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The college group in a conservative Southern church faced a dilemma. One of the young women in the group was unmarried and pregnant. The child’s father had denied his responsibility and refused to marry her.

The young woman came from a family of modest means in a small town where everyone soon became aware of her situation. She was uncertain of her family’s willingness or ability to help. She immediately withdrew from school and began to try to make plans for herself and her child. Her needs were long-term and great.

The group of college students, who met together weekly for Bible study and prayer, deliberated about what to do. Some expressed disappointment at the couple’s unwise choices; others bordered on passing judgment. Eventually a few began to suggest things the group might do to help.

The young woman’s closest friend wanted the church to host a baby shower for her, complete with a money tree.

“Wouldn’t that be like rewarding her for what she’s done?” asked one person indignantly.

“We can’t have that at the church, can we?” asked another. “If we do it, we need to do it quietly and at someone’s home.”

For a while, concern over what she had done overshadowed what she needed. For a long time, no one thought to ask, “What would Jesus do?” Although this was long before that phrase became popular in Christian parlance, those in this group might have asked that question first, not last. They were, after all, a Bible study group.

Eventually members of the group got past their righteous indignation, generated some productive ideas and did what they could to help the young woman. They were young and immature, but they should’ve known better. Most of them had been in church all of their lives. They thought they knew the rules, and their friend had broken a major one.

They also knew the stories of Jesus, yet they had somehow missed some of his most important teachings and temporarily bypassed his warning against judging others.

Whether it was rules about eating certain foods, associating with certain people or doing certain things on the Sabbath, Jesus was never afraid to challenge the law and put people’s needs ahead of loyalty to it.

When we must choose between keeping a rule and meeting someone’s need, Jesus said, the choice is simple and clear. People, especially when they’ve stumbled and fallen, need our love and help, not our judgment and condemnation.

While it’s sometimes more difficult to love a person than to keep a rule, it’s always the right thing to do, and it’s a pretty clear gauge of our genuine discipleship. People are more important than rules.

Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.

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