Thursday, May 14, 2009

Faith Works 5-23-09
Jeff Gill

Who You Calling a Hypocrite?

I am a hypocrite.

There, got that out of the way. Now, what is a hypocrite?

Generally speaking, a hypocrite is someone who says one thing, or stands for one thing, but then does something quite different, usually in opposition to what they claim to represent.

A police officer who breaks laws would be a hypocrite; a firefighter who is an arsonist would certainly be hypocritical; a “family values” politician who is found to be cheating on their spouse would be lucky if hypocrite is the most people call them.

(No, I have nothing to say about “Jon and Kate + 8” and please don’t make me.)

So those would be dramatic and clear-cut examples of hypocritical people. Now what about my admission up top there, in the lead paragraph?

Well, there’s another way of using hypocrite which has some common currency behind it, and that it the more rhetorical, more argumentative way to label someone a hypocrite. That would be saying that if you don’t always and emphatically live up to the best values of a strong, public stance that you take, you are in fair danger of getting tagged as a hypocrite.

If said “family values” pol is so committed to their cause that they travel constantly, hardly know their eight kids’ names (ahem) one from another, and neglect basic parental duties like birthdays and anniversaries, can you call them a hypocrite? Sure. A different sort, perhaps, but hypocritical in degree if not to an extreme.

This past week my wife and I celebrated our 24th year of marriage, and if I said I was not always the best husband I could have been, I doubt that the Lovely Wife would disagree. If I take a strong stand in defense of marriage in public settings – say, in a weekly newspaper column – is that a wee bit hypocritical? Sure. It doesn’t take being a John Edwards to make you less than the husband and father God wants you to be.

When I want to make a comment about the recent news that we’re now up to 4 out of 10 births in the US being “out of wedlock,” I think a decent respect for the opinions of mankind makes me think carefully about what stones I might throw.

And then still say “Folks, does this worry anyone else? ‘Cause it sure does me!” Because being a little less than the angels means I am a sinner who has fallen short of the glory of God, but a sinner who still should say what’s on their heart.

All of which makes me watch and listen in bemusement to the long line of people waiting to take a gleeful pitch of the hypocrite hardball at Miss California USA in the dunk tank of public opinion. Apparently, she’s a hypocrite because she’s said something out of her understanding of where her Christian walk has taken her, but she has a) taken pictures in her foundation garments, b) gotten artificial enhancements of the blessings God already gave her, and c) walked down a runway in a sash.

News flash, folks: yes, some Christians are adamantly against beauty pageants and such, but there are probably more progressive/liberal Christians against them as exploitation of women than there are Christians who think women should wear burkhas. Joke all you want, but I think breast augmentation surgery is doing just fine in Oklahoma and Texas, so where did you get the idea that conservative Christians were against them as a matter of faith?

(I think they represent poor stewardship. See, theology to go, that’s me.)

There is a real insincerity at work when you hear commentary that tries to tell Christians to go back into a ghetto enclave that exists only in the commentator’s mind (and perhaps in their hopes). Ms. CA may be somewhat inarticulate, she may not be politically correct, and she may not be the best preacher I’ll hear this month, but hypocritical is an odd point to make.

Where it comes from, in my hearing, is the use of “hypocrite” as a bludgeon to end debate, to close discussion, to tell people what they can and can’t disagree about. My solution is to simply say as quickly as possible “I know I’m not perfect, but let’s talk about the merits of what I’m proposing, and not whether I’m the best advocate for it.”

Because, you see, I know I’m a hypocrite, but I’m working on it!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he thinks the big debate about marriage is in that 4 of 10 babies born outside of it. Tell him what you think at, or follow “Knapsack”

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