The other day, my daughter came to me and told me about a YouTube video that she was shown at school. She didn’t know what to think about it, whether it was a good video or a bad video. Whether to like it because everyone else seemed to, or to shun it. We watched it together and immediately I made up my mind about it, but I wanted to have a teaching moment about the importance of judgement.
As an aside, society seems to know one phrase only from the bible, and that is, “don’t judge” (though they don’t seem to know any of the myriad of other verses about judgment from the scriptures). It seems to be the way to crush a conversation, or walk defiantly away from guilt with a quick “don’t you judge me”. It’s what the critical social police throw at you when you comment on strange behaviors and consequences of those actions, though their criticism for judging you is never thought about as they walk off feeling the moral victor. (I’m sure I sound petty right now, and I freely admit that it is a pet peeve of mine).
Yet in all of our conversations about not judging (which, despite all of our lofty “judge not” talk, we do all the time) there should be conversations about how to judge and what to judge – because we are supposed to judge, but we are to judge righteous judgement (John 7:24). How do we do that in a society which calls evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20)? Let’s look into that.
Let’s begin by getting back to my daughter. We watched the video together and then I shared these scriptures with her (Moroni 7: 15-17 emphasis added) –
For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
Good – For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
Bad – But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
So we took the video and discussed it.
Was there a good message? (Yes, it was trying to get the kids to be safe).
Was the information leading up to the message good? (No, it was creepy, about a bunch of ways to die).
How did it make you feel? (Scared, disgusted, creeped out, felt strange inside).
How did the song make you feel? (The same as above).
So, we have one “good” and a bunch of “bads”. Should we judge the video to be good for kids or bad for kids? (Bad).
Even though the message was a good one? (Yes, because there was too much bad to get through to get to the main message).
Now she knows perfectly that she doesn’t need to pretend to like it just because everyone else did. It took away her peace and made her feel creeped out inside. Then we talked about strategies of what to do if it were ever shown again (which thankfully, it wasn’t).
Notice that we didn’t judge whether the people were going to heaven or hell. We judged situations, the media, and consequences. People make mistakes and people can have bad judgement. I can allow her teachers and friends to have an “off” moment. We made decisions about how this child could effectively judge and use her agency to decide what to listen to and what to watch in the future so that she could continue to have peace in her heart (Jeremiah 6:16).
Now are there times when I can judge a person’s actions? Yes. Should those actions have a detrimental effect on me or my loved ones, I can again determine whether I want to be around that behavior (as can my children). Do I forgive, do I hope that they will be better, do I show forth love? Yes. But the scriptures are full of examples in which the good moral people left bad circumstances (Joseph fleeing from Potiphar’s wife [Genesis 39:9-12] for example).
Am I allowed to talk about the consequences of actions? Is that judging? In Joshua 8:33, the prophet was told to separate the people into two groups, one standing on Mount Gerizim and the other group on Mount Ebal. There they read to the people the blessings and cursings that come from the obedience or disobedience of following the law (see Deuteronomy 28). The scriptures are FULL of laws and their fixed blessings and cursings. Which is why it is important to study them, because if we want to be possessors of righteous judgement, we need to understand what the Lord deems as righteous and what He deems as wicked.
We do our children a disservice when we cut off communication and shroud the discussion of consequences with the pacifying doctrine of “don’t judge”, or worse, the insidious teaching of “that will never happen”. If the costs of actions are not discoursed, our children will be spiritually crippled by the heavy burdens brought on by uneducated desires and uniformed choices.
Yes, we do and must judge – actions, circumstances, media, choices. We must teach our children to value actions which lead to blessings and be wary of actions which lead to consequences that would be detrimental to their futures. Even if that means, at times, that we may preach doctrine that is full of “hard things, more than [some] are able to bear” (1 Nephi 16:1-2).
For further study, see this amazing talk by Elder Neal A. Maxwell – Lessons from Laman and Lemuel. (Laman and Lemuel became rebels instead of leaders, resentful instead of righteous—all because of their failure to understand either the character or the purposes of God.)