One of the aspects of our fallen human nature is the rush to judgment we often observe, an aspect that has been a part of us since the expulsion from the Garden. Consider Cain’s murder of his brother (Gen. 4:1-8), brought on by a rush to judgment about why God chose Abel’s offering over his which resulted in his envy and rage. What if Cain had asked God why his offering had been rejected (instead of apparently ignoring the Lord’s explanation)? Think about David’s rush to judgment in the hypothetical situation the prophet Nathan presented to him (2 Sam. 12:1-6), spoken with such obvious blindness to his own guilt with Bathsheba and Uriah. And then there’s Peter…but I don’t have enough space to detail his example!
This unflattering aspect of our natures has become exacerbated by the one-two punch of a 24-hour news cycle and instantaneous social media. There has always been a race among the news media to be the first to report a major story, but when one had to wait for a printing or an evening newscast there was some time to attempt to get as many details as possible. That way, the story could be reported with as much confidence as possible. Now, with multiple news outlets running 24-hours a day, there’s a need to fill that time, so if you have a potential story, you run with it as soon as you can. Likewise, the Internet, along with those social media outlets that utilize it, has “instatized” our culture. To wait even a day for a story has become an eternity, and those who opt to withhold their judgment before rushing forward are often left in the dust.
Such was the case recently when a group of Catholic students from a school in Kentucky were at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 18, 2019. While waiting for their busses, the students found themselves in the midst of multiple protests, with one of those protestors approaching them. It was not long until a video was released that purported to show these teenagers mocking and disrespecting a Native American man. Immediately, both news outlets and various pundits began excoriating these teens for their alleged behavior and words, some even going so far as to wish they would die. Because of the overheated rhetoric that was used by those in the news media and on social media, some people even directed threats toward these teenagers, their families, and their school.
Of course, we know now that these events that were so breathlessly reported as hatred and bigotry were simply not so. The video that was released had been edited down to cut out the context of the situation and show the youth in the worst possible light. Once the video as a whole was seen and the teenager at the center of the controversy released a statement explaining what had transpired, a very different picture emerged – and it was not the one that had been previously painted by those who rushed to judgment on the matter.
Proverbs 18:17 says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” This is as true in our everyday life as it is on the national stage. We are often approached by friends and acquaintances who, in their desire to vent or unload their frustrations, tell us their side of a situation, and we are naturally inclined to be sympathetic to what we hear (all the more so if we have a close relationship with the person). The result is that we will rush to judgment against the alleged perpetrator…but we do so long before we take the time to hear their side (indeed, how often do we even try to hear that other side?). Instead, we must heed the words of Scripture and withhold judgment until we have had a chance to hear the full story. Again, we turn to the Proverbs: “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless” (14:16). Just something to think about…