In the short time since I have returned to the pastoring role, I hear again the same old complaints against organized religion.


I have to admit that sometimes my responses to these critics are served with a bit of snark.

For instance, when folks grumble, “Religion is strictly a cash business,” I say, “No. We take online donations now.”


When they protest, “The church is full of hypocrites!” I try to reassure them,

“No, no. We aren’t full yet. There’s still room for you.”


The good-natured ones often joke in return, asking if “my boss” will do something about the lousy weather. I say, “Sorry. I work in sales, not customer service.”


But I’ll admit I lose my levity when someone paints religious people as being “too judgmental.”  These critics often use Jesus’ own words, telling me to “judge not lest you be judged” (Matt. 7:1).  And for good measure, they paraphrase John 8:7: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

I give them points for the scripture memorization, but I also remind them that the Judean teacher they so skillfully quote pronounced more than a few judgments.


That’s because he wasn’t one to throw up his hands and say, “Hey, whatever floats your boat. Who am I to judge?”

Actually, he said, “The world is against me because I expose the evil behind its pretensions” (John 7:7).

As a person of this planet, it’s essential that I make judgments. But as a person of faith, I must follow grace and avoid denouncing the heart of another person.

“How do you balance grace and judgment?” you ask.

The answer might come from Judge Abner McCall, the late president of Baylor University, my alma matter, 1979.

“When people ask about the difference between our Christian University and a secular one,” he said, “I tell them this: If our professors give you a failing grade, they’ll sit down and cry with you.”

McCall asserted that his professors were perfectly qualified to judge a student’s work. However, with the mention of tears, he was referencing the offer of grace that must be accompanied with this judgment.

People of faith aren’t disqualified from speaking on moral issues. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Spiritual folks are obliged to speak for those who have no voice and they are compelled to challenge injustice.

For instance, I will occasionally speak against the political decisions of our leaders. For me, this “condemnation” is what I call a “spiritual assessment.”

“Assessment” is a word commonly used in the healthcare world where I’ve worked for more than 25 years. I’ve watched our nurses formulate assessments by gathering information about a patient’s physiological, psychological, sociological and even spiritual status.

Those assessments weren’t personal judgments. Instead, they were professional judgements offered with a grace that often led to recovery.

Pastor and theologian J.D. Greear put it best when he concluded:

“Don’t judge others by withholding the truth. But don’t judge them by speaking the truth without grace.… Truth without grace is judgmental fundamentalism; grace without truth is liberal sentimentality.”

Chaplain Norris Burkes began his chaplain career with both the active-duty Air Force and the Air National Guard until his retirement in 2014. He later served as a board-certified healthcare chaplain at Sutter Memorial, Kaiser, Methodist and Mather VA hospitals and continues to work with area Hospice. His column is syndicated to more than 35 accredited news outlets. Read past columns at

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