I would guess the number one answer is summed up in one word – hypocrisy.
I have heard people criticize Christianity with the argument that Christians are hypocrites. They preach love, yet turn around and judge people. They preach peace and then talk about how they want to destroy enemies. They claim to care for the poor and then support policies that hurt the poor. Etc., Etc.
Of course, this is not all Christians, but it is a sizable amount – at least here in the US. There are many Christians whose definitions of love, peace, and forgiveness make me wonder what it is that they actually believe in – and I’m a Christian pastor.
Hypocrisy isn’t just confined to church though. It’s rampant in politics and has been for some time.
A couple of examples will suffice. Take the recent tax bill that passed the US Senate. Put aside the policy and the debate of what it will or won’t do. The criticism of the bill was that it was a large document (over 500 pages), Senators didn’t have enough time to read it, it was voted on in the middle of the night, and on straight party line vote, etc. Democrats were livid in citing these criticisms. They even created some homemade videos that went viral with their outrage over the process.
That’s all well and good, but I have a hard time buying that these Senators were truly upset over this process. These same folks had no trouble voting for the Affordable Care Act in 2010 (Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT did vote for it, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA wasn’t in the Senate at that time, but given her voting record and defense of the law, I have no doubt she would have voted for it) when it was a large document in which Senators didn’t have enough time to read it, and it was voted in the middle of the night on a straight party line vote. Nancy Pelosi – then Speaker of the House was famously quoted as saying that they had to “pass it in order to see what was in it.” Hmm, sound familiar? The only difference is which party is upset. It’s the same arguments though. Once in power, the party in power thinks nothing of ram-rodding through their policy positions and trampling over process.
Just to be fair, it’s not just Democrats who are hypocrites. Remember Republican criticism over President Obama using executive orders to stop the Keystone pipeline? Democrats cheered at the action. Then President Trump came to office and guess what – the parties had a change of heart over the process of using executive orders. Republicans didn’t have a problem with Trump signing an executive order reviving the pipeline project, while it was now the Democrats who were upset.
Here’s the thing, neither party really cares about the process. It’s the end that matters for them. In this sense we have all become Machiavellian – apparently the ends justify the means. The process be damned! Never mind that the process exists to protect the minority out of power. Never mind that our political leaders are shortsighted enough to forget that they will be in the minority again at some point, and then in the majority again – how will they want to be treated in the minority? Apparently, we see governing as a winner-take-all approach. Not a way to run a government or a society.
Nor a church. When hypocrisy runs the show, it ends in broken relationships and trust. Does this mean that we should be perfect? Hardly. That’s impossible anyway. What it does mean is that leaders in church have a responsibility to create an environment where the end in mind isn’t being right, but rather being a child of God. We are sinners. We are going to sin. But this isn’t an excuse to just let the sin go on unchecked. Church leaders, and political leaders for that matter, have a responsibility to build trust, to show the humanity of our opponents, to move people into actual communication, to create an environment where shame and guilt and blame are not welcome.
In short, church leaders can address the claims about hypocrisy – by being honest and open, transparent and forgiving, full of integrity and addressing issues rather than avoiding them. Political leaders can and should do the same. Other wise what we lose is not a policy debate, but rather trust, stability, and maturity.
Too bad we see seem to be more interested in using Machiavelli’s thoughts as a map, rather than a warning. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is another way. But here’s the hard part – we can’t wait for someone else to start. If we do, we’ll be waiting until the grave.
Instead we are called to start. So let’s get started.