The Sin of Religious Hypocrisy, by Rev. Robin Meyers

The Sin of Religious Hypocrisy, by Rev. Robin Meyers August 22, 2006

Acting religious, looking religious and sounding religious are not
the same thing as being religious. "The scribes and the Pharisees sit
on Moses' seat, therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it."
That is, you should respect the law, and strive to follow it, but then
he goes on, "but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what
they teach."

If someone were to ask me what I thought
were the two most consuming passions of Jesus of Nazareth, I would have
to say 1) how the strong treat the weak, and 2) the sin of religious
hypocrisy. He begins the gospel of Matthew by preaching the world's
most important, and revolutionary sermon, The Sermon on the Mount —
and it is all about the reversal of power in the kingdom. . .

 

Acting religious, looking religious and sounding religious are not
the same thing as being religious. "The scribes and the Pharisees sit
on Moses' seat, therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it."
That is, you should respect the law, and strive to follow it, but then
he goes on, "but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what
they teach."

 

What Jesus is saying has a powerful and poignant relevance to the
situation that we find ourselves in today. The powerful preachers and
teachers of our time are in fact the keepers of a great spiritual
treasure (we call it the Good News), but — and here is the thrust of
his commandment — they are not what they pretend to be, and they are
not what they ask you to be. They are walking, talking forgeries. They
are hypocrites.

 

In the case of the scribes and Pharisees, God had called them to
positions of power so that they might give expert counsel on spiritual
matters to people who have to work for a living — who don't have the
opportunity to study the Law day and night — many of whom are
illiterate, or don't have access to the scrolls of the Torah. In other
words, they are called to be servants, but they serve only themselves.

 

Here are their threes sins, and in the case of each one, I intend to
make a comparison to our own high-profile religious professionals, our
own scribes and Pharisees, the high and mighty Religious Right.

 

1) Jesus says, in no uncertain terms, that they do not practice what
they preach. It is the number one reason given by people who have given
up on organized religion. I tried to go to church, people often tell
me. I wanted to learn and to walk in the light, but everyone was such a
hypocrite. I couldn't stand it.

 

When the televangelist Jimmy Swaggart was at the height of his
power, he preached mightily against the sins of the flesh. As it turns
out, he was also visiting prostitutes on a regular basis, and was
caught soliciting sex form a minor. During the frantic and furious
impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, a great cry went up
throughout the land from the most powerful religious leaders of the day
that a cancer was growing on the moral fiber of the country, and needed
to be cut out and burned in a national act of penance.

 

The man who led the charge, Newt Gingrich, was discovered to have
been having his own affair with a woman many years younger that had
stretched over years. When the House of Representatives tried to elect
a new Speaker, Robert Livingston, he lasted all of three minutes, after
rising to the microphone to confess that he too had been unfaithful to
his marriage vows.

 

Oh, the sound and the fury of those godly men! It was deafening, and in the end, it was sheer hypocrisy.

 

2) "They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the
shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger
to move them."  By this Jesus meant that religious professionals often
make the rules for other people to follow, and then, while exempting
themselves, they fail even to lift a finger to help the masses to
shoulder this burden…

 

More tax cuts for the rich, more cuts in spending for the poor,
greed run rampant in corporate American – it has all brought us,
finally, to a day of reckoning. In the misuse of religion, political
power has been co-opted in exchange for the appearance of religiosity
— which is the greatest sin of all. How do I know this? I've read the
Bible.

 

When we saw the response to hurricane Katrina, we saw the true face
of conservative social policy in action. The Pharisees of our time, who
know what is best for everyone, and treat the poor with a kind of
benign neglect, will not get their hands dirty, and will not lift a
finger to help. It is the responsibility of the poor to help
themselves. To pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. If they
don't have boots, they should buy some. If they can't afford them, they
should work harder. If they want charity, they should join a church.

 

3) "They do all their deeds to be seen by others." In other words,
it's all for show. It's all for the cameras, it's all a photo-op, a
political commercial, a choreographed spectacle to fool the masses into
believing that talking about compassion is the same thing as acting
compassionately. . . .

 

Do all politicians do this? Of course they do. Are all of us guilty
of religious hypocrisy at some level? Of course we are, because none of
us can avoid the charge of wanting to look and sound religious without
acting religious. . . .

 

It is now possible to run on a morals platform, govern immorally,
and then blame everything on politics as usual. And when it comes to
putting on the mantle of religiosity, Jesus reserved a very special
kind of anger for this kind of bait and switch. . .

 

So let me ask you, just let me ask you: does this really work? This
whole humble-yourself business? I mean really, in an individualistic,
capitalist, media dominated world, what proof do we have that humility
in the doing of good deeds ever pays off — ever gets recognized by
others when we have not sought such recognition.

 

[Pick up paper]. . .Working Poor, Homeless Receive Free meals,
Clothes and `Light.'   I think you know against what odds this story
appeared on the front page of the Oklahoman. How did it get there? How
is it that after seven years of no-strings attached service to poor in
our own community, someone finally took this light of ours out from
under the bushel and let it shine? . . . Because 363 folk didn't do it
themselves. They did not toot their own horn, they did not call a press
conference, they did not arrange for any photo ops. They simply let
their light shine. . .what Mr. Lindley calls in the final line of the
story, "the light of the members of the Mayflower Congregational
Church."

 

"Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble
themselves will be exalted." You don't suppose that's really true?

 

What if that's true?

 

Dr. Robin Meyers is Senior Minister of Mayflower Congregational
UCC church of Oklahoma City, OK, and Professor of Rhetoric at Oklahoma
City University.  His new book from Jossey/Bass, is entitled:
Why the Christian Right is Wrong: A Minister's Manifesto for Taking Back Your Faith, Your Flag, and Your Future.

 

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