I’ve been thinking a lot about the charges of hypocrisy levied against Christians lately. Not that it’s new, but it seems there are several things that are in the news where Christians feel pitted against society at large in regards to high-profile issues. I’m sure you can think of several on your own, and I don’t feel the need to go into each individually in order to make my point here, which is to say that, while Christians can be hypocritical, publicly stating their beliefs and living them out is not, in fact, a case of an attitude of hypocrisy.
Usually, when Christians say, “I do not support your efforts to do X because it is against my beliefs,” there is a growing portions of the population – a portion that might be in the minority, but very loud nonetheless – who shouts, “But you’re a Christian! You’re called to LOVE everyone! You’re being a hypocrite by being against me!”
It really doesn’t take much to see the fallacy of this kind of statement. Most Christians would not say, “You’re a horrible person because you don’t agree with me,” or even “You’re going to Hell because you support X.” (I admit there are some who do this, but most Christians would not engage in that kind of rhetoric, for it is an un-Christian thing to pass judgement on another person’s soul.) What Christians are trying to do is the exact opposite of hypocrisy: they are trying to live out their stated beliefs rather than pay lip service to a particular church or doctrine, then turn around and say that, really, those things their faith teaches are sinful are not really sinful.
Now let us take a very public and recent example: Mr. Cathy, son of the founder of Chick-Fil-A and current president and COO of the company. He’s a Christian, proudly so, and has even kept the tradition of closing his business on Sundays to keep the Lord’s Day holy (one of the Ten Commandments). In an interview with a Baptist publication, he mentioned his support for the Biblically-based definition (which has been the socially-acceptable definition) of marriage: one man joined to one woman for a lifetime under the holy bonds of Matrimony, a promise before God to live as one flesh for the rest of your days. Somehow, this was picked up by a secular source, and his quote was pulled out of context and edited (and the editing is key here) in an effort to make it look bad. Honestly, even the edited quote didn’t look bad to me, but I’m a Christian, so it’s hard for me to imagine why his personal beliefs (not any operating guidelines for his business) would be objectionable. We are, after all, still a free country, and people have differing beliefs. I’m told constantly that’s what makes America great: we can be of differing beliefs and still live together in harmony.
But lately, there is little harmony, and a small faction in our great country has taken offense that some Christian believes different things than they do. And someone, somewhere, decided that Chick-Fil-A, a lovely little family-owned company who gives every employee Sunday off, should somehow be punished. And cries of “intolerance!” and “hypocrite!” came out.
What’s funny is that the definition of hypocrisy is not living out your stated beliefs. Mr. Cathy’s stated beliefs are that marriage is between a man and a woman for life. He and his fellow founders are happily married to their wives – their first wives, he stressed – and are joyfully living out their Christian vocations.
But what those who criticize Mr. Cathy are saying is that as a Christian, he’s commanded to love his neighbor, and to these detractors, Mr. Cathy’s non-support of their views is tantamount to hatred. “How can he love me and say that what I do is wrong?”
First of all, the simplest thing here is to point out that he’s not saying he hates anyone; he has simply reiterated his Christian faith. Seriously, we’re talking about a company that is closed on Sundays and gives out Veggie Tales toys and books. Is anyone surprised that he would vocalize Christian ideals?
Second, let’s take a look at the idea of love carefully. Love is wanting the best for someone – it’s more than an emotion, it’s an action. It’s taking action that the best is provided for the one you love, or that you help that person achieve what is best for him. So a Christian has a strong sense of duty towards those he loves to help them have and do what is best for them.
For a Christian, what is the best thing you can want for someone? Heaven. And getting there involves accepting God’s gift of faith and living a virtuous life in demonstration of that great gift.
Let’s step away from Christianity for a moment, and take the view of a parent and his child. A parent loves his child and wants the best for that child. Sometimes, wanting the best means saying no to her. If my daughter wants to eat a snack 30 minutes before dinner hits the table, the best thing I can do for her is to deny that request. If I have a little one who is running into the street, the best thing I can do is to prevent that from happening and punish that child for the action (even if she doesn’t understand it). I do not love my children less for punishing them for running into a street or sticking a butter knife into an electrical socket. I do not love my children any less for telling them that they can’t eat an ice cream sandwich before dinner. And I don’t love my children less for teaching them the family rules and then enforcing them. Do I want to punish my child for lying by preventing him from playing on a sports team one season? No. Even though the punishment is levied at the child, it’s no picnic for the rest of us, either. But I do it out of love because it will, in the end, help my children grow to be better people.
And the same goes for Christians. A Christian is called to love, but a Christian is also called to Truth. Not a changing truth, not a truth that’s relative depending on who you ask (for these two latter things are not, in fact, Truth). Truth is unchanging, and a Christian knows this. And a Christian who loves wants only the best for his neighbor, no matter who the neighbor is. A Christian, out of love, will love their neighbor but will not condone his neighbor’s sin. A Christian, out of love, will proclaim the truth, just as a parent, out of love, will be truthful with his children and tell them the truth that running in the street is dangerous, that you shouldn’t eat ice cream just before dinner, and that you cannot tell lies to people.
A Christian can, indeed, proclaim their faith and still love their neighbors despite their sins. After all, Christians all sin – every last one of us. Not turning a blind eye to sin is what makes Christians not be hypocritical! Speaking about our faith (especially when asked about it) is not hypocritical or hateful, but is honest and truthful. And calling people to abandon their sins for better things – namely Heaven – is the greatest form of love we can have. Tolerance is one thing, condoning of action is completely different.
What needs to happen is for people who dislike Christian beliefs to stop misusing the words “hate” and “hypocrite” when what they really mean is “I don’t agree with you.”
We could all do with a little less victimhood mentality in our culture. And a little more tolerance of people’s beliefs.