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A big reason people doubt Christians? Hypocrisy

When I was in junior high and high school, my family regularly attended a Presbyterian church in my small hometown in northern Illinois.

HypocrisyThe closer I got to high school graduation, the more I seemed to sense a rupture between what the church taught about loving others and about doing justice and the way some members of the church lived their lives.

I'm sure now I was mostly just being a judgmental teenager, but what I labeled hypocrisy began to drive me away from the church. Indeed, once I left for college I spent about a dozen years unattached to the church, though I never lost my hunger for answers to the eternal questions. What I think drove me back to institutional religion and church membership was an eventual recognition that I myself was among the hypocrites and needed help with that.

I thought about all of that as I was reading this Good Faith Media article, which suggests that hypocrisy is a prime reason people today leave the Christian church. It reports this: "Hypocrisy of professed Christians is the leading cause of people doubting the Christian faith, according to a Barna Group report published March 1."

Barna surveyed U.S. adults, presenting them with "14 possible causes that might make them 'doubt Christian beliefs.'" It turned out that what Barna called “the hypocrisy of religious people” was the most common response by religiously unaffiliated people (42 percent) and by non-Christians (24 percent). And it was the second most-common response of Christians (22 percent).

None of this should surprise anyone, although in some ways I might have expected the hypocrisy answer to be held by even larger percentages of each group.

Hypocrisy simply means that someone is living a lie. Or that people don't practice what they preach. Children are especially good at picking up on hypocrisy they find in their parents, as anyone who has ever been a parent knows. In that way, children sometimes serve as a moral compass for parents and grandparents. Or at least a moral alarm bell.

Examples of hypocrisy on the part of supposed Christians are not hard to find. Jesus told his followers to love the little children and to be, in fact, child-like -- not childish. So how then can the child sexual abuse scandal in various faith traditions be explained? It can't. It's hypocrisy run amok. When faith preaches taking care of the poor but the preacher who delivers that message flies around to revivals in his own private jet, it's hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is claiming to follow the God whose image each human being bears but then demonizing some of those humans because of their race, their gender, their economic status or some other phony standard.

And on and on.

We are imperfect people. Each one of us. And inevitably we will do things that seem hypocritical to others. But one purpose of being part of a faith community is to have accountability for how we live our lives. People who love us as part of that community need to notice and call us on our hypocrisy. You can be sure that people outside the faith community are noticing our hypocrisy and many are staying away precisely because of it.

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A recently published report by the International Commission to Combat Religious Racism contends that attacks against others by white supremacists are not rare and that the perpetrators are seldom acting alone, as this RNS story reports. The story also notes this: "The ICCRR report examines racially motivated attacks on places of worship and religious community centers in the United States and Canada. In total, the report includes attacks on 58 places." This is distressing and appalling, of course, but what we don't know is whether this is a one-time surge or a pattern that will be with us for a long time. I don't know the answer to that. What I do know is that white supremacist thinking has been around not forever but for centuries, and it keeps finding bitter fuel to add to the flames it's producing. What seems so hard for many white people, including me, to grasp is that if we're not actively engaged in combatting systemic racism, we are enabling or even encouraging the evil of white supremacy. Silence simply is not an option.


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