It is unfortunate but common of our human nature to condemn. Only reasonably rarely is there a human being born (or developed) for not condemning; for example, a Mohandas Gandhi or a Mother Teresa. Yet, there are some who’re situationally-disposed to, and therefore charged with, skating the fine line, seemingly bound for the work of condemnation a.k.a. the person needing to deliver a rebuke; by function of their role in society.
The condemning rebuke is one of the most castigatingly dangerous and seemingly unforgiveable things that can come out of our mouths—yet, we’ve all been there, letting rip from a heart misaligned to the real needs of the moment. This comes in the form of a condemning look, condemning words, or indeed, condemning actions.
And yet, we forget so easily, it is only the LORD who may condemn. He’s the Judge, not us.
For the person(s) charged with leadership in all manner of places, roles and situations, theirs is to rebuke when necessary, but never ever in a way that could be received by the other person as condemning. And this is a tricky business, for only the person on the receiving end could truly know—only they can determine whether they feel condemned in receiving what is intended as ‘negatively constructive’ feedback.
And this is a veritable Pandora’s Box. People who themselves condemn and self-condemn will feel condemned though they’ve probably not been in reality. It’s a mindset impelled headlong in fear, judgement and consternation. In this, leaders are almost certainly set up to fail, if not for their skilful levels of rapport they necessarily master with each individual. This is such a key, and all the skill of reflective listening, empathy and ethics is brought to bear in the pressure of the moment—underpinned, of course, by the patience of faith.
And those engaging in condemning behaviour are only in effect re-condemning themselves—for they’re living a condemned existence, most often through their own dysfunctioning cognitive patterns spinning themselves out emotionally. What goes around comes around, and uncannily so with regard to condemnation.
So, condemnation is a state that perpetuates itself. Those who feel condemned—for whatever reason—cannot help condemn others; for ‘out of the overflow of their hearts their mouths speak’ (Matt. 12:34).
The lesson in any approach with people, regarding dealing with any matter of discipline and relational discernment, is we must get our messages across proactively and decisively, but in such ways that treat the person entirely respectfully, leaving them with no thoughts of condemnation, from either ourselves or from within themselves (as far as it depends on us).
I guess we’d agree that at times this is near impossible to achieve—yet we must always try!
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.