Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Hypocrisy run amok"

Ed Dingess

I find Jason's comments personally offensive…What ever happened to Christian civility and charity in these sorts of discussions? Why do we always have to resort to harsh insults toward another over issues that are not central to the Christian faith?

I’m struck by professing Christians who have such a shallow, amoral conception of civility and charity. They reduce civility and charity to rhetorical etiquette.

I, for one, have a deeper definition of civility and charity. I think aborting babies, or allowing live-birth babies to perish, is pretty uncivil and uncharitable. I think euthanizing the elderly or the disabled is pretty uncivil and uncharitable. I think forcing orphans or foster kids into homosexual “families” is pretty uncivil and uncharitable.

The Bible is deeply concerned with those who are most vulnerable through no fault of their own. That’s a central aspect of the Christian faith.

Hypocrisy run amuck. We pound our chest in NC when we say we stopped gay marriage but 90% of evangelical pastors do nothing when members divorce unbiblically.

He’s very careless (even slanderous) about how he tosses around the term “hypocrisy.”

i) As a rule, hypocrisy refers to an individual’s personal misconduct. That’s what he has direct control over. If a pastor himself had divorced his wife for illicit reasons, remarried, then lobbied against sodomite marriage, that would be hypocritical.

ii) Many pastors take a pastorate at a preexisting church. The former pastor retires or moves on.

The new pastor isn’t starting from scratch. He is thrust into the status quo of the preexisting congregation.

Let’s pick a figure out of the air. Suppose 40% of the couples in his church divorced and remarried for illicit reasons. That didn’t happen on his watch. What’s he supposed to do after the fact? Excommunicate 40% of the membership?

Pastors have very limited power. The congregation generally pays their salary.

There’s not much a new pastor can to do fix the past. He can preach against unscriptural divorce. If, while he’s the pastor, a member pursues an unscriptural divorce, the pastor can attempt to initiate disciplinary action. Even then, he will need the support of the elders and the congregation. And, of course, a wayward member can simply leave the church. Short of excommunication (which is a unilateral last resort), church discipline requires the errant member to cooperate with the process of counseling and repentance.

Should we not outlaw fornication and lying and stealing, and cheating and whatever else offends God and violates His moral code? Why focus on just abortion? Why not go for the whole ball of wax? Is it not hypocritcal to only fight against gay marriage and not also fight to outlaw unbiblical divorce? Your logical end is a theocracy, is it not? Where do you draw the line and why there? If you are going to push this issue, then push it all the way and at least be consistent. Don't stop with just half the law. Shouldn't you be working to outlaw Sabbath labor?

Actually I am attempting to apply your method to other issues. Abortion is not a crime but you say it should be because it is murder. Well, civil law does not define it as murder the same as civil law does not criminalize fornication. Yet you desire to outlaw abortion because it violates God's moral code but now you seem to give fornication a nod and a wink. The same method applies to sodomite marriage. How can you say that I am calling a sin a crime when you want to make abortion which is a sin a crime. Why not make fornication, which is a sin, a crime also? You got stoned for murder the same as you did for adultery.

This raises a host of issues:

i) Unless a Christian culture warrior is personally guilty of theft or fornication or unscriptural divorce, accusing them of hypocrisy for someone else’s theft or fornication or unscriptural divorce is quite a stretch.

ii) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that it’s hypocritical for Christian culture warriors to pick-and-choose what to outlaw. So what?

Let’s take a comparison. Suppose I’m a doctor who makes his living as a full-time “abortion provider.” Suppose, driving home from the abortion clinic, I see a toddler running out into a busy intersection.

My parental instinct kicks in. I slam on the brakes, get out of the car, rush over to the toddler, and whisk him out of harm’s way.

Now, you could say, “What a hypocrite! You make your living killing babies. So why do you rescue this child?”

And, indeed, his actions were hypocritical in this case. So what? What practical conclusion should we derive from that fact?

Does it follow that because it’s hypocritical for the abortion provider to rescue the toddler, that the he should be consistent and let the toddler get run over?

Jesus is famous for upbraiding hypocrites in the Gospels, but I can’t think of any instance where he unbraids them for doing the right thing.

Selective morality is better than systematic immorality. It’s better to be inconsistently virtuous than to be consistently iniquitous.

Even if someone is hypocritical in doing right every so often, that’s hardly a reason for him to refrain from doing right on  isolated occasions.

iii) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Christian social conservatives are hypocritical for protecting the lives of babies, the elderly, and the disabled–while they ignore other moral concerns Even so, their “hypocrisy” is still good for the innocent lives they save.

iv) But is it hypocritical? God dictated the Mosaic law to Israel. He didn’t put it up for a vote. Israel never had a choice in the matter. God imposed his law on Israel, and he enforced compliance under pain of severe divine punishment.

That’s completely different from the situation of Christian Americans. We have to work through the democratic process. We can only do what’s politically feasible. Our circumstances automatically select for what we can try to outlaw.

Enacting law isn’t a theoretical ideal, but a practical possibility. As Bill Vallicella recently observed:

If politics were merely theoretical, merely an exercise in determining how a well-ordered state should be structured, then implementation would not matter at all.  But politics is practical, not theoretical: it aims at action that implements the view deemed best…You are a utopian who fails to understand that politics is about action, not theory, in the world as it is, as opposed to some merely imagined world.

v) On a related note, there’s nothing inherently wrong with picking your battles. We don’t have the resources to fight every battle. We can’t win every battle. So we have to decide on some issues of overriding importance, then throw our limited time and energy behind those issues. If you try to do everything, you won’t succeed at anything.

vi) Moreover, some evils are more socially destructive than others.

vii) Likewise, there’s a difference between punishing mutually consensual misconduct, where the parties are voluntarily wronging and harming each other, and aggressive, oppressive misconduct where one party is harming innocent, defenseless victims.

There’s a fundamental difference between protecting someone from himself or from mutually consensual harm, and protecting an unwilling victim from an aggressor.

Take the difference between a private fight club and mugging. There’s a principled reason why lawmakers might make a priority of cracking down on muggers while they allow consenting adults to form a fight club.

viii) Not all Biblical obligations are absolute or equally obligatory. For instance, Sabbath-keeping is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. It exists to promote human flourishing. But there are situations in which wooden adherence to Sabbath-keeping would be detrimental to human flourishing. That’s why the Bible itself makes exceptions for works of mercy and necessity.

xi) Biblical laws are not all of a kind. Some laws were contingent on Israel’s unique cultic holiness.

Other laws involve the kinds of laws (e.g. sex crimes, property crimes, bodily injury) which any law code for any nation-state would have to cover. Any nation-state will have a penal code with laws regulating certain kinds of typical human behavior and typical human interactions.

Other laws are adapted to the socioeconomic situation of the ANE. A tribal society. An agrarian economy. That’s not directly applicable to 21C America.

Yet some of those laws may still exemplify basic principles which do carry over into NT ethics.

Some biblical laws are grounded in creational ordinances (e.g. heterosexual marriage).

Some laws are laws of utility rather than morality.

We need to ask the underlying rationale for a given law.

xii) The NT indicates degrees of continuity and discontinuity between OT ethics and NT ethics. It isn’t always easy to draw the line because the NT itself doesn’t explicitly draw the line for us. But the NT doesn’t give us the luxury of an easy all-or-nothing position. No doubt that would simplify things, but that’s not the actual position of the NT. In the NT, there’s some carryover between OT ethics and NT ethics, while other things are rendered obsolete.

xiii) As for some of Ed’s specific examples, I don’t have a problem with blue laws. However, there’s an exegetical dispute on whether some Pauline passages nullify the Sabbath ordinance.

xiv) As for fornication, how does the OT handle that? Well, if a guy impregnates a girl, he has to marry her and support the child. If he fathers a child, he must help with raising the child.

I don’t have a problem with that. The shotgun wedding was a good institution.

Ed’s other examples are odd. “Stealing”? But theft is a crime, both in modern law and OT law.

“Lying”? Lying, per se, wasn’t an OT crime. Only perjury was a crime.

“Cheating”? Certain types of cheating are illegal.

xiv) What Ed calls “hypocrisy” is a built-in tension in law. Due to sin, sinners need good laws. But due to sin, sinners resist good laws. The very fallenness which renders good laws necessary is the same fallenness which makes it difficult to pass or enforce good laws. The tension is a presupposition of law. Even OT law, which was divinely inspired as well as divinely enforced, sets a moral floor rather than a moral ceiling.


  1. When pastor claims to be against sodomite marriage as visibly as most do, and then turn around and quietly refuse to dicipline folks for divorcing on a whim, that sir is hypocrisy. He violates the same law behind close doors that he uphold publically before the all. In addition, they claim to be against gay marriage because they elevate the institution of marriage. But they do NOT elevate the insitution of marriage when they allow one divorce after another without discipline. They pick and choose what they want. This is precisely what the Pharisees did and Jesus called them hypocrites walking around with beams in their eyes. The church needs to clean up its mess before it starts telling the world who can and who cannot get married. We must do better. Once again, you have said a lot and I will respond in time at reformed reasons. I do not wish to make an enemy of you Steve. I try to limit my comments to your views and your method. I, like you, love and seek the truth. I think we ought to be able to do that together, even with differing perspectives without resorting to unkind remarks. Let you speech always be seasoned with salt. Always! We are brothers, not enemies. I am family and we should do our best always to honor our family.

    1. Ed Dingess said:

      "They pick and choose what they want."

      1. That's a bit unfair, isn't it? For one thing, pastors have a respected authority over their congregation in a way they do not over other congregations including liberal Christian congregations who permit sodomite marriage.

      2. You totally ignored Steve's point about new pastors in this very post.

      "The church needs to clean up its mess before it starts telling the world who can and who cannot get married."

      1. No church is without sin. At least peccadillos. If this is criterion must be met before the church can speak out, then I suspect we'd be waiting an awfully long time! Although perhaps this is what you prefer.

      2. Sorry to say but you're hardly perfect. Yet you don't have a problem telling people what they should or shouldn't do. You don't have a problem trying to convince the church they shouldn't speak out against sodomite marriage.

      3. There's a difference between a struggling Christian who desperately wants to overcome his sin and an impenitent "Christian." How is it wrong for a Christian who desperately struggles with pornography but speaks out against pornography?

      For that matter, take someone like Vaughn Roberts who has publicly come out as a homosexual but who also is strongly against homosexuality. Say he struggles with homosexual desires. Homosexual desires are sinful. He knows that. But he struggles against these desires. He wishes he could have normal heterosexual desires. Yet he speaks out against homosexuality. Why is this wrong?

      4. Say a church struggles with greed but naught else. They're not hypocritical on the point of sodomite marriage. Is it wrong for them to speak out against sodomite marriage?