‘There was incident at school today,’ I said to my mother (to the best of my memory).
Always one for the dramatic I chose that sentence and the longer than natural pause that followed it. I proceeded to tell my mother how a group of boys from school had backed me into a corner full of intent to ‘teach me a lesson.’ You see, I was a hypocrite you see. I, being a good Christian boy who helped lead the Christian Union at school, had taken it upon myself to act as moral guardian to the other boys in my year. I had previously mentioned to the now assembled horde that their behaviour on weekends was sinful drawing particular attention to the fact that they were fond of white cider in the park. As you can tell, I wasn’t always as socially intelligent as I am now. Despite my zeal for holiness and desire to control the behaviour of my peers I had in fact the previous weekend consumed a large percentage of a 3 litre bottle of Ye Olde English Cider, the remaining portion of which found its way to my shirt, jeans and shoes. They were right, I was a hypocrite, my words and actions were out of step. Fortunately I played rugby and before I was ‘taught’ the previously mentioned lesson, some much larger members of the team had arrived and the whole thing fizzled out.
Christians are often on the wrong end of the word hypocrite. I am sure many people who call themselves Christians have experienced that label first hand. What is it about Christianity that attracts that accusation and how can we live our faith in a way that isn’t hypocritical.
I think we need to start by what we are claiming. Whilst a belief in the Christian faith requires a certain level of certainty I think we can portray a certainty that leads to disdain for others. We are well able to speak the language of us and them, the church and the world, the saved and the unsaved. This is not uncommon, this sort of thinking exists in all walks of life. We are at our worst when we don’t just draw lines that divide people into groups but when we give a greater validity to some groups than the other.
I think that the publicly heard voice of Christianity in media and online (which by the way doesn’t reflect the faith of most Christians I know) is one of moral control. Whilst I think there is a place for a Christian perspective on any issue, any call for those not of the Christian faith to live by the codes of the Christian faith are unhelpful. Often Christians make statements about sexual purity, sobriety or social justice, whilst living lives that are below the moral requirement they are putting on society. If we are going to call the whole world to purity we must be pure ourselves; but we all know we aren’t.
If we continue to allow the loud voice of Christianity to be the militant moralist then we will continue to be branded as hypocrites because the gospel is not a message of behavioural holiness but of rescue from repentance from our own brokenness and weakness. Every time I read of Christians publicly condemning people who are not Christians because they don’t live by Christian morality I get sad and angry. Jesus teachings and the teachings of the Epistles are spoken and written to his followers yet we are allowing them to be used as a weapon to castigate those who are not Christians.
If that is our message then yes we are hypocrites but if our message is that we were lost and now we are found, that we were blind and now we see, that we found ourselves in need of rescue and we found that rescue in Jesus then perhaps we are something else. When we acknowledge that the light in our lives is nothing of ourselves but is from Jesus then we can begin to speak a message of grace and hope. Perhaps that message is more important than banning plays and being publicly offended by people who are no different to anyone of us.
We are all dualistic in our aspirations and our behaviours, perhaps the simplest way to avoid hypocrisy is to be open about our vulnerabilities and our reliance on grace to make the grade.