By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
As a baseball umpire for more than 35 years, I have had more than my share of criticism over the years, I have learned to accept it. It’s part of the game. Everyone who attends a baseball game is an umpire and a critic.
Last week I was umpiring district high school baseball games. In one game, I was the plate umpire. That’s an easy target. I was second guessed, criticized and abused for seven innings. Ironically, the game ended up 1-0. In my experience over three decades of umpiring, a low-scoring game like that means the umpire probably has done a good job — or at least been consistent. Not true for that game. No matter what I called, someone had a different opinion and was not afraid to share it.
I have said it many times. Officiating (especially umpiring) is one of the few professions where you are expected to be perfect when the game begins and get better as it goes along.
Criticism is one reason there is a shortage of sports officials today. High schools, in particular, are facing a shortage of officials. I have seen numerous young officials begin calling baseball or basketball, but give it up because they cannot handle criticism.
Criticism, if used properly, can be constructive. No one is perfect and constructive criticism can be used to make us better and stronger in whatever we do. Winston Churchill once said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
Unfortunately, most criticism is not constructive.
I must confess that in my younger days I did not handle criticism well as an umpire or referee. I would tend to argue with coaches or fans. That is the worst thing an official can do. Over the years I have learned to shut out the noise or criticism, especially from fans in the stands. I don’t give them the pleasure of even glancing their way and giving them the satisfaction they “got under my skin.” And, it works for the most part.
Someone once said that “when we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical.”
Christians, unfortunately, are not immune to criticism — whether it be on the giving end or the receiving end of criticism.
I must be a glutton for punishment. In addition to officiating sports, I edit a paper. That’s another profession where it’s easy to be a target of critics, even when it’s done for a religious organization. Christians are not exempt from being critics. Just ask any pastor or minister you know.
The same goes for editors. I received a notice last week from a long-time subscriber who said “there no longer seems to be an awareness of the pitfalls or problems facing Baptists in general or Tennessee Baptists in particular. They are ignored (in your paper). …”
His solution? He canceled his subscription. That’s his privilege and right, but I am not sure what he was referring to. If anything, the Baptist and Reflector has been more proactive than ever before in dealing with tough issues that our churches and Baptist leaders face on a daily basis.
We have written articles and columns dealing with sexual abuse, domestic violence, abortion, depression, burnout, and the list goes on.
As Christians, we need to be careful with our criticism. Again, criticism can be constructive. Abraham Lincoln said it well, “He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.”
American politician Frank A. Clark observed, “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”
But, as always, Christians have a special obligation to see what Scripture has to say about any topic, including criticism.
Matthew 7:1-2 (HCSB) says it well, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
In Romans 2:1 (HSCB), Paul writes, “Therefore, any of you who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things.”
It’s easy to criticize with an unforgiving, unloving spirit. As Christians, if we need to be critical (and sometimes we do), do so in a loving, Christ-like spirit. Our role as Christians should be to “build up, not tear down.” The wrong word said in the wrong spirit can do a lot of damage. Let’s guard against that.