Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Christian and Secular Hypocrisy


The coverage of the 2016 scandal at Ole Miss is a good illustration of the damage Christian hypocrisy can do. But it also goes to show that there are non-Christians who want to see the worst in believers and refuse to see what the faith is really all about. The followers of Jesus are not perfect. They are redeemed. We are still held accountable for our mistakes, but the fact that we call for a high moral standard does not make us unforgivable when we sometimes fail to achieve it. God knows that. It would be nice if our adversaries could grasp that, because then they might see the value in salvation, as well.

A few months ago, SB Nation published an interesting documentary by Steven Godfrey on the 2016 scandal in the University of Mississippi football program. The short version is that Ole Miss made under-the-table payments to prospective players. The NCAA punished the program, but the documentarian makes it a point to show that the NCAA intentionally ignored similar violations at other schools. As a result, the story ends up being more about the systemic failures of collegiate sports and the association’s desire to sweep them under the rug by making the occasional example out of especially egregious offenders. It is also stated, in a roundabout way, that these problems could mostly be fixed if colleges would just pay their athletes.

Though it was all intriguing and I even agree with a few of the points Godfrey was trying to make, that is not what has stuck with me the most. What I have been pondering in the weeks since I saw it is the documentary’s treatment of Ole Miss’ head coach, Hugh Freeze.

The Portrait of Hugh Freeze

By the time the film is over, you are left with a pretty clear picture of Freeze. He initially seemed to have a genius for recruiting, but it turned out just to be purchasing power. He never handled any cash himself, having subordinates and boosters do his dirty work. He topped off his professional scandal with a personal one by being discovered to have called escort services from his work phone. He is also a Christian.

Godfrey goes to great lengths to not let you forget this last point. Practically every time he mentioned Freeze, he also mentioned Freeze’s faith. Each time he did so you could sense the derision dripping from his lips. Considering that he basically says coaches like Freeze should have the right to make these payments, it comes off as a bit contradictory. But Freeze was very forward about his Christian morality before everything came out, so Godfrey is obviously more interested in pointing out the hypocrisy than in saying whether it was really right or wrong.

He is not alone in that. While doing some research for this article, I came across one by Kyle Koster at The Big Lead. It concerned the fact that, after almost two years out of coaching, Freeze has now been hired by Liberty University. Koster obviously has as much of a problem with Freeze as Godfrey does, saying

Freeze can do whatever he wants to in his free time. It’s none of my business. But how do these people conduct themselves in this manner without busting into a fire of hypocrisy and shame? Doesn’t it, on some level, feel dirty? Where is the self-awareness[?]… Freeze and Liberty are a perfect fit. In no way is that a compliment.

So Koster is explicit. He does not have a problem with what Freeze did. What he hates is the hypocrisy. And that is what strikes me. The same people who have no real problem with cheating, whether in your organization or on your wife, see hypocrisy as an unforgivable sin worthy of hellfire.

Viewing Hypocrisy

Or no, that’s not quite right, is it? Hypocrisy itself is too human a trait to really be "under the ban". These sports writers do not call it out every time they see it, or they would have nothing else to do. Instead, they reserve their righteous indignation for Christian hypocrisy specifically.

Do you really think that has anything to do with hypocrisy being wrong? Let me state for the record, it is. Jesus is crystal clear about that (Matt. 7:1–5). But in that case, everyone deserves to be held accountable for it (and yes, everyone does deserve it). So why do these journalists have the ire up for Hugh Freeze? It is because, at least as far as they are concerned, he made himself a target. By being public about his faith, a faith that says there is a difference between right and wrong, he discomfited people who see no problem with prostitution and fraud. He has a standard they hate, and so they enjoy laughing at him when he fails to live up to it.

This is something I would love to see change, even though I know it never will. Society looks at us as posturing like we are perfect, so when we turn out not to be perfect, it gives them fodder to tear us down. And I think there is fault for that on both sides. Christians absolutely have to be wary of our hypocrisy, and of how it reflects on Jesus. But I also think nonbelievers could be better at understanding how Christianity actually works.

Understanding Christianity

There is a tension in the Christian faith that secular culture just does not grasp. On the one hand, we are told to “Be perfect… as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) and “do works worthy of repentance” (Acts 26:20). But on the other we see passages saying things like “I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do” (Rom. 7:19) and “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous one” (1 John 2:1). This is the message the Christianity is all about, but we are failing to tell it and the world seems desperate not to understand it.

Should we be good? Obviously. Are we always good? Obviously not. What can we do about it? Nothing on our own. Can anyone else? Yes, Jesus has. What should we do because He has? Accept His offer of forgiveness, then strive to be like Him out of gratitude.

The world hates these questions and the corresponding answers. People do not like to be reminded that they have erred, that they have a standard to live up to and someone else to whom they are accountable. They think that if they ignore it, it will go away. I am convinced they despise Christians because we are a reminder of that standard. Then they mock us for failing to achieve it, but that is because they miss the point. It is achieved for us. We keep reaching for it anyway because we love God for paying the price we couldn’t. These people consider themselves progressive and enlightened, but what could be more judgmental than demanding absolute perfection from another human being after God has forgiven them?

Avoiding Hypocrisy

Christians don’t do themselves any favors, of course. We put a lot of effort into pretending we don’t have flaws and into covering them up. Then, we criticize others for what we ignore in ourselves. That is the biblical definition of hypocrisy we need to avoid. But let’s not get it twisted. That does not mean we should stop criticizing (lovingly, not cruelly). It means we should stop ignoring. Sin needs to be confronted because that is the only way to recognize the need for salvation. But seeing the need is an ongoing process. If we pretend the moment of salvation is the end of it, that we are instantly cured and there is no more need for growth, then we stagnate. When the world sees us doing that, we are giving them the ammunition to keep firing at us.

Nonbelievers should stop feigning shock when Christians mess up. Christians should stop acting like they never mess up. Neither performance comes off as believable. And that is ironic, considering the root of the word "hypocrite." It comes from the Greek word hypokrites, meaning an actor on stage and specifically referring to the many masks they would wear over the course of a performance. In other words, the face you show the world is different than your true self. Secularists pretending to be incensed and Christians pretending to be flawless both fit the bill. If we could just stay focused on the truth of what Jesus has done, everyone would be much better off.

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