example, in John 4, when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, He didn't open with, "Hi there, you sexually immoral person! Do you know that sleeping with that man who is not your husband is sin? And because you’re not a Christian, you’re eternally damned?" There was no “Hey, if you didn't like your first husband, then you could only have left him if X, Y or Z happened. And if they didn't, then you're a sinner. Ewww, go away!”

Of course not! He simply asked, “Will you give me a drink?"

He opened a dialogue with her. He was nice! He was cool. He was friendly (or as missionaries are trained, He “established a relationship of trust”).

When He did go on to talk about her situation, He first listened to her. Then when He finally spoke with her, it was in truth, sensitivity and love...and not a molecule of judgmentalism. And because of that, her life was changed.

I love the story of the woman at the well, because to be perfectly frank, all of us could easily replace her. True, maybe you haven’t sinned like she did. In fact, maybe you’re a recommend-holding, scripture-reading, monthly-fasting, calling-magnifying latter-day saint. Terrific! But that still doesn't negate your mortal status (as the "Nothingness" section of this post above clearly summarized).

In reality, Jesus operates on a higher wavelength -- in forgiveness and grace. Just look at when He judged. More often than not, it was with hypocritical leaders or those defiling the temple. You’d be hard pressed to find Him being anything but loving and sensitive to all other sinners.


He knew -- and wishes you to know -- that if someone is doing something you know is wrong, the only way you'll reach them is through understanding and love.
“We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” (Madeleine L'Engle)

How is this relevant to discernment? 
Because God reveals things not to inform you, 
but to enable you to intercede in a Godlike way. 

Additionally, God never reveals something 
for the purpose of judgment, but for healing. 
Not for defeat, but for victory.

As a Christian, it is not your duty to pass judgment on others, hold grudges because of your differences, gossip about those who disagree with you or blatantly shame someone for their beliefs. When you do so, you imperil your own salvation:

Above everything, we are to pour out God's love to others in the same way He does for us. Yes, constructive criticism is a part of loving someone and supporting God's Word in all circumstances, but quickly, summarily, loudly shaming those who disagree with us (or whom we find disagreeable) isn't the answer.

It is love that is going to transform ourselves, others and the world. Nothing more, nothing less. God has given us the tools to make it a reality throughout the world.

Ask God to open your eyes to the world at the end of your pointing fingers. This does NOT mean that you are seeking to sacrifice your beliefs or compromise your morals. You’ll never see an instance where Jesus endorsed prostitution or other sins. But He sure did let those sinners -- and everyone -- know He sincerely loved them.
“Why do any of us have to be so mean and unkind to others? Why can’t all of us reach out in friendship to everyone about us?” (Pres. Gordon B Hinckley, “The Need for Greater Kindness”, April 2006 General Conference)
Let’s take a test and see how well you’re able to do just that:
  • A person doesn't take the Sacrament. Do you wonder, “Is she excommunicated? Disfellowshipped? I wonder what she did. Ewwww, an apostate! I should avoid her. After all, I might be called into the Bishop’s office too if they see me talking to her.” Or do you think, “Wow, they could probably use a friend right now. I wonder who else I could introduce them to.”
  • A person confides that they’re divorcing. Do you ask, “Who filed?”, “Who’s fault is it?” How about the ever-popular “How can you do that to your kids?”, “What happened?” or you opine/preach about what are the justifiable grounds for divorce? Or do you ask, “How are you holding up?” “How is your support base?” or just spend an hour with them, listening? 
  • A person confides they are homosexual or lesbian. What would Jesus do -- Kick them out the door, ostracize them and let them discover what it feels like to be in disharmony with Church teachings?  Preach and condemn them? Or hug them and tell them that even though you disagree with their lifestyle, no matter what they do, you’ll always love them?
  • A priest sits with his family during sacrament meeting instead of blessing the sacrament because of his addiction to porn. How do you encourage this young man and build -- rather than destroy -- his faith? 
  • You minister to a person struggling with mental health or substance abuse problems. Do you conveniently ignore them? Just go in, give a brief lesson then bolt for the door, or spend an hour and listen to them? 
  • A co-worker is depressed. Is it best to just tell them to just “buck up”?
  • Oh, and that beggar on the street corner? Do you look the other way, leave it to someone else to consider them, or hand them something to benefit their lives?
Just don’t wait for these experiences to transform another just “happen”. Seek them out. Like Jesus and the Samaritan woman, listen to these people. Leave them with peace in their souls and love in their hearts:
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)
I’ll be honest with you. I have a long way to go to being truly non-judgmental. As I consider the times when I've been judgmental, I’m ashamed and embarrassed. I feel like I am the dirty, muddy prodigal son.

Yet I am one of those who can testify that I know the Savior. I have looked into His eyes, seen His smile, and have blessed with Him with treasures I’ll never be able to repay through all generations of time. In my opinion, He is far, far too eager to forgive and forget than I will ever be able to comprehend.

Please seek Him out. You’ll find him in your scriptures. You’ll find Him in your mind’s eye, as you visualize the events of His life. You’ll find Him as you seek Him, no matter if you’re at home, at work, or even in your car. You may soon discover that wherever you walk, He is there also...every step of the way...beckoning you to walk beside Him straight to the Father’s throne of power and grace.

It’s my prayer that you will rise above the bottomless pit of judgmentalism by heeding the words He speaks to you every day. As you do so, I have no doubt that He will transform your life, and others, with understanding and love.

When you cast that beam from your own eye, 
you’ll hear and see God a whole lot clearer.