One of the most infuriating things to see in a politician is hypocrisy–to see them condemn others for wrongdoing that they themselves are guilty of; to see them claim the high road when they are transparently walking the low road; to see them condemn others for “flip-flopping” on promises when they themselves are guilty of the same thing.
When, for example, Congressman Devin Nunes claimed recently to be releasing a memo in the interests of transparency, many rose up in anger, protesting that that memo was anything but transparent—that it aimed, in fact, to control the truth for partisan purposes. Others answered the fault-finders, alleging that the yet-to-be-released alternative memo was bound to be guilty of the same alleged offense. Many of us, watching the back-and-forth from outside the beltway (assuming we hadn’t become so jaded by life inside the beltway that we chose to pay no attention), found our ire rising against one camp, or the other, or both.
There are any number of things we can do with the infuriating hypocrisy we see in public life. A particularly appropriate thing to do during Lent is to open ourselves seriously to the likelihood that we are hypocrites ourselves. And an effective way to do this is to ask someone who knows us well to point out at least one specific way that we are not practicing what we preach. We can ask that person to be gentle but to be honest and specific. We will need to choose not to rush to our own defense, even if we think our friend is mistaken. We will need to choose, rather, to take what he tells us to God then and ask God to search us. And we will need to choose to change in whatever ways God makes clear to us.
Years ago, Joel prayed, “Spare your people, O LORD, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” Joel envisioned the mockery of an invading army. Our context is different. We may not face the mockery of an invading army, but we do face the mockery, the dismissal and the cynicism of our neighbors. When our neighbors discover that we are as hypocritical as the people we condemn as hypocrites, it damages their perception of us—and their perception of the gospel. For the sake of not letting the Lord’s heritage become a reproach amongst our neighbors, we must be honest about and aware of the ways in which we have permitted ourselves to be invaded by and held captive to the values of the culture around us, the ways in which we have become as prone to self-centeredness, narcissism, self-advancing spin, and blindness regarding our own culpability as whatever politician we most disdain this week.
When Christians are hypocrites, our message is blunted and our neighbors have every right to say, “Where is their God?”
There is plenty to be judged in our broken political world—and we have an obligation to call those in authority to account. But to do so with sufficient grace, humility, and credibility requires that we ourselves have been brought to account. “Judgement”, Scripture tells us, “begins at the household of God.” (1 Peter 4:17)