Many authors have documented that the image of religious people – particularly Christians – held by non-religious people is dominated by the idea of hypocrisy. Southern Baptists were stung a bit recently when an informal poll taken by Thom Rainer resulted in summary description of us as teetotaling-fundamentalist-legalistic-fried-chicken-eating-bingo-parlor-opposing hypocrites.
Governor Mark Sanford earned the “hypocrite” label when it was discovered that he was committing adultery with an Argentine. His “hypocrisy”? Having been married with kids while committing the adultery.
This is not new, of course, as Jesus himself pasted the hypocrite label on the religious leaders of his day.
But it seems that in many cases the label “hypocrite” is thrown on anyone who sins, and who has formerly said, in one fashion or another, that we shouldn’t sin.
But is that hypocrisy? Is Governor Sanford a hypocrite?
Southern Baptists are rightfully called hypocrites when we spend such time and energy on certain sins – gambling, liquor – while completely ignoring others – greed, materialism, idolatry.
Hypocrisy is NOT when a man believes, or even states, that adultery is wrong, and that his covenant with his wife is sacrosanct, yet then commits adultery. That is simply sin. Hypocrisy is not when one believes that false witness is wrong, but then lies about something. That is simply sin.
Hypocrisy is the idea that one can say something is wrong only for others. If Gov. Sanford had explained himself with the claim that what he did wasn’t really adultery (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms Lewinsky”), or that it was alright for governors to do but not citizens, that would be hypocrisy.
If Southern Baptists claim that because they don’t gamble or drink, they have no sin problem, that is hypocrisy. If Southern Baptists claim that liquor is wrong for everyone else, while maintaining a lifestyle of drinking, that is hypocrisy. If Southern Baptists claim that God is not concerned with gluttony, lying, materialism, or adultery (except when Gov. Sanford commits it), that is hypocrisy.