No other part of the Gospel is as challenging, or as difficult, or as important, as these words are for people doing pro-life work.

The call to be non-judgmental lies at the very heart of Jesus’ message. As the Messiah, he spent time with and dined with the notorious sinners of his day, including prostitutes and tax collectors. At the same time, he had some strong words of condemnation—and they were directed at the pious and religiously devout of his day, the Pharisees.

All of that should make those of us who are pro-life more than just a little bit uncomfortable. It is important to consider what it means for us.

As pro-life people, we are in the very delicate position of declaring that abortion, a common event in the community around us, is in fact evil. It is a rather delicate task to be taken on by a group of people dedicated to not judging others.

Other social justice movements also involve people in making judgments about the wickedness of human actions. When the anti-war demonstrators of the 1960s chanted “Hey, Hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” they were certainly being judgmental. But such anti-war slogans really reflected upon only the handful of political leaders who were responsible for the war effort—people the demonstrators would never meet in person. Such political leaders, known only through the media, are symbols and figures.

The judgment that abortion is wrong, however, reflects upon the millions of people in our society who have had a direct involvement in abortion. These are flesh and blood individuals whom we encounter in our daily lives.

Opposition to the pro-life movement often has a sharpness and a bitterness to it. Some of that may be due to the guilt borne by those who have been involved in abortion. Some of it, however, may be our own doing. If our message comes across as a judgmental one, or if we are heard condemning others as evil, we guarantee that opposition to us will be strident, bitter and automatic.

We cannot know and we cannot judge what is in the heart of those who have been involved in abortion. Many are the women who have chosen abortion out of weakness, a sense of despair and desperation. Many are the women who have chosen abortion out of a kind of compassion, the protect the father of the child or to spare the unborn child anguish. Such compassion, however misguided, can be sincere and heartfelt.

The methods which are offered to avoid being judgmental are sometimes of little help. Take for instance the ancient aphorism, “hate the sin and love the sinner.” It can easily become a disguise for old-fashioned judgmentalism.

In day to day life we collapse the distinction between what somebody does and what they are. A good person for us is someone who does good. We would find it positively weird for someone to say, “So and so does much evil, he is a very good person.”

That is the problem I have with the idea of “hating” abortion while we love the persons involved. It just seems too fine a distinction to be carried out in practice. To go about hating abortion will surely lead us to judge the persons involved in abortion as bad. I wonder why we should go about “hating” abortion or anything else for that matter. Abortion is a cause for sadness, a terrible loss and an evil, but I can’t say that I have ever thought of “hating” abortion. It is not necessary to hate something to see it as evil.

I don’t have a simple answer as to how we are to oppose abortion and at the same time avoid judgment of others and avoid having people feel that they are being judged. I do know it is a central challenge for every person active in the pro-life movement.

Being judgmental represents a threat to our efforts to protect the unborn and a threat to our spiritual well-being. As pro-life people we need to look at ourselves, frequently and candidly. We also need to discuss the issue.