The seventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew begins with:
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
Jesus follows up this remark with:
“For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
The attentive latter-day saint will look in the footnotes, and remark that the Joseph Smith Translation renders these verses as:
“Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people. Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment.”
So what may have been originally taken as license to adopt an “anything goes” policy suddenly is bounded with the provision of “righteous.”
But what does this really mean? I think that many feel that it means to judge something if it isn’t righteous, or judge someone if they are not righteous. But is this the intent of the commandment?
Humanity’s ability to distiguish right from wrong is in essence the ability to judge. It is a prerequisite to anyone’s capacity to develop any moral values. In this sense, judging is absolutely crucial our spiritual development, and indispensible in our personal lives.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, himself having a background in law, gave some important insights about judgment and judging in the August 1999 Ensign. He distinguishes “final” from “intermediate” judgments in saying that:
“There are two kinds of judging: final judgments, which we are forbidden to make, and intermediate judgments, which we are directed to make, but upon righteous principles.”
The idea that judgments are to be based on “righteous” principles is not unique to the JST or the Brethren. The King James Bible recounts Jesus’ words as:
“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
As we try to determine what is meant by “righteous judgement,” this verse shows that it is reasonable to assume that it involves looking past “appearance,” or what/how things/people may seem to be.
Whenever people of divergent ideological persuasions get together to exchange ideas, to debate, or simply to spar, there seems to be a good deal of judging going on. How much of this is righteous judgment? How much of it is—for lack of a better term—“wicked” judgment?
To what level is love and compassion compatible with judgement? Can “righteous judgement” be expressed to someone you vehemently disagree with or disapprove of without being condemnetory or self righteous?
The Hymn “Lord I Would Follow Thee” (#220) contains the poignant line:
“Who am I to judge another, when I walk imperfectly?”
The humility implied in those words is truly admirable, but should we also be wary of giving carte-blanche to influences that we may believe are evil, hurtful, or otherwise detrimental?
I’d be very interested to get your thoughts regarding this idea of “righteous judgement”, particularly as to how it applies to our interactions with others in diverse or even divisive settings and environments.