Christian hypocrisy, again
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The other day, one of my kids asked me why I used my fork a certain way. I was perplexed; I'd never thought about how I held my fork. I asked for an explanation, and immediately, I watched a perfect replica of how I take a bite of food. I was stunned. Wow. It made me realize that my kids are watching me, sometimes, very, very closely.
So I asked, "If you pay this much attention to how I eat, I'll bet you pay even more attention to whether or not I really live as a Christian." The answer? "Yep! You bet I am!"
If you're a Christian, people are examining your life. They're curious: does this person actually live like God is real?
In the American church, we face a crisis of hypocrisy. According to a 2019 Lifeway Research report, the second most common reason young adults stopped regularly attending church was "Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical."
It gives me heartburn, but sadly, there's another scandal every week. In the summer of 2020, I read Dane Ortlund's book Gentle and Lowly. I loved his writing so much that I bought and then mailed copies to numerous friends.
He wrote, "More than this, Christ's "meekness and gentleness," his "patience and moderation," is not peripheral or accidental to who Christ is, as if his truest delights lie elsewhere. This very care, this gentle dealing with all kinds of sinners, is what is most natural to him." Those words refreshed my heart.
So I was deeply grieved to read a news update from an excellent reporter, Emily Belz, in Christianity Today, about Dane Ortlund bullying one of his employees. Belz reports that the "Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR)...found 'substantial evidence' that [Emily Hyland] was fired 'in retaliation for having engaged in prior protected activity.'"
As Hyland explained to CT, she "said she felt bullied, adding that Ortlund disregarded her experience, micromanaged her, and slowly removed her responsibilities."
Belz writes, "Another elder, who has struggled to transition to a new church and asked not to be named, said he felt pushed out of the church after he helped Hyland remove some of her office items from the church following her firing. He said Ortlund was angry with him about helping her move and questioned him extensively about it."
Looking back at Gentle and Lowly, I'm now struck by how Dane ends the book. He writes in the Epilogue,
This is a book about the heart of Christ and of God. But what are we to do with this? The main answer is, nothing. To ask, "Now how do I apply this to my life?" would be a trivialization of the point of this study.
When I first read the book, I thought this was an outstanding commitment to worshiping God. Adoring Christ for who he is, free of any legalism! But now, I have to reconsider. No. This is a truncated theology that damages people.
To study the gentle, humble heart of Christ for 200 pages but decline to apply it to one's life? What a costly decision!
Gentle and Lowly is now discredited because the author illegally retaliated against one of his employees. And got angry with an elder who cared for her. And denied her claims, saying, "the 'reality' was different than Hyland's characterizations."
If only Dane Ortlund had faithfully imitated Christ's gentle and lowly heart! Imagine how much pain could have been spared in Emily Hyland's life. As Hyland told CT, "It was so catastrophic to lose all my Christian community in Naperville."
My heart breaks for all that Emily has suffered. And I’m so sad that the author of Gentle and Lowly proved to be harsh.
There's a colloquial saying, "talk the talk and walk the walk." Our words and lives are intended to be congruent. When we communicate that God is one way, but we are the opposite, what message remains?
We say God is loving, but we hate our political enemies?
We say God is generous, but we give reluctantly?
We say God is true, but we spread conspiracy theories online?
We say God is powerful, but fear motivates our voting?
We say God is holy, but our denominations don't hold pastors accountable?
We say God is light, but accept NDAs in the church?
We say God is good, but cover up sex abuse?
My friend, it needs to add up. 1 John 2:3-6 teaches us,
This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commands. The one who says, "I have come to know him," and yet doesn't keep his commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, truly in him the love of God is made complete. This is how we know we are in him: The one who says he remains in him should walk just as he walked.
Sadly, Christian hypocrisy continues to discredit our witness and our message.
But still, I have excellent news for you: yes, God forgives sinners!
And thank God, he transforms us too!
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