"Judge Not" Cases of Child Murder?

Peter Beck, Professor, Writer

All too often some Christians will say that while they might disagree with something or someone, the biblical admonition to "judge not lest ye be judged" prohibits them from handing down a moral verdict on someone else's behavior. Please. That's not biblical. That's not ethical. That's not helpful. That's an out. That's the proverbial washing of one's hands. That's moral cowardice.

Setting aside the exegetical fact that the command to "judge not" is in the context of eternal judgment, and ignoring the fact that Jesus elsewhere in the same book describes the necessity of church discipline (which requires moral judgment) and displays righteous indignation (clearing of the temple), the argument just doesn't hold water. Are we as Christians to stand aside and assume that we are to have no say in matters of clear moral importance, matters that the Bible clearly addresses?

The recent "not guilty" verdict on Casey Anthony for the murder of her toddler, Caylee, has shocked the nation. Quite a different verdict was handed down in the trial of Kimberly Trenor. Remember that name? Horrifying details of the beating death of her child came out at her trial too. A plastic container was found in Galveston Bay in October 2007. In it were the decomposed remains of what police would come to call Baby Grace. It turns out the body was that of 2-year-old Riley Ann Sawyers. The child had been clearly beaten to death, fractures to her skull causing the mortal wounds.

Her offense? She didn't say "please" and "yes, sir." For that, her mother and husband proceeded to spank the child with a leather belt. They held her head underwater. They pushed her face into a pillow. All the while, she begged for mercy, crying out to her mother, proclaiming her undying love.

The response? The daylong torture session continued. The abuse ended only after Royce Ziegler, Trenor's husband, threw the child across the room and against the wall several times. After allegedly attempting CPR, Ziegler handed the limp child to her mother who set the child down and watched her die, afraid to call for help, afraid of the consequences for her own action. They then purchased a plastic tub and lid. The placed Riley in her Wal-Mart tomb and set her to sea.

Should we just look the other way? Are we Christians to deny our outrage, to suppress our grief? To ignore the righteous indignation and anger that rightly wells up in the bosom of any normal mother or father? All because we're not supposed to judge one another? Give me a break.

These episodes sicken us to our core because we know in our hearts that murder is wrong. The Bible says so. The accounts of Caylee Anthony's and Baby Grace's murders anger us because sin angers God. Our response is part of our human nature. Made in the image of God, that which angers God angers us. As Christians our response should be all the stronger because we now have the Spirit of God living in us.

To look away from violent tragedy, since we cannot overlook it, is to deny the truthfulness and authority of biblical teaching. To claim that "it's not my place" to judge is to ignore Christ's mandate to love the little children, to care for the orphans, and to clothe the unloved.

The government and a body of jurors judged Kimberly Trenor and Royce Ziegler here on earth. Ultimately, God will judge them. Their eternal fate is in His hands. "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord." He can have it. It's His. We cannot exact revenge for Riley or Caylee. That job is entrusted to our government by God and our own submission.

However, I am not to sit idly by and pretend I'm not allowed to evaluate and judge the morality of the behavior that has taken place.

As a Christian, I am to proclaim as loudly as I can that the death of these children is a violation of the loving will of God. That requires judgment.

As a father, I am to teach my children such behavior is unacceptable. That requires judgment.

As a citizen, I am to do my part to make sure it never happens again. That requires judgment.

I don't have a choice. I don't have the convenience of saying "that's not my job" or "that's above my pay grade." I am to call sin "sin." I am to judge between right and wrong. If I don't I am guilty by implication. Remember Peter's accusation on the day of Pentecost: "This Jesus whom you handed over to be crucified (my paraphrase)." Those people in the crowd didn't bind Jesus. They didn't beat Jesus. They didn't crucify Jesus. They stood by and did nothing to stop it. And, they were found guilty by silent association.

"Judge not lest you be judged?" Please. It doesn't apply and it doesn't fly. I am angry. I am grieved. I am morally outraged. As a Christian, I'm supposed to be.

Peter Beck (Ph.D. Southern Seminary) is assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina and a former Senior Pastor.


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