Richard Reeves recently wrote that what many of President Clinton’s critics hate most is "what they see as his...hypocrisy." He elaborates: "What [they] hate most is photographs of Clinton coming out of church, wife, daughter and Bible in hand—looking for all the world like one of them, a Baptist image of the perfect and devout Christian family. It kills them to see that Sunday ritual."
No doubt about it, hypocrisy has a bad name. Many would hold to the Dutch proverb: "Better to be a sinner than a hypocrite."
I think we may be a little too hasty and severe in our criticism of hypocrites. After all, hypocrisy has its good side. Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld wrote: "Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue." At least the hypocrite knows that he or she should be better.
C. S. Lewis pointed out that all pretense is not bad: "There is a bad kind, where the pretense is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were...Let us pretend in order to make the pretence into a reality."
And what about us professional Christians? I agree with the often repeated statement that a preacher should practice what he preaches. On the other hand, a congregation has a mighty poor preacher who preaches only what he practices. I hope to provide a good example, but I call people to follow a higher example than me. I call for them to follow Christ.
Maybe your resolution for the new year should be to risk being more of a hypocrite—act better than you are.
Another good resolution would be to attend church more regularly and heed the words of Arthur Adams: "Don’t stay away from church because there are so many hypocrites. There’s always room for one more."
©1998 C. David Hess