“Who am I to judge?”
A few weeks ago, flying back from World Youth Day, Pope Francis was asked by a journalist about his attitude towards the gay priests. “Who am I to judge?” was his reply. On an equally difficult question (divorced and remarried Catholics) he said: “Mercy is a larger theme than the question you raise… This is a time of mercy… If the Lord never tires of forgiving, we do not have any other path than this one.”
The Christian community has a reputation for precisely the opposite: for judging, for setting high moral standards and then publicly condemning those who fall beneath them. But does our faith give us permission to judge? How should we react to the failings of others, especially sexual failings?
The question of sex in public life never seems to go away. Recently we have seen a sex scandal involving COSATU leader, Zwelinzima Vavi. He has admitted that he slept with his secretary and on M-Net’s Carte Blanche has apologised for the pain he caused his wife and family. The union federation he leads finds itself divided: some in support of him and some against him. But he has a wider political role beyond the unions because of his public opposition to e-tolling. Some are claiming that the moral backlash against him is an orchestrated political campaign.
It was only 7 years ago that another politician in our country – then not yet President – admitted to having had sex with a much younger woman whom he knew to be HIV+. He was cleared of charges of rape. But his claim that he used a shower to cleanse himself of the virus still shocks us for the dangerous message it sent especially to our young people.
Sex scandals are not new. 3,000 years ago, the Lord’s chosen one, King David, wanted Bathsheba for himself and so he had her husband Uriah the Hittite killed in battle (2 Samuel 11: 5-27). But when the Prophet Nathan visited, David repented and admitted he had sinned against God. King David is part of a long line of politicians throughout history who have been entrusted with seats of power and then find themselves involved in immoral acts. They show themselves to be human beings with human struggles.
I do not think there is any easy answer to this. In Psalm 139: 24 we are told to “see if my way is crooked” and certainly there is a need to help society recognise wrong-doing. But when Jesus is faced with a crowd of people publicly condemning (and stoning) a woman who has been caught in adultery he famously challenges the person who is without sin to cast the first stone (Jn 8:1-11). Jesus’ words to the woman find an echo in what Pope Francis said: “Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
It is telling that the each member of the crowd fell away ‘starting with the oldest’. As we rush to judge others are we willing to start by judging ourselves?