All week long we’ve heard the sad, sordid story of the senator from Idaho who has been accused of hypocrisy because he was allegedly soliciting gay sex even though he voted against gay marriage. Chief among the complaints is that the senator practiced in private what he condemned in public, and that complaint is stretched so that by implication we are led to think that most (many? some? all?) of the leaders of the pro-family conservative movement are similar hypocrites.
Well now. There are several problems with that formulation. First, it is generally agreed that the senator’s conduct has disqualified him from further service in the Senate and that he should immediately resign. That’s the easiest part of the equation. Second, there seems to be some confusion about what constitutes hypocrisy. One source defines it as “the act of pretending to have beliefs, virtues and feelings that one does not truly possess.” The operative word here is “pretending,” which goes back to the original Greek word that meant the mask an actor wore. A hypocrite is play-acting, deliberately pretending to be something that he is not.
Suppose a person believes that homosexuality is morally wrong and that marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples. Let us further suppose that a person holding those beliefs also faces homosexual temptation. And let us say that person at times succumbs to those temptations. Is that person a hypocrite for continuing to vote against same-sex marriage? The answer is no. The problem here is moral weakness, not hypocrisy. Now if such a person then stood up and said, “I have never engaged in homosexual behavior,” he would be both a liar and a hypocrite. But merely committing the sin doesn’t make you a hypocrite. It makes you a sinner.
Nothing is clearer in the Bible than the fundamental truth that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The road to salvation begins with the admission that you are a sinner in need of deliverance from your sins. Even for the Christian whose sin has been forgiven by the blood of Jesus, there remains a continual struggle with inner urges and dark thoughts and all sorts of evil inclinations. Romans 7 applies to all of us all the time. If we say we have no sin, the truth is not in us, and we deceive ourselves. So said the Apostle John in his first epistle. We are hypocrites if we pretend that we are not sinners, and we are fools if we think the temptations of others could never tempt us. Apart from the grace of God, you don’t know what you might or might not do.
Is the church full of hypocrites, as some people like to say? The answer is no. We do have our fair share of hypocrites, but mostly the church is full of weak people, some weaker than others, but all of us are weak in various places, known mostly to ourselves and to our closest friends. Sometimes we stumble and sometimes we fall. The fact that we don’t always live up to what we say we believe doesn’t necessarily make us hypocrites nor does it cancel the truth we proclaim. Our failings prove our weakness and show again why we desperately need God’s grace.
Sin is with us always–until the Last Day when God removes it once and for all. As Luther said, “God’s truth abideth still,” even when it is proclaimed by weak men and women who don’t always live up to what they believe. Only God can determine the genuine hypocrites because only God can read the heart. We are all weak, but we are not all hypocrites. And that’s the bottom line.