This is one of those quotes that sounds brilliant at first but after a little bit of reflection leaves one feeling uneasy. I guess that when Billy Graham said it, he had Matthew 7:1-6 in mind. In that sense the quote should warn us against the harsh judgementalism that we too often see -especially on social media. Some people are quick to judge when they could do with showing a little bit more love.
Similarly, the reminder that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict taken from John 16 is a good reminder to those of us who preach that it is not for us to use special techniques to try and get our hearers to respond. We should forsake emotional manipulation.
However, in a week when there has been another scandal relating to a powerful American leader, I wonder if a misunderstood version of the quote has contributed to a deeply unhelpful culture across the evangelical world. It is worth noting that Billy Graham himself was able to move effortless in the company of powerful men as the friend of presidents from all backgrounds. He seemed to fulfil the same function as confidant, counsellor and ceremonial lead that the Queen plays in British politics.
This is also a week in which one of Graham’s own grandchildren has expressed concern at how evangelicalism has become toxic, associated with a particularly unhealthy political brand. Furthermore, I continue to read reports about how senior evangelicals failed to deal with the problem of abusive leaders like John Smyth and Jonathan Fletcher.
To choose to love in the face of personal attack and not fight back is the difficult route. However, to avoid discernment and failing to speak out on the basis that this might be “unloving” is to talke the easy option.
Furthermore, it is in fact a failure to love. When we do this, we are not loving
God with our whole heart because we are putting our comfort ahead of his glory and honour. We are willing to let his name be blasphemed.
The person in sin because we would prefer to avoid the pain of confrontation even if it means that the person continues in sin with all the damage and danger to themselves that this entails.
Victims because my silence on the issue feels like judgement to them. They are the ones who are judged. Their complaint is not merely being ignored. My refusal to support them and to stand up against their abuser seems to absolve the accused and place blame with the victim. It often means that they must continue to suffer the sentence imposed on them of continued suffering and shame.
The church because if as a leader, I fail to confront sin and abuse then I put the whole congregation at risk.
As we have seen in past articles, Jesus’ warning not to judge is about unloving judgementalism. True love requires discernment and justice.