The recent sex scandal involving the head of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell, Jr., his wife, and his “pool boy” / business partner, has made us painfully aware that a certain hypocrisy exists among us in Evangelical circles.
We have leaders who hold others accountable for codes of conduct that they themselves are not willing to abide by. They want us to “do as I say, not as I do.” They get to break all the rules that they force others to live by, while at the same time pretending to live up to what they routinely condemn.
Hypocrisy of course, is not something unique to religious circles. We see it among CEO’s, politicians, and even our parents. Dare I say, we all find ourselves playing the role of hypocrite from time to time. Hypocrites can be found among the every station and walk of life. We can ALL be hypocritical.
Which got me to thinking… how do we become hypocrites in the first place?
What Is A Hypocrite?
The word hypocrite has its origins in the Greek word for “an actor” or “a stage player.” It depicts a person who wears a mask on stage, but puts on a show as if they were what their mask ultimately represents.
In Matthew 23, Jesus pronounced His “eight woes” against the religious leaders of His day. The Lord’s primary beef with them is that they were “make believers.” They taught others a certain religious code, yet frequently found excuses to engage in contradictory conduct. They placed heavy burdens on others, but were not willing to move them so much as an inch. They engaged in good deeds in public, but only as an empty form of publicity. They were blind guides leading the blind, as they pretended to see. They majored in minors and minored in majors. They were whitewashed tombs on the outside, but full of deadness on the inside. They killed the prophets, yet made monuments in their names.
Hypocrisy Begins With “Mental Images” That We Fashion
We all have an image we have of ourselves in our mind. A story we believe about ourselves. And we try to project this image and get others to believe it. We want to be seen as smart, having integrity, being a visionary. And often we are these things. So, we do our best to “sell it,” to others.
A friend of mine on Twitter, Corey Mahan, said that hypocrisy is ultimately about “brand loyalty.”
But as time goes by, that brand needs a little polishing. Something about us changes. We aren’t what we once were. We get tested. There are dents in our armor. We become afraid that we can no longer live up to the thing we said we were. And instead of accepting that, we start make believing. We pretend we are something we are not. And in the end, God exposes us all, like Adam, naked and hiding behind the bushes.
We become nothing more than hypocrites. Sometimes we are keenly aware of our hypocrisy. But other times, we eventually begin to lie to ourselves about it. We “believe our own press,” so to say. We become like cows who don’t believe that their own poop stinks. And the end result, we become hypocrites who act out of sincerity, even as the religious leaders in Jesus’s day did.
Hypocrisy Exists Within Community
I think this is an important point worth making. Hypocrisy can only exist within the greater context of community.
It’s as my friend Daniel Rushing recently told me, hypocrisy exists when we realize there are “other people’s expectations” that we ultimately must live up to. He further said “when you are convinced there is only one way to be you, you can’t ever let anyone know about certain parts of you if they don’t line up with expectations. And it makes you live with some unattainable level of perfection you’ll never be able to reach, so you work hard to project the right image, and you work even harder when that image needs to overshadow your shortcomings.”
Hypocrisy Is Unsustainable– You Will Be Found Out
The terrible thing about hypocrisy, is that while you can get very good at pulling the wool over the eyes of the sheep, eventually, you will be found out.
The apostle Paul said 1 Timothy 5:4 that is a day of judgment for all of us, and for some, our sins precede us. That is, our sins are pretty self evident and people can see them from a mile away. But for others, our sins eventually find us out. Jesus said in Luke 8:12, there is nothing hidden that won’t eventually be exposed. Everything on the inside will eventually come out in the grand scheme of things.
Daniel Rushing further said that this has long been his contention with some mega church pastors. They succeed because they project a certain image, but, in order to continue to be successful they have to keep up appearances. But in doing such, they commit a form of “self-sabotage,” without even realizing it. They are doomed from the beginning and don’t even know it. They are playing a game that they cannot win. For in the end, hypocrisy is unsustainable. We will all be found out.
We see this story play out tragically with King David and his behavior towards Bathsheba, and her husband Uriah. You know the story well. David was playing king, and saw a woman he wanted to take for himself. He got her pregnant. But wanting to hide it all, he tried to cover it up by calling Uriah home from war, hoping he’d sleep with his wife and make it look like he was the father instead of David. And when it was all said and done, David sent Uriah on the front lines of war to die.
But then God put a word in Nathaniel the prophet. Nathaniel told a story about a rich and powerful man that took advantage of a poor man and his cherished lamb. Enraged, David wanted to take action against this man. Then Nathaniel powerfully pointed out, “thou art the man!”
Made In Another Image
So, how do we escape the trap that hypocrisy makes for us?
I believe the only hope of that is to see that we have all been made in the image and likeness of God. And instead of being individuals who must promote a certain “brand loyalty” about ourselves, a story we want others to believe, we must make it a point to cast aside such imaging. Instead, as individuals being made in the image and likeness of God, we must do whatever we can to renew that image inside of us daily.
Only by looking to bear His image can we be liberated from the tyranny of the false image we try to sell others.
And in the context of community, we must take special care that those who we appoint as leaders of our organizations are not only talking the talk, but walking the walk. We must ensure they are men “without guile,” that live up to the very standards they profess, and hold them accountable for failure to do so. And we do this, not only to protect the institutions they run, but to protect these men from destroying themselves.