Why are we so quick to judge others?


By Rev. Jon R. Powers

Your Pastor Speaks

The elderly Amish gentlemen stood in front of me, a polite distance away, but with a puzzled look on his face. Slowly, he checked me out from head to foot: first my old straw hat; then my full, somewhat shaggy beard; my white buttoned-up shirt; my old blue jeans; finally my worn out barn boots. Then he looked back up, straight into my eyes, and said softly but firmly, “Yer’re not one of us, now, are ya?!”

No, I was not. I was just a young, rural pastor visiting the local horse auction on my day off. Yet, that cautious question has haunted me for years. I’m not one of you, am I?!

Over my 50 years of chaplaincy – serving in universities, hospitals, jails, schools, local communities, and in other countries and cultures – I have often pondered that powerful question. I have had it asked of me in so many diversely dangerous and contentious circumstances. As a Christian chaplain serving in interfaith settings, I often have been challenged intensely to justify my pastoral relationships with people of distinctly different faith expressions. At such times, I have pondered the harsh fact that, even within what we call “The One Body of Christ,” there are over 45,000 Christian denominations in the world. In recent days, I have pondered even more our world, national, and local scene: weary wars, racial rancor, sexual scorn, and rebarbative religiosity. What possesses us to so quickly and fiercely wall-up others as The Other?

Wall-up?! Yes, that is the sad scenario of our humanity. We wall-up others as if we were the judge, jury, and prison guards, and everyone around us is suspect. We create walls that mumble, and sometimes shout, in harsh and hateful, fearful and forbidding tones: “You’re Not One of Us!”

This all leaves me with a rather Frosty thought these days:

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, (…)

(But) There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it

Where there are cows?

But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.(…)

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down.’”

— “Mending Wall,” by Robert Frost, 1914.

The Rev. Jon R. Powers is chaplain emeritus at Ohio Wesleyan University.

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