There’s a scripture you are probably familiar with: “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). From the Wayment translation: “Do not judge so that you may not be judged.” Seems pretty straightforward. It defines a clear position in Christian ethics, distinguishing one aspect of the Christian approach to living from the stereotypical depiction of Pharisees in the New Testament as judgmental hypocrites. (That’s probably unfair to the actual historical Pharisees, but that’s not the point of my post.) You might think Mormons would have no problem getting on board with this clear ethical imperative from Jesus. Well, you would be wrong.
Here is the paragraph in the current Come Follow Me — Individuals and Families manual for Matthew 6-7 (Feb. 25 – Mar. 3) commenting on this passage from Matthew. The paragraph is titled “I should judge righteously”:
In Matthew 7:1, the Savior may seem to be saying we should not judge, but in other scriptures (including other verses in this chapter), He gives us instructions about how to judge. If that seems puzzling, the Joseph Smith Translation of this verse might help: “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment” (in Matthew 7:1, footnote a). What do you find in Matthew 7:1–5, along with the rest of the chapter, that helps you know how to “judge righteous judgment”?
Jesus seems to be saying we should not judge? No, that’s exactly what he said. The exegetical misreading here is so brazen it boggles the mind. It’s as if the manual were to take the clear statement in Exodus 20:13, “Thou shalt not kill,” and say: In this scripture, God seems to be telling us not to kill, but clearly there’s a lot of killing going on in the Old Testament, so what God is really saying is the we should not kill unrighteously. We should kill righteous killing. That’s what God really meant. We should kill righteously.
Just to show how far off center LDS moral thinking is, there are probably a lot of LDS who would nod their head at this and say, “Yes, that makes sense. That’s why it was such a good thing that Nephi killed Laban. That was a righteous killing, with the Holy Ghost whispering in his ear and all that.” That was more or less the response I got last week on a recent thread at BCC, a relatively progressive LDS blog that doesn’t generally leap to the defense of, say, murderers. This LDS fingers-crossed-behind-my-back approach to obedience, the idea that there’s always an exception that applies to Mormon flaunting of clear ethical directives, is just so hypocritical.
Guess what? The whole flaw with this “I’m so righteous so it’s okay for me to judge others” approach is spelled our right in the same text in Matthew: “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matt. 7:3). Here’s the Wayment translation: “Why do you look at the splinter in the eye of your brother or sister and do not consider the log in your own eye?” The point here is that if you think you are judging righteously, that’s because there is a log in your eye confounding your vision. Our moral vision just isn’t good enough most of the time to pull that off. That’s why you ought to do as Jesus suggests and just stop judging others.
So a couple of questions for discussion. First, what is wrong with LDS moral thinking? How is it that all the talk about choosing the right and keeping the commandments never really penetrates the Mormon psyche? It just flies out the window whenever it conflicts with an institutional imperative (here, the need to impose boundary maintenance through judging your neighbor). And no one bats an eye.
Second, and here is the real problem, how does bad exegesis and worse thinking still get into our brand new, just-published-this-year curriculum manual? Who is writing this crap? A freshman who wrote that paragraph in an essay in Philosophy 101 would get a D. It’s like a teenager explaining to his parents that he stole something from the store “because he really needed it,” as if that makes it okay. I’m hoping most parents, even most LDS parents, can see through that sort of argument. Whoever wrote the manual can’t. I thought putting President Uchtdorf in charge of curriculum was going to induce some positive change. If Uchtdorf can’t do it, no one can. The curriculum — and the whole LDS teaching apparatus that goes with it — just seems hopelessly misguided at this point. One is better off not reading anything the Church publishes these days. This manual takes away from, rather than adds to, one’s understanding of the scriptures.