By now everyone knows about virtue signaling, the way to show you are good, decent, righteous, and just by having the good, decent, righteous, and just take on any given news story. A recent example is the hue and cry over Justin Turner testing positive during the last game of the World Series only to return to the field to participate in the celebrations. To condemn Turner’s selfishness is to show that you are properly and morally worried about the severity of Covid-19. It works the other way too. To show righteousness indignation over Covid deaths in nursing homes is a way to signal your virtue and the wickedness of governors whose public health policies failed to protect the most vulnerable.
What if Christians were not supposed to show but hide their virtue? What if Christian commentary on public events showed no trace of a Christian outlook but actually tapped ideas learned from political science or legal theory or psychology?
One reason for thinking Christians should hide their virtue is Christ’s own teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Hide it under a bushel? Of course!
1 “Beware of rpracticing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as bthe Gentiles do, for cthey think that they will be heard dfor their many words. 8 Do not be like them, efor your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 fPray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matt 6, emphasis added)
It’s not as if we don’t need to worry about being seen. But the question is who sees truly. If others see you’re virtue, you may actually be a hypocrite.