Seldom do we consciously say one thing and then simply turn around to do something other than that. More often we contradict what we say we should do without even thinking about it. Most often we are hypocrites when, thinking that we are doing what is right and good, we do something that is not good. I am sure that most often we are hypocrites without knowing that we are. I suspect so were the first-century people whom Jesus condemned.
In spite of what we say and even what we intend, with some regularity the things we do don't measure up to our Sunday School answers or our everyday intentions. Those of us who are educated and have white-collar jobs don't intend to make those with less prestigious jobs feel uncomfortable around us, but we do. And those who work in trades may not intend to respond to white-collar workers with the mild contempt reserved for those "who don't know how to do real work," but they often do.
People who don't smoke don't intend to associate only with others who also don't smoke. Many probably have friends or relatives who smoke. But there is usually some implicit distinction drawn among the two groups, a distinction that has valences of good and bad, and a distinction drawn in one way or another by both sides. The same goes for such things as tattoos and body piercings and, among Mormons, sometimes even for cola and non-cola drinkers.
It is human to wish to be with those who are like us and to be suspicious of those who are not. We've learned that to be one way of avoiding danger. Though we've been commanded by Jesus not to judge, in other words, not to condemn others, it would make no sense simply to ignore all discrimination. As a child I learned quickly that the best way to avoid being bullied was to remember who had bullied me and to stay away from them. I had to make a judgment about my experience and act on that.
Nevertheless, we also have to be on guard against our natural and sometimes quite reasonable inclination turning into un-Christian behavior. Family may be a good example of how this might work: those in my family don't all look like me. Some, for example, are adopted. We aren't even all of the same race. Members of my family don't all act like me (to which some of them are going to respond "thank goodness!"). They don't all think like me or sound like me or dress like me. Some of us have tattoos and some don't. Some are LDS and some are not.
Yet when we come together for a family meal or a family reunion, we come together as family. We come together, not in spite of our differences, but with our differences. At least in principle, we come together because we love one another, and in honor of that love we ignore the distinctions that we could use to differentiate amongst ourselves.
I have inserted "at least in principle" to mark the fact that the ideal is difficult. This is a no place for Pollyanna. Yet neither is it a place for pessimism and giving up. The ideal ought to guide our relations as a family, and those familial relations ought to be the guide for our relations to one another in congregations and communities.
To the degree they are not, we remain hypocrites, saying what Jesus commanded us to say, believing what he commanded us to believe, but not doing what he has commanded us to do. As long as there are those who do not join with us in worship because they do not feel welcome, we have to suspect that we are guilty of hypocrisy. The same is true as long as there are those who cannot be our friends if they do not worship with us.
In the Book of Mormon, Nephi 1 us promises the Holy Ghost if we will live without hypocrisy:
If ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel. (2 Ne 31:13)
To the degree that we continue to live in hypocrisy, we continue to live without the full blessings of the Holy Spirit. We cannot worship fully until we give up our hypocrisies, even those of which we are unaware.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.