One of the most common rationales used by those who are searching for an exit from the Church, or for those standing outside throwing rocks, is that the “Mormons are a bunch of hypocrites – they act all righteous, but they really aren’t.”
Hang on – Are you are talking to me? Are you calling me a hypocrite?
Well, here is my response to that terrible accusation:
Newsflash: We are all hypocrites to some extent. No, this is not just me being all humble, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has my back on this one:
“If you define hypocrite as someone who fails to live up perfectly to what he or she believes, then we are all hypocrites. None of us is quite as Christlike as we know we should be.” (Link)
I am a hypocrite because I fail, on a regular basis, to live up to the standards God has asked of me, and I have covenanted to follow.
How do you define hypocrisy? There are a couple of different ways:
1: a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion
But is the accusation of hypocrisy a legitimate reason to criticize the Church, or those that belong to it? Not really. It is merely convenient, and easy. (And judgmental. And self-righteous. And kinda lame.)
To counter the accusation that the Church is full of hypocrites, we trot out the same quaint expressions:
Guess what: The members aren’t expected to be perfect.
We defend the “hypocrisy” inherent in trying to follow Christ, and it does merit some discussion -so I’ll take a stab at it.
• How can you claim to be a “saint” and act the way you do?
I was watching an NBA game the other day when LeBron James was playing. He has no business being in the NBA: He missed every single 3-point attempt, he had 4 turnovers, and THREE personal fouls -and he missed 14 shots!
And he has the audacity to call himself an “NBA player.” Hypocrite! Yeah, sure, he scored 41 points, but did you notice how many things he did wrong? I can’t believe they let him stay in the league!
Where are all the people threatening to quit watching the NBA because LeBron makes so many mistakes? Anyone? Bueller?
You know those people sitting in the chapel with you each Sunday? How do they dare call themselves Christians, or Mormons, or even Saints, when they make so many mistakes?
Most of the ones that I know do their best to keep the commandments and follow the Savior. They do mess up here and there, and they commit a foul once-in-a-while, but they are in the game, and are trying. For the most part, their ‘stats’ are actually quite impressive.
If every NBA fan stopped attending games because the players made mistakes, the league would fold after one game.
• We believe in sin. We also believe in repentance.
When we are baptized, we covenant with God that we will keep His commandments. We know – and He knows – that we will fail. Often. Because of this, He has offered those who have made those covenants an opportunity to repent, and have those sins forgiven. That is the very essence of the Atonement of Christ, and the very heart of the Gospel and its ordinances.
Every Sunday, we are surrounded by fellow sinners and hypocrites as we partake of the sacrament to culminate this repentance process. We cannot live perfectly – but we can live cleanly. If we repent correctly, and take the sacrament as God has directed, you will find people full of gratitude and cleanliness in LDS chapels all around the world each Sabbath day.
The charges of hypocrisy don’t stick as well to clean, but imperfect people.
• Do we put up a false appearance of piety or virtue?
I’m sure some do. I’m sure some are disingenuous about their desires and motives for participating in the Church. Some sin with absolutely no intention of repenting, and wear their ‘righteousness’ as a mask – making a mockery of the whole theology. Those are the true hypocrites that Christ slapped with harsh accusations. (link)
They are an entirely different class of hypocrites than those who show up every Sunday with broken hearts, and contrite spirits.
We show up at Church, wearing our best clothing out of respect, doing our best to look righteous. Some are critical of that as well. Why would we try and “appear righteous,” when we really are sinners?
But what is the alternative? Ditch the suits and dresses for sackcloth and ashes? Should we show up with name tags that tout our sins, and introduce ourselves by proclaiming our weaknesses and mistakes?
“I’m Sister Judgmental, and I’d be happy to point out what you’re doing wrong.”
“Hi, I’m Brother Non-Tithe Payer.”
“Good Morning! I’m Sister Prescription Drug Abuser.”
“Welcome to Church – I’m the ward Porn Addict.”
Yes, there may be some truth in the name tags, but who does it benefit? Does it really help anyone if we wear our sins and shortcomings like badges? The idea is to repent and put them away – God is even willing to forget about our sins. Why would we want to define ourselves by them?
I imagine that in some instances, it could help some people be more accepting of the “hospital for sinners” idea. Ther are those who struggle, feeling that they don’t have a home in the Church because they aren’t “good enough.” Wearing our sins on our sleeves could give some comfort that they are not alone in this fight, but finding camaraderie and comfort in our sins is not a great motivator to cast them away from us.
It could also get in the way of the real message of the Gospel: A Priest Quorum could find comfort – but also justification – by learning that their Advisor was a big beer drinker in High School, and he still turned out OK. Right?
That is precisely one of the reasons we have been counseled by our leaders that when we teach we should “not talk about past sins or transgressions.” (Link) We look forward, and upward – not backwards.
My sins are between me and God, and are hopefully things that will be overcome – not things that should define who I am. So am I a fraud for putting my ‘best-self” forward when you see me on Sunday – or any other day of the week?
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”
More recently, President Monson said it this way:
We should develop the capacity to see men not as they are but as they can become when they are members of the Church, when they have a testimony of the gospel, and when their lives are in harmony with its teachings. (Link)
Shouldn’t that also apply to how I see myself? Every time I take the sacrament, my true intention should be to leave that flawed version of myself behind, and emerge a new man. Every. Single. Time.
(I would acknowledge that one important element in addiction support groups is that there is an openness for participants to acknowledge their struggles, and find strength with each other. I am not referring to these private support groups, and I heartily endorse them.)
• Where do you keep a bunch of sinners?
At the end of the day, those who use the ‘hypocrisy’ of its members for accusation or ammunition against the Church, are grasping at straws.
We are all sinners. But for we hypocrites that are within the Church and participating in the ordinances the Gospel provides, there is hope: We can repent. We can partake of the sacrament. We can participate in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We can be made clean. And we can keep trying.
Can you think of anyplace in the world that would be more helpful for a hypocrite than a Sacrament Meeting? Me neither.
On the other hand, walking away from, or standing outside the Church, the Gospel, and the ordinances, will leave you with something different: You still have plenty of hypocrisy, but no longer have a way to resolve it.