Does Personal Hypocrisy Discredit a Worldview or System?

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As I walked into the office at work, one of my coworkers began talking about the news. The headline accused a Christian of misbehavior.  I knew this Detective was not a believer. In fact, he was already hostile to religion before this scandal occurred. I knew the recent headlines would only serve to reinforce his ideas about Christianity: Christians were, in his mind, a bunch of “holier-than-thou” hypocrites who looked down on everyone else even while they engaged in the same behavior they supposedly opposed.

During the conversation, this Detective asked me if I belonged to the denomination of Christianity espoused by the person in the headline. Put on the spot, I wanted to give a response that would resonate with him and support my faith. I didn’t attend a church belonging to that denomination, but to simply say that I didn’t subscribe to that form of church would avoid the real question. In the end, whether I attended that type of church or not, I knew that this Detective would see any scandal by one Christian as an indictment of ALL Christians.

Accusations of hypocrisy are common against Christians. No one likes a hypocrite, least of all Jesus Christ who routinely spoke out against hypocrites during His ministry. If a Christian leader, group, or church is involved in a scandal and is revealed to be a hypocrite, what should be our response? Does an individual or group’s hypocrisy say something about their underlying belief system?

There seems to be one major flaw in the Christian church: The church is comprised of people. The Bible teaches that we have all sinned and fallen short in the eyes of God.  No matter how hard we as humans try to live up to any set of ideals, we will inevitably fail and fall short. This is why the Bible teaches that we need the forgiveness of God, because we cannot be good enough on our own. So, in some ways, it shouldn’t really surprise us when Christians (or others) fail to live up to a certain standard. The real issue is what our response should be when we see someone fail.

I notice similar issues within law enforcement. Police officers are expected to “perfectly” uphold the laws of our communities. But as current events attest, police officers themselves are imperfect, and inevitably cannot live up to the ideal standard of the law (let alone the ideal standards of God). Over the years, we’ve seen one police scandal after another, just as in the church.  As a result, a growing group within the criminal justice reform movement has emerged who feel much the same about police officers as my fellow Detective feels about Christians. Namely that police officers are all hypocrites who cannot be trusted to uphold the values they claim to embrace.

One District Attorney campaigned on the idea that police officers were essentially corrupt and could not be trusted. Now in office, this District Attorney said that if police officers seize a firearm during a traffic stop, he will not file charges against the person who illegally possessed the weapon. There have been scandals in which police officers were caught planting evidence (including firearms) or obtaining evidence through illegal stops or searches. Police officers have not always upheld the high standards of the law. The response of this District Attorney appears to be a simple equation: if some police officers are corrupt, then the law they represent must be corrupt as well.

At the end of the day, any person who claims to subscribe to a set of ideals or principles will eventually fail to live up to them. - Jimmy Wallace Click To Tweet

At the end of the day, any person who claims to subscribe to a set of ideals or principles will eventually fail to live up to them. That is the simple truth when you have imperfect people striving after perfect ideals. The fact that someone fails to live up to their belief system doesn’t say as much about the belief system as it says about the person. Failing in their pursuit of their ideals does not mean the ideals were not worth pursuing in the first place or that we should dismiss them out of hand.

Jimmy Wallace (J. Warner’s son) is a Police Officer, a Detective in Los Angeles County, a Christian Case Maker, and host of the Incarnate Investigation Podcast (featured at ColdCaseChristianity.com).

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