Do your remember when the Church was the seat of unrelenting judgmentalism in society. Back then, the religious elite stringently enforced conformity to social mores, and woe betide the individual who met their wrath. It was the time of the crimson letter, where sinners were clearly labeled and their shame was permanent. Forgiveness may be of God, but His church was less understanding—those who had failed where never allowed to forget it. Their guilt was established and their reputation forever ruined.
In recent years, the church has learned to moderate its behavior. While still allergic to sin, the people of God seem to have grown more loving towards the sinner. The man or woman that falls into sin will find that many Christians are quick to help them to their feet. Forgiveness is now readily granted and repentance is loudly celebrated; it seems that the Church has lost its taste for shame. But fear not, its presence is not diminished for there is a new sheriff in town.
Judgmentalism is now being freely wielded in the hands of the secular elite. It seems that over time the ungodly have learned the excesses of the godly. Liberal secularism has a set of norms and values that it vigorously polices. Those who patrol the perimeter of society are quick to point out instances of nonconformity and call down a barrage of condemnation. Woe betide the individual who encounters their wrath.
The recent target of this focused hostility is Paula Deen, the queen of butter. Deen is famous as a cook and TV personality, but in recent days she has become a pariah. The furor is centered on a statement she made during a deposition. She is being sued, by a former employee who managed a restaurant owned by Deen, for acts of discrimination and racism. Asked by the lawyer if she had ever used the “N”-word, Deen admitted that she had, but it had been a very long time ago. Georgia has changed, and so has she.
This admission of past guilt has unleashed a torrent of indignation. In short order, she lost her TV contract and key sponsors have rushed for the exits. Twice over, she has posted video apologies where she has begged for forgiveness, but to no avail, her guilt is too great. Paula Deen is now the tragic bearer of a crimson letter. Judgmentalism lives.
Don’t mistake my critique of this fiasco as an endorsement of racial discrimination. I won’t minimize the cruelty of slurs. God took a stern view of Miriam’s racist prejudice against Moses’ wife and we ought to do the same. I grew up in Apartheid South Africa and I have seen the damage racism does, so this matter dare not be dismissed as ‘no big deal’. What I object to, in this instance, is the rapid response that denies the possibility of change and withholds the promise of forgiveness. It is all law, and no grace.
The gospel message is essentially the good news that God can change us. I don’t know if Paula Deen is a Christian, but I do know that she need not be cast aside because of a past sin. Judgmentalism says, “you have done wrong and are now untouchable”. The gospel counters, “you have done wrong and yet you can become beloved.”
Our culture seems intent on becoming a more intolerant place where judgmentalism is a daily threat. I am saddened that we will have to live under this looming hostility, but nevertheless I am grateful for the contrast it allows. More than ever, the church can display the joy of being made new and made clean.