The last few weeks has been a lesson in judgment. Or rather I should say judgmentalism. As usual the sinful attitude infected many of us. The story of 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse getting a ride from his mom across state lines to take part in opposing a Black Live Matter rally disgusted me. It still disgusts me. No one had to die that night. And no one had to kill anyone else. But it happened. Violence begets violence. The attitude that says protecting property requires violence creates a moral imbalance between property and human life. I decided though to leave the situation alone for my own sanity. I am not a legal scholar or journalist.
Bias, Anger, and Judgment
Justice is God’s business. It is a first principle in social relationships. God sees injustice, hears the cry of the oppressed, and holds the unjust accountable. Christians are supposed to remember this principle in our interactions with other people. We are to be careful not to act out of anger. Nor should we act from biases. Prejudices come from our biases.
“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You will receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2) Jesus gave his disciples this warning. But, the teaching does not end there. After a discussion about splinters and logs in eyes, he goes on to say, “Don’t give holy things to dogs, and don’t throw your pearls in front of pigs. They will stomp on the pearls, then turn around and attack you.” (7:6) The second warning is important too. Jesus’ followers can distinguish between the good and the bad. Dogs and pigs do not discern. They simply react. In other words, your brother may not think the splinter in his eye is a big deal.
We all have asked ourselves about our brothers and sisters who apparently cannot understand the magnitude of the evil they support. And yet, the same people readily condemn others based on mere rumors and falsehoods. We have spent a long time trying to make sense out of it. And then Kyle Rittenhouse came to our attention. I saw something brewing in myself against him. I was alarmed.
Prejudice, Fact, and Truth
I probably saw every meme and the headline of every report about the behavior of the Judge Schroeder. I kept my mouth shut. Rittenhouse was guilty of murder, so I believed, even though that was not the charge against him. I also believed he would “get away with it.” It was not until after the verdict I looked closely at the case to consider it for this blog.
America’s judicial systems (note the plural) presume the innocence of the accused. The governments (also note the plural) bear the burden of proof. Once, when I was called to jury duty, I heard a prosecutor claim, “the prosecution is also to supposed to get a fair trial.” I asked myself, “Why? Shouldn’t the prosecution have an uphill battle considering the consequences of proven guilt?” I do not know the legal answer to that question. There is a lot of injustice in the laws and the judiciary in the United States. Perhaps, the most unjust part of trials is the quality of legal defense is based many times on what the accused can pay for lawyers.
It is almost an article of faith with me that a case must be proven for me to accept it. My initial response to the verdict was the prosecution failed to prove guilt. I stated that on social media. And I received the outraged responses I expected. Judgment for some was already made. I also received some thoughtful comments about the facts of the trial. But it was not until a friend asked rhetorically, “How would your 17 year old self have responded?” The answer was clear. I would have panicked and fired.
Judgement and Maturity
My 17-year-old self would probably have jumped into the situation too. However, I would not have taken my 17-year-old child to such a situation though. Rittenhouse had no business being there. He was irresponsible. The person who gave him the weapon was even more so. I am aware that every demonstration I attend has the potential of danger. The danger is much more likely if counter-protestors are involved. The only thing I know is I will not cause a violent conflict. My 55-year-old self has learned “redemptive violence” is a myth and that “the great hero” method of studying History is grossly defective. Judgement as discernment is a good quality.
Mature discernment also helps me realize when I do not have enough information to judge a situation let alone a person. My own preferences should not be my moral guide. Preferences guide my choices of entertainment, food, and company. Making mature distinctions is how one lives morally.
My greatest fear is to scapegoat another person. Should Kyle Rittenhouse pay for all the sins of those who anger me? Of course not. But am I letting my exasperation with my friends guide my judgment of him (or anyone else)? Is scapegoating ever the answer? No. It allows me to turn away from considering the log in my own eye. Scapegoating allows me to feel good about myself at the expense of another. It is the opposite of what Jesus taught us. We have to be very careful.