Last night I spoke to the young people on the topic of “Why are Christians so hypocritical, nasty and judgmental?” as part of a half-termly series we do on apologetics. Here’s the powerpoint if it’s any use:
One of the biggest question people have against God and the Church is “Why are Christians so hypocritical, nasty and judgmental?”
I remember visiting a church where I arrived late, and so sat in the back row. The man leading the meeting halfway through got everyone who was in the back row to stand up. He then got everyone else in the church to turn and face those standing and pray for them that next time they wouldn’t be so lazy and get here on time. Surprisingly I haven’t been back to that church!
People have experienced a lot worse than that – some treatment by the church and Christians has been horrific and heart breaking. Some of you will have very reasonable reasons for not believing because of the church and what it has done to you.
I get your objection and I’m onside with you. Sometimes how we Christians have behaved has been awful. Let’s look at the objections
My objection is not to God but to his so-called followers on earth – paedophile priests, charlatan evangelist millionaires, why does God allow them to do their thing?
When you read in the local paper about a church leader now serving time in prison, and when you read about Councillors and MPs writing to David Cameron saying that because you passed the equal marriage act now great judgment will come on this country; and when people like Young Cho, running the largest church in Korea, just got sentenced to three years in prison for embezzling millions of dollars. When we hear of these things I get it, I understand.
Another objection is having been abused by one church I decided to try another this time with the Church of England when I subsequently came out as a gay person I was rejected – it is quite clear to me that church does not want me, there are members of the church who despite knowing me will not even acknowledge me on the street. Do you know what I get it, and if the church has been a part of that please accept our sincere apologies for that. It is appalling.
I hate to see photos of Christians on marches with slogans and banners that say things like “God hates fags”. It is wrong.
Another objection: why is it that I have more Christian values as a non-Church goer than some so-called Christians? I remember speaking to a young person who said the reason I’m not a Christian is this, my friends condemn me for smoking but they’re sleeping with their boyfriends. Another said this, I’ve a friend called Mary, Mary is a gossiping Christian, I have another friend called Sarah who isn’t a Christian and doesn’t gossip – I’d rather be with Sarah the non-gossiping, non-Christian.
Another objection: if the church is meant to be a place where all can be welcomed and come in why has its actions meant that some people cannot access it for fear as to how they will be perceived in the church. A conversation took place with a sex worker on the street one night, and trying to support this young lady we asked whether or not she’d thought of going to church. She looked incredulous and said why on earth would I think about going to church, I feel bad enough already.
Final objection is this: it’s not so much the idea of God I object to, it is the Christians I have trouble with. Gandhi said this, “I don’t reject your Christ, it’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
You see it is not so surprising that this Christian message, the Gospel message, which means good news doesn’t seem so good news when we see apparent frauds and charlatans saying one thing and living in a completely different way.
I just want to put out some assumptions that many of us carry:
- Firstly, Church is meant to be about love, kindness and tolerance. The subtext is you are meant to accept me for who I am even if that differs from what you believe. And if you don’t like you’re not meant to point it out or show your disapproval.
- Second, Church is meant have a moral compass with integrity, standards, and authenticity. The subtext is you are meant to be beyond approach, practice what you preach. You set a standard and if you don’t live to that standard you get loads of abuse as a result of that.
- Thirdly, all Christians are probably hypocrites.
Now without wanting to offend, I would tend to agree with all those statements, at least in part.
To say all Christians are hypocrites is true some of the time. For me often, if not daily, as a Christian I will pretend to be something I am not. Let me just unravel a little bit of what a hypocrite is and isn’t as I think there is some confusion.
A hypocrite was actually a Greek theatre term. Literally it means a mask wearer. They would be on a stage, with a mask on them, it wasn’t the real them but a character, a persona that they were portraying. In the Bible that Jesus got hold of this theatrical term and completely redefined it. He started to use it in the religious arena as Jesus hated mask wearing religious fakes.
3 ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
In Matthew 23 Jesus said:
13 “I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either.
15 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned.
16-22 “You’re hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, ‘If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious.’ What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands? And what about this piece of trivia: ‘If you shake hands on a promise, that’s nothing; but if you raise your hand that God is your witness, that’s serious’? What ridiculous hairsplitting! What difference does it make whether you shake hands or raise hands? A promise is a promise. What difference does it make if you make your promise inside or outside a house of worship? A promise is a promise. God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless.
23-24 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?
25-26 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.
27-28 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.
So Jesus took this word from the theatre and completely gave it a whole new meaning and the word was never the same. Now imagine how appalling it is now, the very thing that Jesus hated, is the very thing that is so often associated with the movement he came to start. How tragic is that the word hypocrite is a hallmark of the church as though it fits like a hand in a glove?
Now I understand that the fakes, the phoneys and the frauds who live their lives in front of God without even blushing, who publicly condemn others whilst doing the same in private.
Hypocrisy what is it? What is not hypocrisy?
Hypocrisy is not when someone fails your expectation of perfection. Someone falls short of your expected standard. It isn’t about catching out a Christian who says they follow Christ and by making a mistake we say “Ha, you hypocrite”. A Christian making a mistake is not hypocrisy, it’s a mistake!
If you spend any time with me you will realise how far short I fall of the expected standard. The question is does that make me a hypocrite? If being a Christ follower means I have to be perfect then yes I am a hypocrite. However, I don’t think that is the case.
What is the opposite of hypocrisy? It is not perfection but it is authenticity, genuiness, transparency. Living without the mask.
A hypocrite is someone who is pretending to be someone they are not. I reckon we are in danger or prone to this. We often try to be something or someone that we are not. We might put on a persona in order to receive acceptance. Matthew 23, Jesus said everything they do, those hypocrites, is for show.
So if a Christian claims to be perfect, morally superior in anyway then they are being a fake. Jesus’ teaching is this: keep it real, love God, seek God, you don’t have to be perfect, in fact don’t pretend you are perfect as the moment that you pretend that you have got it right that is the moment that hypocrisy comes out.
1 John says “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” A Christian author, Philip Yancey wrote a book ‘What’s so amazing about grace?’ he came to a conclusion that there were two groups of people that Jesus met. The first group was the sinners who knew it and the second group were the sinner who denied it. This first category of people, the sinners who knew it, Jesus spoke grace, love, compassion. To the second group of people, those who sinned and denied it he called them hypocrites, he confronted and he challenged. The Christian life isn’t about pretending we have it altogether. In fact we don’t, and the fact is we’re all in the same boat, all needing treatment, some of us have accepted the treatment Jesus is offering – that’s the only difference.
If you feel tonight that you can’t become a Christian because you’re not perfect then there’s a misunderstanding about what Christianity is about. In fact some people would say I don’t want to become a Christian because I know I can’t be perfect and I know if I cant be perfect that is being hypocritical and I don’t want to be hypocritical therefore I don’t want to be a Christian. That’s upside down and back-to-front thinking as the very essence of what Christianity is about is people who recognise with their hands up to recongise I’m not perfect, there’s so many things in my life which are wrong but do you know what I’m in the process of change.
You might say I can’t become a Christian because I’m carrying a load of baggage. Well welcome to the club, you’ll be struggling just like the rest of us.
When I look back I think I’m more like Jesus now then I was a year ago, or five years ago, and I think that’s replicated in this room. One day I will conquer, but I’m in the process of change and I know my life has changed.
Authenticity is about transparency and honest life change.
If we go back to Mary and Sarah and take a snapchat view, in the eight seconds we want to be with the non-gossip. But we fail through the snapshot to realize where Mary has come from. We don’t know what Mary was a year or five years ago. This issue of gossip might be tiny in comparison with the fact that a few months ago she was an axe-wielding murderer. And we have no idea with Sarah, the non-gossip, what difference Jesus would make if she became a Christian because we just get the snapshot moment.
There’s many a moment where we look and can’t believe in Christianity or Jesus because look at that. We miss out on the transformation that has taken place in millions of peoples lives who are committing themselves genuinely to becoming more like Jesus.
Jesus in Mark 2 :
As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’
We see an upside world with the outcast, the sinners welcomed to eat with Jesus and instead, those with good reputation, the moral reputation, the religious hiding behind the mask are out in the cold.
The world of misfits are invited and welcomed in. It’s like Charlie Bucket getting the Golden Ticket, the invite to the factory. The misfits are invited and then donated the whole factory.
The church community will be messy as we’re full of screwed up people, welcome to the club! It’s no wonder therefore that churches are full of people who say one thing and don’t always mean it. Sometimes we’ll act in a way that isn’t always consistent with the Christian faith because of the nature of the people who come along. People who know they make mistakes but are on a journey of transformation.
But don’t think this is an excuse. Jesus didn’t make things easier, he rose the bar – don’t murder in the Old Testament, he says don’t get angry; don’t commit adultery in the Old Testament, he says I don’t want you looking at that guy like that as you wander down the street as if you’ve already committed adultery in your heart. He raised the bar but he didn’t put in place a perfectionism we couldn’t obtain, he makes a way for us to meet with God.
Sick people need doctors, we all need to remove the mask and get ourselves into recovery. The real issue is Jesus not the people who follow him. I grew up in the 1980s, one of the best bands then was U2, and one of their best songs was Pride in the name of love. Most of you will have no idea who they are let alone the song I’m talking about. Then you hear that some of your mates are playing this song in your school’s Got Talent competition. They massacre the song and you go away and wonder what on earth was all that about. Let me encourage you there are millions of Christians walking around playing a bad replica of who Jesus is. Please don’t get put off by how we have failed because you need to listen and see the original Jesus. Don’t judge the cover version alongside the original it simply cannot compare. Christians will disappoint you, Jesus won’t.
Whatever has happened my plea is look at Jesus, the original, and see what he’s all about.