Thursday, August 27, 2015

Openly Confessing Our Sins As a Church: The Culture of Hypocrisy

This is my confession of sin on behalf of the Church. It needs some context: the latest scandal surrounding Josh Duggar and website Ashley Madison has some outspoken Christian speakers and bloggers eating their words and issuing confessions that they were too quick to support him and assume he had changed. Blogger Matt Walsh admitted on Facebook he was too easy on Josh Duggar at first and gave too much credit to Duggar's supposed repentance. Then Walsh made an important point:
"I was too easy on the the Duggar parents as well. Jim Bob and Michelle knew that their oldest son was struggling with severe sexual sin, they knew their daughters had been abused, they knew their family was in the midst of moral and spiritual turmoil, yet they STILL decided to put themselves and their children on TV for ten years."
He's right: it is insanity to put your family on display when they are privately struggling with such trauma and sin. But we need to go much farther than that. The whole Church has a confession to make. Here it is: we have created this environment, and we keep recreating it. No, I am not talking about the environment where sexual abuse and adultery happen. That happens in all environments, in all types of homes, all around the world. It is estimated that there were 32 million accounts on Ashley Madison that hackers accessed in their data breach. That means people from all backgrounds, regions, religions, social standing, etc. are among those caught up in the deceitful enticements of adultery. No, the environment I am talking about is the one where people don't deal with their personal failings and sins because they feel they can't get help without exposing themselves as frauds. It's not just the Duggars putting their family on display on television. It's all of us feeling like we have to display our good Christian conduct in front of the world and in front of other Christians.

We are so busy trying to convince the people around us that we are genuine Christians that we end up becoming hypocrites instead. When we bury our sins and try to pretend they don't exist so that we can look like we are living holy lives, we don't achieve holiness and we don't persuade others about Christianity. Instead, we become hypocrites who say they have no sin when in fact we are keeping plenty of sin locked up in the closet. But we worry far too much as a Church that if people see us and can see all our sins openly admitted, they won't think we're any different and won't believe that Christ really is at work in our lives. So we try to give the appearance of a community of good, moral, upstanding people who do our best to look like Jesus and follow His commands. The result is that none of us feel safe admitting we can't keep up the display.

We have created an environment where it is not safe to admit you are losing your own fight for purity or integrity. That is our fault, and it is to our shame. We need to repent as a Church of letting the assumption that being a Christian means you don't have any vulgar sins in your life surround us like an atmosphere. That is an atmosphere of death that suffocates genuine Christian faith. It is a poisonous gas that attacks the Gospel. It sends the message that your good moral behavior is more important than sincere faith in Christ and a desire to submit your life to Him. And it is exactly the atmosphere that leads people like Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar to put their whole family on display on television even while there is horrible and traumatic sexual sin being hidden behind closed doors.

When you send the message to your children that they have to appear a certain way in order to show the world that they're Christians, you send the message that appearances are more important than truth. That's the root of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy thrives on thinking what's expected of you is showing the right face and the right public behavior to other people, no matter what's happening inside you. It creates a dual life where who you really are in private doesn't match what you say in public, and soon you don't really believe what you say in public at all. At least, you sure don't live like it. That is exactly what Jesus rebuked in the lives of the Pharisees:
"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.'" (Matthew 23:1-3 ESV)"They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues[.]" (Matthew 23:5-6 ESV)“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean." (Matthew 23:25-26 ESV)“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matthew 23:27-28 ESV)
The warped impression that you have to make your public life look good in order to be a good Christian didn't just affect the Duggar kids, either. I am sure it affected the parents and their decisions too. In fairness, they probably thought they were doing something good for the Church by putting their family on television. They probably wanted to promote the faith that had been a blessing in their lives and show the good things about Christianity that they were thankful to be a part of. They probably thought it would serve the Church. I am making some inferences here, but my experience has been that people rarely have wholly vain or self-absorbed motives for doing things like what the Duggars did. It's not like being on Big Brother or Survivor. Their mission was to show off a Christian family. But they had the tragic idea that they needed to do that publicly even when their kids were falling apart and deeply wounded in private. They probably thought it would be unfaithful to the Church for them to turn the opportunity down.

We have to reckon with our sins as a Church and dismantle the church culture that makes people think they need to do this. We have to renounce the implied expectation that even when you are failing privately, you must show good Christian character and speak confident Christian truth publicly. If we care about authentic faith, then it must be okay within the Church for a person to say: "My life is a wreck. I don't think I should put on the appearance of a 'good Christian kid.' I need help, and I need people to respond to my wounds and guilt instead of expecting me to respond to their expectations."

The Church as a whole has to agree together that it is okay to be honest about our failures and our sins. We must agree that we are not Jesus. It is not our job to look like Jesus. That is impossible. Our mission is to begin to become like Jesus, but at the same time learn the humility to admit we are only 10% like Jesus and still 90% corrupt and broken and double-minded and tempted by sinful desires. We must value sincerity over a good appearance. Until we do that, we will not produce Christian community. We will produce a culture of hypocrites instead.