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Headlines and hypocrites

It seems that hardly a week goes by without some high profile person who professes faith in Christ getting caught in an embarrassing scandal. It might have to do with sexual immorality, financial irregularities, substance abuse, or something else. It dominates the news cycle while the enemies of faith have a field day reminding everyone of the hypocrisy of Christians. Meanwhile, the Christian community winces, hangs its head, and wonders how long it will be until the next episode.

There’s more to be done than this!

The bad news is that as humans, Christians will continue to struggle with sin and immaturity. This is true for even the most dedicated. No one would think of questioning the commitment of Abraham, David, or Peter, and yet all of them had their moments of weakness and failure. The good news is that there are things we can do to lessen these occurrences and help us see them for what they are.
What are they?

Make sure we have role models rather than celebrities.

Role models are flawed people who nonetheless help point the way for us by their attitudes and actions. Celebrities are caricatures of people we often elevate to a height where no person is supposed to be and then act surprised when they come tumbling down. We could learn a lesson from Paul who told others to follow his example as He followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Note the recognition of limitation in his words. Paul understood he was far from perfect, so rather than say "Follow me," he said, "Follow me as I follow Him." There’s wisdom in those words that we need to learn and apply. Let’s have a realistic view of one another --- even if the world doesn't.

Make sure our assessments are substantive rather than superficial.

The fact that someone fell is not the whole story. How hard did they struggle before they fell? How hard did they try to get out of the sin once they were in it? Did they make continued efforts to resist or did they make continued efforts to cover-up a dual life? None of this changes the fact that what they did was wrong, but they are mitigating factors that should make it into our assessment even if they don’t make it into the headlines. It takes little effort to label someone a "hypocrite" or "inconsistent." It takes something more to understand the circumstances and be discerning, judicious, and merciful. 
Make sure our assessments are from the perspective of community rather than the individual.
We tend to make our judgments about individuals in isolation of others as if they lived in a laboratory. Instead, we need to understand that the failure of a disciple is to some degree the failure of the community of disciples.  Did the believers around the person who fell offer their support, counsel, and rebuke to them when they needed it? (In other words, did they provide all of the things that the fallen person will now get in their post-sin counseling and maintenance?). Or, was the person isolated and put on a pedestal where it became easier for them to topple over? It’s not the whole story and it doesn't remove personal responsibility, but there’s always a community aspect to be considered.
Make sure we understand the difference between hypocrisy and weakness.
Hypocrisy is commonly defined as "saying one thing and doing another." If that is so, then we’re all hypocrites and calling someone a hypocrite is like calling them human. No, I think we use the term to underscore the insincerity and duplicity of someone. Hypocrisy involves intent, deceit, and appearance. The hypocrite has no intention of doing what they said because they want to deceive others about some aspect of their appearance.  The weak person fails to do what they said while the hypocrite was never planning to do what they said.  It is the difference between Peter and Judas.  Peter wasn't planning on denying Jesus but he nonetheless did (Matthew 26:31ff). Judas pretended to be loyal to Jesus at the Passover Supper even though he had already made plans to betray Him (Matthew 26:14-16,25).

Headlines will come and charges of hypocrisy will be made.  May we look deeper, be realistic about our role models, supply them with the support of community, and always keep our eyes on Jesus.

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