What does non-hypocrisy look like?

by Kristin on February 23, 2009

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by Lindsay

In my previous post, What you don’t know can hurt, too, I had a little rant about how our society tends to support upholding appearances, embracing blissful ignorance and judging others. Christians seem to be especially guilty of this, even though Jesus’ life and teachings are in total opposition to such an approach.

Some of my readers said what drives them away from the faith is this rampant hypocrisy among Christians. I know that it’s widely true, and I can’t blame them one bit. I’m exposed to this hypocrisy daily—primarily through what I read on various media—and it drives me running back and forth between deep sadness and complete rage.

But yesterday morning, at my church, I was exposed once again to a very different sort of gathering of people trying to follow God. The couple of hours I spent in that space, with those people, were brimming with justice and mercy, love and forgiveness, brokenness and redemption. This is what keeps me coming back. This is the sort of Christian community I wish more people could be exposed to.

A community striving to put love first

Early in the service, we witnessed a baby dedication. At our church, infants and young children aren’t baptized; instead, the baby’s parents pledge to do their best to pray for the baby and teach him about God, and the congregation pledges to also pray for the baby, love and guide him, and support the parents.

The baby who was being dedicated yesterday is the son of my husband’s ex-wife and her lesbian partner. He’s also my step-daughter’s brother, so he’s a part of our extended family and church community on several levels. (After he was born, my girls were trying to figure out what he was to them—a step-brother-in-law?) However you try to parse that complex relationship, we love him dearly, and watching him be dedicated this morning was very moving.

You see, it was sort of a big deal (even if I wish, on some levels, that it wasn’t). Our church falls somewhere between the conservative “don’t-you-even-think-of-stepping-in-this-sanctuary-if-you’re-gay” churches and the liberal “it’s all good, all the time” approach of denominations like the Universal Church of Christ. As a community, we’ve had our fair share of struggles and conversations surrounding the issue of same sex relationships. Some people have even left the church, as a result.

But there was the sweet, babbling baby with his two moms, his sister, his grandparents and some extended family. There was a whole congregation of people, smiling on him and promising to love and pray for him. And I felt God’s blessings and joy showering down all around as dozens of us went up to surround the baby as he was prayed for. I don’t care if other people out there are so sure that God doesn’t smile on such moments. I flatly disagree.

Learning about justice and mercy by doing it

Then, after the dedication, our pastor Jim shared a teaching about our church’s history addressing issues of mercy and justice. He said (I’m paraphrasing), “We didn’t want to teach our young people about justice just by talking about it. We wanted them to learn by being immersed in it.”

For more than 20 years our church has been regularly sending groups of people, young and old, to one our nation’s poorest counties, in rural Mississippi. They work through Habitat for Humanity, building homes. Through these trips, more than 20 college aged people have returned and spent a year or more volunteering for Habitat.

Yesterday, right after the worship service, our church community put on its annual service auction to raise money for these trips. Award-worthy pies and cheesecakes are auctioned, dinner parties are hosted, hours of babysitting, yard work, salsa dance lessons, zumba classes, and artwork are all offered up.

The auction is organized in such a way that everyone gets to sign up for a dinner party of some sort, which gets different groups of people together, sharing a meal, in one another’s homes. As you probably already know, I love that.

Inching toward a better way

I’m not saying that everyone at my church always gets everything right. We come together, we talk and listen, we pray and sing, we clash and fail and, by God’s grace, sometimes we learn and get it right. Yesterday was one of those days when I really felt like we were inching closer, bit by bit, to a view that’s dead opposite of hypocrisy: God’s kingdom being “on earth, as it is in heaven.”

I’ll leave you with a comment that was left on my previous post. Lori-Lyn was writing about this blog, but I think what she says perfectly sums up how I’m feeling about my church right now:

…My relationship with Christianity is complicated, but I can always come here and feel it as love and grace that does not turn away from the difficult social issues, but meets them full on with compassion.

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  • http://www.jungleoflife.com Lance

    Hi Kristin,

    Grace. It’s what keeps me believing, coming back, and trusting in a God who loves us beyond measure. No matter what.

    So, I love your post today. Because this is where I think too often we stray toward a righteous side that turns ugly. I don’t care whether you are gay or straight. See, I think – even if being gay is indeed a sin (and I’m not ready to fully jump on that bandwagon) – what makes that sin any worse off than the sins I commit – every day. Who am I to judge?

    So, I love that your church is accepting of people no matter who they are or what they do. That is truly the Christian attitude I embrace.

  • http://www.mom-blog.com ginabad

    In reading your post, I am so envious of your church. I battle with Christianity DAILY, I’m still working on accepting what Christ is. In my Bible study last Tuesday I can REALLY close, but I cannot believe that this is the only way or that scripture is literal.

    At the same time, I have to hear talk that infers that Obama is the anti-Christ, and that the world was DEFINITELY created in 6 days, 10,000 years ago, and that science is ungodly. This drives me nuts and it keeps me from arm’s length at people who could be my sisters.

    My old church was conservative-evangelical, but it had a different feel. I cannot explain, but we had the most gifted preacher I’ve ever heard in my life. We try to attend but it’s an hour away and it’s tough, plus we can’t really be part of the community at that distance.

    So I’ve been missing Sundays and that’s fine by me. Sometimes I get a little, but I get way too much of that squirm feeling that made me abandon Catholicism as a kid. Ah well, maybe God is leading me but I’m not sure where. Thank you for your post.

  • Jason

    The scene you depict in your post, a caring congregation supporting this loving family at their child’s dedication, is wonderful. I just wonder, sadly, how many people in the audience would leave those doors and view other people following “that” lifestyle as evil. It’s great that the congregation can come together in support, but if it only works inside the church sanctuary, isn’t that just more hypocrisy?

  • Lorna

    I too was moved yesterday. It was a blessing to be able to participate in that dedication after the rough couple years we went through to get to this place. I was also a bit nervous, knowing this was going to happen, that there would be renewed fallout, but so far have not heard of any. I know I’ve grown in understanding, love, mercy, & justice by being a part of this community. I hope to continue in that growth, because there is always more to learn of God’s grace, kindness, love, and mercy.

  • martinj

    Hypocrisy is an interesting topic.

    I love the irony that culturally in America, hypocrisy is most associated with Christianity, and yet it was Christ who is credited with coining the phrase in a rare moment of spoken frustration. Calling religiously judgmental people hypocrites comes out of our culture, and it has rightfully been turned back on us.

    I think of the many ways I’m a hypocrite.

    Certainly, as a Christian, I’m a hypocrite in the religious/moral sense even though I try not to be. I’m also a hypocrite in wanting to be “green”: I fly to Florida to get out of the cold, I drive well past the ideal cruising speed of my car, and I use disposable diapers. I’d like to say I’m against consumerism, and yet I can see plenty of it in my own house. I’d love to see more people in need be helped, and yet I can easily waste money on a Starbucks. I’d love to say my wife knows I cherish her, but too often I’m too busy with things on my list.

    I wish I wasn’t self-centered, and yet that appears to be my main mode of operation.

    I think we’re all hypocrites. I don’t think I’ve met anyone, religious or secular, who doesn’t have some sort of internal moral conflict. We all are judgmental of the people who cannot live up to the morality that comes easily to us, and outraged by people who can’t offer grace to failures that hit close to home.

    We probably just need to work on extending grace to the people we least want to give it to. (gay people and judgmental Christians included)

  • http://me-unplugged.com stef

    okay, and now i have to know, what church denomination do you go to? (feel free to email me if you don’t wish to post here.)

    i would love to have a place to belong where i don’t feel like i’m constantly being reinforced with the fact that my friends and family members that i know and love are going to be condemned to hell because of their personal quest for happiness (which may include relationships with members of the same sex).

    i’m just curious.

  • http://www.jenx67.com jenx67

    Today, my oldest daughter asked me if her brother (my son) would have a relationship with her sister (her father’s daughter) when they get older. I said, “Yes, of course!”

    You demonstrate what I have always believed about my own divorce and that is this – the end of a marriage is no the end of a family.

    You are living out the love of Christ on the pages of your blog, Kristin. Keep the thoughtful posts coming. I think many people need to hear what you have to say.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Lance, I’m so glad you brought “grace” into the conversation. I often wonder how so many Christians “know” these ideas we were taught in Sunday School—God is love, Amazing Grace, love your neighbor—but don’t really embrace them. I wish I could pinpoint where and why things got so off track.

    ginabad, you are obviously thinking, reflecting, searching, and remaining open. Those are all such important things. I feel quite certain God is leading you to an understanding about him, and a community that embraces that understanding, and who you are. Try to not let the “crazies” distract you from your search!

    Jason, thanks for your comment. I completely see what you’re saying. There is a danger of that. But in this case, my gut tells me that every little bit of progress we’re able to make as a church community—in terms of love and forgiveness and grace—will manage to ripple out in positive ways. I just wish we could see some waves at times, rather than so many almost imperceptible ripples.

    Lorna, you’re so right. We’ve come very far, but there is always more to learn. I have to admit, I was really nervous, too. I get in “mother bear” mode, just knowing that there were probably people in church during the dedication who were feeling uncomfortable and others who were less than supportive about what was going on. All I can hope and pray is that each experience like that one will work to soften people’s hearts, not harden them.

    martinj, you’ve introduced into the conversation some very important ways to examine hypocrisy. I am guilty of all the angles of hypocrisy you brought up, and many more. This is both brilliant and humbling: “We all are judgmental of the people who cannot live up to the morality that comes easily to us, and outraged by people who can’t offer grace to failures that hit close to home. We probably just need to work on extending grace to the people we least want to give it to. (gay people and judgmental Christians included)” I definitely need to practice extending grace to judgmental Christians.

    stef, I hear you. It has taken me a very long time to find a church that fits so well with how my head, heart and soul seem to be wired. The church I go to is a non-denominational church with many Mennonite ties and a whole slew of really good people. Unfortunately, there seems to be no perfect church shopping method, other than praying about it a lot and being open.

    jenx67, thanks for the sweet encouragement. Sometimes I feel like I’m getting too heavy here, but I also feel absolutely convinced that I’m supposed to be writing about these things, so what can I do? :) If I have to live this crazy life, with all of its unexpected twists and turns, I’m at least glad it can all be turned into stories and shared with people who might need to hear them.

  • Alli Butler

    Kristin -

    Your description of a warm, welcoming and loving church family is inspiring and sweet. It’s also nice to know that you and your husband respect your roles (and those of your daughters) in your extended family and that you are able to kindly and respectfully fit together as supporting cast. Bless you all for your efforts.

    I grew up in a church family that I often miss on an elemental level. However, as I grew older and began to form a more liberal mindset I began to wonder how many of my church “family” would welcome me had I wanted to marry a woman, have an abortion, have an interracial relationship, etc. I sought more “Christ-like” people and avoided piousness and hypocrisy and built my own extended “family” of friends and supporters to replace what was once an important (if guilt-driven) part of my life.

    It’s wonderful that you are able to have both of those aspects and find a balance that suits you and your family.

    Your story also draws to mind my dad – who married a lady with three teen-agers in the early 90′s and found himself enjoying a warm friendship with their father – eventually liking his second wife’s ex more than his wife. My dad eventually coined the phrase “you don’t divorce children” and to his dying day referred to his (former) wife’s ex as his “husband-in-law”. He also chose to coin my (then 5-year-old) son’s phrase in referring to his divorce – and would refer to himself as “dis-married.” Kids are wise – let your girls call the new baby what they want – “kin” “kith” “quarter brother” whatever works! As long as you’re all happy and celebrating – why not share the joy? :)

  • http://www.intersectedblog.com Jamie

    Thank you for writing this.

    I’m thinking on it now. I’ll get back to you! =)

  • http://ourbestversion.com Ari Koinuma

    Thanks for this post. As a fellow person with a complicated relationship to Christianity, I related very much to the whole thing. I think our conflict lies in how undeniably we’re fed by our faith, while witnessing deep flaws in the organization and how it tries to misrepresent itself in an effort to impress others to join the church.

    The last quote was spot on.

    ari

  • http://porsidan.com Jay Schryer

    Hi Kristin,

    The parts of Christianity that I like so much (and which seem to get lost so often) are the parts which talk about love. God is love. Love thy neighbor. A lot of Christians (and folks from other religions, too) seem to forget that it’s all about love. Or, at least it *should* be all about love. The scene that you describe has a lot of love in it, and I am sure that God was there, because Love was there. The baby was truly blessed to have been born in such a loving and caring family and community.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Alli, I’m glad the description of my warm and welcoming church was inspiring. I really worry, when I tell happy stories like this, that I will get greedy with the all-too-tempting sugar coating. I try to be realistic about the struggles, while celebrating the good. Our church has had its share of less ideal moments, and I’m sure we will have more. But the redemptive process is just that—a process—and I’m thankful that the people I go to church with are on that path together. (Btw, I loved hearing the story about your dad and his “husband-in-law.” I like the “quarter brother” term, too!)

    Jamie, I’m glad you’re glad, and I’m also glad you’re thinking on it. I’m looking forward to hearing more from you!

    Ari, this is profound: “I think our conflict lies in how undeniably we’re fed by our faith, while witnessing deep flaws in the organization and how it tries to misrepresent itself in an effort to impress others to join the church.” There’s so much imperfection, sin and hypocrisy in every single person, whether or not they live by a faith. The problem, as you point out, lies with how Christians tend to misrepresent themselves (and that, I think, is rooted in how often God is misrepresented in churches).

    Jay, thanks for reading and commenting. You’re so right. Love is the core of the entire Christian faith, but somewhere along the way things got off track. I like engaging in theological discussions and debates quite a bit, but when we get so heavily legalistic about our faith that our interpretation of “rules” trumps love, we’ve completely forgotten why Jesus was sent to us in the first place.

  • Ron Simkins

    Hi Kristin,
    As one of the pastors of the church whose Sunday morning you describe in this blog, I want to say publically how much I love it when someone goes home and really thinks and prays (even writes!) about what occurred when we gather. As is true with everyone in our congregation, at one moment Kristin and I will see things exactly alike, and the next minute we may think we are coming from different planets, but the love and honor for one another as followers of Jesus who are doing our best to be honest and genuine just keeps growing. Jesus provides us a great model for learning faithfulness to God. What a journey! Glad I have the privilege of being on it with you Kristin. — Ron Simkins

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Ron, this willingness to embrace how we’re the same and accept how we’re different is at the heart of what makes our church community unique, I think. Not only is that a unique perspective for a church, but that perspective actually ends up encouraging greater diversity, while always remaining open to conversation and debate. I’m glad to be on the journey with you, too.

    • drvajra

      What drew me out of church was its hypocrisy and HATE. The judeo-christians have exchanged for god Israel, and lost the teachings of Christ. So, the christians hate arabs and muslims on behalf of Israelis and have invaded and killed millions of innocent people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and so on, on flimsy pretexts, such WMD and 911 Terror attack. Now that numerous scientists and intellectuals have come forward and explained that the towers did not crash because of the fire, but because of demolition explosives, we know for sure the arabs did not do it. It more and more looks like the work of our most precious ally, Israel, to get America to destroy arab countries. The leaked emails of Ms. Clinton confirm this.