The 10% Grace Rule: Judging Without Being Judgmental

10 percentI’m going to say something stupid soon.

No, I don’t know what it will be or when I will say it. If I knew, I’d avoid it.

But I’m going to say something stupid – maybe something I don’t even believe – in an upcoming blog post, tweet, interview or sermon.

It’s happened before. It will happen again.

So will you.

When it happens, I hope people will give both of us the benefit of the doubt and assume the best of us, instead of the worst.

Since I hope to be the beneficiary of such grace, I try to live my life by giving the same grace to others. Even to people I disagree with.

The more you speak or write, the more mistakes you’ll make. It’s unavoidable. Those who put their opinions out for public consumption in blogs, books, sermons, etc., take on a huge risk, because their mistakes will be amplified by the amount of information they’re putting out and by the size of the audience. 

Unfortunately, there are many of us – and way too many in the Christian community – looking for people to trip up. Instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt, they’re very quick to pounce on any misstatement (real or perceived) as the judge, jury and executioner.

But we can’t just nod and smile at untrue, unkind or unChristian statements, either. We need to practice reasonable judgment about what people say and write. Sometimes those statements need to be challenged, lovingly, but firmly.

As always, Jesus said it best. We need to, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” But how do we do that? As Christians and as consumers of content, how do we balance wise discernment with forgiveness and grace?


The 10% Grace Rule

Rick Warren wrote “I think public people should be given a 10% grace factor in everything they say since we all say dumb things eventually.”

Rick is right.

I’ve devised my own inside-out version of Rick’s 10% Grace Rule. It’s a non-scientific, makeshift, filled-with-inaccuracies list of percentages that I use to determine how firmly people should be held accountable for what they say or write – including what I say or write.

And please, don’t offer any silly comments like the ones I’ve read in response to Rick, such as “Oh sure! God gives 100% grace, but Rick Warren is so holy, he’s only going to give 10%!” God’s grace is for salvation. Neither Rick or I have the ability to offer that. Our percentages are about letting stupid statements slide. If you make a complaint like that, you will have used up your 10% grace limit in one shot and you’re on your own.


How Strongly Should We Hold People to What They Say?

99.9% – Statements regularly repeated and backed with actions
We should make this the baseline for judging people’s statements. What have they said and lived over a period of years? What reputation have they earned?

If it’s a life of wise, godly and positive actions and words, don’t let one or two missteps carry more weight than that. But if they’ve lived a life of deceit, even the most noble sounding words need to be received with caution.


99% – Statements written in a published book
It takes a lot of time and energy, plus a team of editors and proofreaders to put out a published book. If it’s bound between covers with their name on it, the author needs to be held responsible for it. It’s what they really believe. Or it’s what they believed at the time they wrote it, anyway.


90% – Statements written in a blog
Blogs aren’t held to as high a standard as a book, because they’re much more off-the-cuff and usually not edited by a third party. In just the 15 months I’ve been blogging. I’ve already had to amend or retract a couple minor statements in blog posts I’ve written. The nice thing about a blog, unlike a published book, is that it can be edited immediately when the error is caught.

I feel comfortable speaking for all my fellow bloggers out there by saying if a blogger makes a stupid statement, then apologizes or withdraws it after the error is pointed out, let it go.


85% – Statements spoken to an audience
I make more mistakes in my preaching than in my blogging for a simple reason. I can write something stupid, notice it, then change it before anyone else ever reads it. But once a stupid statement is made in front of an audience, it’s out there.

Most speakers will catch their error, apologize and move on. And most hearers will be OK with that. But not everyone is so understanding. Some people are looking for any excuse to be offended, especially if the speaker (as in, a politician) is on the other side of an issue.

People have left my church because I misspoke in a sermon. I blew it. I apologized. It wasn’t in keeping with the rest of my reputation, or even the rest of the sermon. But it didn’t matter. If I said it, I must have meant it and that was all they could hear. They’re out the door.

As much as we try to explain it away and wave it off, I know how much it hurts to be judged by something we didn’t mean to say. So I try very hard not to do that to others. Especially if they apologize.


75% – Statements spoken off the cuff
If a public figure says something stupid into a mic that was shoved in their face as they were heading out of a restaurant, come on people! Give them a break!


70% – Statements spoken to a friendly or neutral interviewer
Interviews are delicate animals. Even if the interviewer is not trying to trap you, it’s like trying to have a casual conversation while thousands – even millions – of people are watching.

Think of how many times you’ve said something stupid in a conversation. Now imagine every one of those being recorded and available on the internet for anyone to watch and judge – including people who don’t like you very much.


60% – Statements spoken to an unfriendly interviewer
This is the lion’s den. When a person is being interviewed by someone who’s trying to catch them in a “gotcha” moment, I think the interviewee needs to be given a lot of slack.

Jesus faced some “gotcha” questions from people trying to trip him up (“Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” comes immediately to mind), and he amazed the crowds at how wisely he dealt with them. But only Jesus was Jesus. Everyone else is going to make mistakes – especially in a situation like this.


50% – Statements excerpted in a magazine or blog
Here’s a not-so-secret secret of the publishing world. Magazines and blogs have agendas. They have a point-of-view they want to promote. The more reputable ones try for balance and accuracy, but their agenda still colors how they edit an interview. The other ones just make stuff up.

If the statement seems out of character for the interviewee, it’s likely been skewed beyond all recognition by an editor. They don’t even need to change the words, just mess up the context, and the interviewee seems like they’re saying something they would never have said – and never did say.

The phrase “you can’t believe everything you read” was created for situations like this.


0.1% – Statements quoted by someone who disagrees with them
You know those memes everyone loves? It’s usually an unflattering photo of someone, maybe a politician or other public figure, with a supposed quote from them in big, white block letters. If it was created by someone who doesn’t like the person in the photo and it doesn’t include a link to where the quote originated, it’s a lie. Always.  

I only put this at 0.1% because if I put 0.0%, someone would spend all day on Google to find the one meme in the world that includes an accurate quote, just to prove me wrong.


Context Matters

None of these percentages are meant to give us a free pass to say or writing stupid or hurtful things. For a review of how to avoid doing that, check out my previous post 12 Ways to Disagree Online Without Being a Jerk.

The next time you hear a quote from someone that seems off-the-wall or out of character, don’t judge too quickly. This ought to apply especially to Christians and what we read about fellow believers, but it’s a good rule for everyone.

Before passing it along on Facebook, Twitter or over coffee at Starbucks, take a breath and consider when, why and how it was said. Context makes all the difference.

Be quick to give grace and slow to judge. Someday you’ll need someone to do that for you.


So what do you think? Can you think of any other situations where a person needs to be given some grace in what they say?

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(10% Grade Sign photo from CycleSeven • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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2 thoughts on “The 10% Grace Rule: Judging Without Being Judgmental”

  1. Thank you for the post. I’ve often said “please forgive me for offending you. If I haven’t yet, I will. I don’t try to and I don’t want to, but wait long enough and I will.” The unfortunate reality is that many people seem to be waiting for the opportunity to be offended. This week I received an email from someone who I offended. She remembers me saying something in passing that I am relatively sure I did not say. I THINK she interpreted what I did say in a particular manner, and that is what she remembers me saying. In any case, nearly ten years of ministry to that woman and her family was superceded by an off-hand comment that I don’t even think was actually said.

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