The last attitude of evangelism laid out by Pope Francis is a non-judgmental warmth and welcome. As parents, our children need to know that we love them regardless of what they do. They need to know that they can come to us about anything and that they will be welcomed warmly and without fear of judgment. Evangelism requires dialogue between two people regarding real issues in life – issues like having sex outside of marriage, or becoming pregnant outside of wedlock, or addictions to alcohol, drugs, or video games, etc.. The Good News, the Gospel, needs to be communicated as being relevant to what they experience themselves or to what they see others experience. And, indeed, it is relevant.
If we become known to our children as being judgmental, they may be afraid to come to us when they find themselves being attracted to something (or worse yet, in the middle of something) that they know we have already condemned. As such, our children can find themselves secluded in the family with no one to whom to turn in order to discuss the problem, fearing that mom and dad would judge them. No parent wants that. So, here are a few thoughts on how to cultivate a non-judgmental , warm, and welcoming attitude:
1. Always differentiate between the sinner and the sin. Not being judgmental does not mean not judging actions. We must judge actions – ours and others – in light of the truth, in light of the Gospel. Right and Wrong, Good and Evil can bet attributed to an action. Actions can be judged. However, we ought to hold off judging a person. We can say that an act is objectively wrong or evil. However, we can’t carry it a step further and say that a person is evil because of his or her actions. Love the sinner. Hate the sin. So, how does the look in our parenting? First, at appropriate times and at appropriate ages, we should talk about events from current events, from history, or from movies we watch. Discuss actions of certain people in light of what is true, good, and beautiful. Judge the actions. Then, ask the question, “will that person go to hell for what they did?” Point out that we cannot make that judgment because we don’t know the background from which those people came. What needs to be conveyed is that we still love the person in spite of the sin. If they know we are like this with others, they will hopefully know that we will be like this with them. In order to reinforce this, frequently ask them if they know that there is nothing that they could do that would make us stop loving them.
2. Desire, with God, that all people be saved, particularly sinners. St. Paul puts it this way: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (I Timothy 1:15). He follows with this: “God our Savior … desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4). If we judge a person and believe that that person may be headed towards hell, our response should be to imitate Jesus and form our desire in union with God’s desire – that all might be saved. We should reach out to sinners in love. As parents, we need to make sure that our children know we are sinners. That we fail too. They also need to know that we trust in and rely upon God’s mercy. So, frequent the sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance to make the point. Go as a family to a service during Lent.
3. Be known as someone who always tends to give others the benefit of the doubt. When given a situation where someone’s actions – one of your children’s friends, someone in the news, etc. – are wrong, respond by providing a possible reason that may excuse the person – for example, point to their family of origin or their lack of resources or education. If we’re known for this with other people and we remind them that we love them more than these others, they have evidence that they will not be judged by their parents and that they will be welcomed warmly.
4. Avoid imagining the intentions behind people’s actions or words. This can cause problems for all of us. More often than not we are mistaken about one’s intentions. Even more, as we begin to apply these intentions to the situation, we often increase our anger at the person. Our imaginings lead us to greater judgment of the person. If we avoid it, we will be more welcoming. Again, this example provides our children with further evidence that we will not be judgmental of them whenever they have a problem.
If we work on these four things together with our children, we will move toward what Pope Francis calls a non-judgmental warmth and welcome. We will move closer to living out Evangelical Parenthood.