On a regular basis, somebody who’s famous and Christian does something scandalous that leads people to question their values. The obvious current example is the story of Josh Duggar, which came to light this past week and is probably the biggest story to hit the news since the events in Baltimore several weeks ago. On the one hand, it’s sad that the media plays up these stories, often doing so in a cynical way and casting a bad light on Christians in general. On the other hand, though, you can’t really blame them; it really is a big story when someone who’s famous for their flawless morality does something shockingly immoral. Besides, there are plenty of people out there in the general public who are glad to hear things that allow them to accuse Christians of hypocrisy. Sex scandals are just the big news stories; Christians do other unchristian things, too. Look at the comments on pretty much any online article dealing with religion, and you’ll see a number of complaints that basically boil down to the accusation that Christians are unkind, unloving, or unforgiving, when kindness, love, and forgiveness are supposed to be the whole point of Christianity. I sometimes think that the reason people are quick to point out high-profile hypocrisy is because non-Christians are so annoyed by the self-righteous attitude that they perceive Christians as having in less high-profile scenarios. This, sad to say, is evidently what most non-Christians in our culture see when they look at Christians.
But are they right? Are Christians, across the board, hypocritical? In the wake of the latest big-news sex scandal, this has been the topic of a lot of internet discussion. Some Christians have tried very hard to insist that the answer is no, or even to defend the actions of Josh Duggar. That’s just silly; even he himself has come forward and said that what he did was “inexcusable”. A lot of the discussion on social media points out that, for all the attention being given to the sinner in this case, not much is being said about the girls who were affected. I’m going to give the media the benefit of the doubt and assume that this hole in the coverage is protecting the privacy of these girls, but these people on the internet are right to point out that an apology doesn’t undo wrongdoing. Now I have nothing against the Duggar family, I would even go as far to say that their show is the closest thing there is to wholesome reality TV, but there’s no denying the fact that Josh Duggar committed a sin that harmed people. Nor is he the only Christian to do so.
The term “Christian values” is often used to refer to a set of values that varies slightly depending upon who’s speaking, but probably includes rules such modest clothes, no sex outside of marriage, no getting drunk, little or no swearing, and (maybe) conservative political ideals. But Christian morals, as set forth in the Bible, are more specific than that. Jesus says that even something as minor as an insult is a sin punishable by damnation. (Matthew 5:22 ESV: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”) Verses such as Matthew 5:48 and Deuteronomy 18:13 demand perfection. And, as other verses like Romans 3:23 (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”) and Isaiah 53:6 (“All we like sheep have gone astray”) remind us, no one is perfect.
Therefore, yes, Christianity is a religion full of hypocrites. The only way to avoid that fact is to inaccurately redefine sin in order to incorrectly deny that we are sinners. (Something that some people and even some entire denominations do seem to do, but that’s beside the point) Otherwise, it is inevitably true that Christians do not live up to the high moral standards that Christianity says is necessary. It’s true of Josh Duggar, it’s true of politicians who get involved in scandals, it’s true of people who shoplift or commit any kind of violent act, it’s true of anyone who’s ever told a lie or said something mean, and it’s true of everyone who’s ever driven above the speed limit. And no Christian who has any kind of understanding of sin and the Law can deny it.
But Christianity isn’t just a list of impossible moral rules, or a harsh statement against people who break those rules. The sinfulness and hypocrisy of Christian people isn’t the end of the story. Yes, sometimes Christians are guilty of making it sound as if that’s the whole point, but it isn’t. Jesus did more than preach sermons about what it means to be a good person. Jesus paid for all of our sins through his death on the cross. That’s the actual point of Christianity. It’s what ought to come to people’s minds when they hear the word “Christian”, rather than a vague concept of “Christian values” or a cynical criticism of the lack thereof. I think that both Christians and non-Christians have a tendency to forget that Christianity is fundamentally about Christ.
In short, it’s true that Christians are hypocrites in the strictest sense of the word. It’s true that we’re all sinners by the definition of our own religion. Most of us have not committed the kinds of sins that make headlines, but none of us live the kind of flawless, wholesome, godly lives that Christians are supposed to live. We’re sinners, but we’re forgiven sinners.