They’re telling us that the reputation of Christians, especially among young folks, isn’t good. To them we are, among other things, hypocrites. Why do they see us that way, and what, if anything, can we do about it? Does it matter? I think it does. It says something about us, about they culture in which we live, and about the people that, hopefully, we want to reach.
We Christians are often our biggest problem. If we were what our God wanted us to be, our reputation would largely speak for itself, and speak well of our Savior. Are we the hypocrites they think we are? I am afraid that many of us are. All of us are sometimes, in some ways; that’s what it means to be a sinner. Sinners saved by grace still sin, as Paul notes (Romans 5:1-5), and sin makes us hypocrites. It doesn’t help when prominent Christians fall, as they have and will. Ted Haggard was a recent example, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were 20 years ago, and King David was in Bible times. Their failures are not proof of a failing in our beliefs; their forgiveness are proof of the power of grace and an opportunity, if we take it, to explain what the God of real Christianity is all about.
Most of us are not the hypocrites they think we are. Most people don’t know what a genuine Christian is. They may have never met the real deal, nor have they likely had our faith properly explained. We are not accountable to what they think we are supposed to be, but they have no other measure if we never give them one. If we are too insular or exclusive, if we relate only to other Christians and never make meaningful contacts with
nonbelievers, then it’s our fault when they misunderstand us. If we act like members of a secret society, who never tell outsiders their secrets, then that, too, is our failing.
Two words should jump to people’s minds when they hear the word Christian—love and grace. Our dealings with people should be so filled with kindness, patience, compassion, consideration, and attentiveness that “Christian” becomes synonymous with love, that indeed we redefine love for them, for most don’t really know what love is. Our conversation should convey grace, both implicitly and explicitly when possible. A gracious manner will earn us opportunities to convey the meaning of grace, as exemplified by the person and work of Jesus Christ. Nothing else should ever become or remain more important to us. Our goal ought to be to make love and grace our first priority, not only among those closest to us, but also among those we may know only casually. The greatest compliment a person could give me is to say, “Now that Roger, he is a real Christian” or to ask, “Why is he such a kind, helpful person?” These are the things that will make a real difference, and these are the qualities that are worth leaving behind, except that these are also the only things that we can take with us eternally.
Contemporary culture makes this difficult. Aggressive atheists want to portray religion as evil, a task made easier by shallow religiosity and false piety. Multiculturalists air their relativist ideas through every medium possible, virtually brainwashing public school children to believe that all beliefs are equivalent (except for Christianity which is virtually banned!). Muslim teachers, radicals especially, propagate all sorts of false ideas to strengthen their own agendas, and many in the West reinforce the stereotypes they portray. Every kind of interest group seems to believe that Christians are the worst enemy of their cause, for reasons occasionally
deserved but often not. Vocal celebrities vent their anger against Christians in ways often inexplicable and
plainly incorrect. Against this tidal wave of obfuscation and opposition, we must be even more clear and kind. Each misrepresentation, fair or foul, is an opportunity for gracious, gentle correction.
At times, our own spokespersons stir up doubt and mistrust. Prominent Christians are too often loud and cross. Others are outspoken when, perhaps, they should be speaking less to the broader audience and more to the Christian community who understands their peculiarity. Sometimes, Christians react to opponents
aggressively, and fail to apply the principle of “turn the other cheek.” Jesus himself, when Temple leaders railroaded him and demanded his execution, remained kind and forgave those who targeted and murdered
him. In this day of rapid broadcast of every word spoken and every deed done, we Christians must be more than careful of our individual and collective reputation, even under duress.
I am sad to know that more people than ever find us Christians of questionable integrity, but their opinions are not insulation. In most cases, their knowledge and understanding are simple and incomplete. People have accepted lies and distortions about Christians from the beginning; the Romans thought early Christians were
cannibals because they ate the body and blood of Jesus. Misinformation need not be a barrier to the truth unless we permit it to be. A few will resist any effort to change their opinion, but most will respond favorably
to decent people who relate to them decently.
When I was in college, one of the guys in the room next to mine was determined to prove me to be a hypocrite. I didn’t consider myself to be an exemplary Christian; I was only just learning be more open and share my faith. Then as now, I was painfully aware of my sinful shortcomings. At first, I thought his accusation was a dreadful truth that I must overcome. Then I realized that my failure to live up to his or my own, let alone God’s standards for my behavior, merely proved the greatness of mercy, forgiveness, and grace purchased by the death of our Savior at Calvary and offered freely to messed up people like me.
It’s funny, in a way, because I have always regarded honesty and integrity to be high priorities, and I hope the people who know me find me to be almost unfailingly truthful. Yet, as we often say, “Nobody’s perfect,” except Jesus Christ, of course. In that light, to have someone confront me with inconsistency or expose an untruth of some kind isn’t the end of the world. It merely reaffirms the greater truth that “Christ died for sinners,” of which I am one. I will, hopefully, express regret, acknowledge my offense to God and to whomever confronted me, and enjoy the complete forgiveness His Word has promised: “(W)here sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21). Then even my sin becomes an opportunity to explain the miracle of grace and the awesome forgiveness of God. If more of us did that, the issue of hypocrisy would disappear.