After I was ordained at the age of twenty-five, my life changed in many ways. The next day, my wife and I moved to a new town in a different state and began setting up house in what Presbyterians call a manse, right next door to a church building, and after a few days of moving furniture from three locations to that manse, I began the work of my first pastorate. I was prepared for many of the sudden changes in my life or, at least, prepared to find myself unprepared. One subtle change that felt very awkward and uncomfortable, however, was my new role as someone expected to approve or disapprove of other people’s behavior, decisions, attitudes, and opinions. People three times my age sometimes asked about my approval of this or that matter related to their own lives, their families, or the society (especially its younger members).
Who was I to grant approval? Obviously, if I could approve of something or someone, I could also disapprove of him, her, or it. I was trying to understand people and the complexity of their life issues and to be helpful (young ministers can feel a lot of pressure to be helpful, healing, and supportive beyond their actual capabilities), but I had no desire to be the approver and disapprover (the judge or critic) of people and their lives, and I felt no such entitlement. In fact, I did not approve of such a role for myself, the church, or the faith and started finding ways to reject it without shaming the people who asked me to assume it.
Here’s my question. To what extent do outsiders to Christianity see it as the self-appointed (or in its own eyes, God-appointed) judge of people, their behavior, and their lives? Turning the question around, to what extent do Christians see Christianity that way, also, and with what results?