The Hypocrisy of Christian Leaders

Quite often, I either hear or read a news story in which someone says of a Christian (usually a church leader), “That person is so hypocritical.”  Examples abound: Jim Bakker, a once-powerful televangelist who was found guilty of fraud; Jimmy Swaggart, who patronized prostitutes; Randall Terry, who was censured by his church for adultery. 

Ted Haggard

One of the more recent and oft-cited scandals in Christianity was HaggardGate, in which Ted Haggard, pastor of a mega-church in Colorado, was accused of taking drugs and having homosexual sex, all the while leading an organization that was opposed to homosexual marriage.  In fact, the person who “outed” Mr. Haggard said, “I owed it to the gay community because of the hypocrisy we put up with from the religious right.”  One article I read about this scandal began with the question, “What happens to churches that place so much faith in the person leading it?”

All Christians Are Hypocrites
Hypocrisy is, basically, claiming to have beliefs or morals that you don’t practice.  Based on this, I think that the church is the epitome of hypocrisy.  The people of the church have a standard of sinlessness, and yet no one in the church is sinless!  That’s the whole premise of the church is that we can’t measure up to our (or God’s) own standard.  This is why we need a Savior; Christ lived up to the highest standard and now imputes his righteousness onto us.

So, when someone says, “I can’t stand Christians; they’re all hypocrites,” I stand up and admit freely that I am a hypocrite.  I say that there is a standard, but I am completely unable to measure up to it on my own.  I fall short.  If I were to lower the standard so as not to be a hypocrite, I would be spitting on the grace of God and, in essence, saying to him, “No, it’s all right; I can do this by myself.”

Hypocrisy Shouldn’t Mean Complacency
Even though we have a standard that we cannot meet, this doesn’t mean that we don’t strive toward that goal.  The church should (and does, in most cases, I think) encourage its members toward godliness and sanctification.  As Christians, we’re trying to live up to the standard.  We’re trying (with the help of God) to climb out of the cesspool of iniquity.  The problem for us is this: there are those around us that jeer at us when we try to climb out of the pit of sin, and even actively try to keep us, with them, in bondage to sin.  Whoever remains in the pit is saved from the attacks of others.  Those who confess their sin, and ask for help and accountability, are often viciously attacked, as hypocrites.

That shouldn’t keep us from following God’s command:

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor. (1 Thess. 4:1-4)

Hypocrisy Doesn’t Change the Standard
The people who fail to achieve the standard don’t invalidate the standard.  It’s the old Ad Hominem Tu Quoque fallacy of logic.  The fact that a person’s claims are not consistent with his actions does not prove that his claims are false.  A doctor that states that smoking is bad for you but is a chain-smoker himself doesn’t invalidate his claim that smoking is bad for you.  Similarly, a pastor that states that homosexuality is wrong but is himself a homosexual, doesn’t invalidate his claim that homosexuality is wrong.

Christians know what the moral standard is, and sometimes fail to measure up.  Others either (a) know what the standard is, and choose to ignore it, so that they (and others) can continue unabated in their sin, (b) have come up with their own moral standard to justify the way they live, or (c) do not know what the moral standard is.

Question: Do you ever feel like you’ll never be able to measure up to God’s moral standard?  You can leave a comment by clicking here.

  • Broc

    “Hypocrisy – a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.” From
    I disagree with your claim that as Christians we are all hypocrites, although we as Christians have a standard of living which we continually do not meet that is not hypocrisy, it is ineptitude.  The difference is a heart issue; sins/mistakes are made by all of us however it is the motivations of those actions which define whether someone is a hypocrite. Does the person in question simply pretend to have “moral or religious beliefs or principles”, or did the choices/mistakes result from the sin nature we all have.
    By actively living a homosexual lifestyle over a period of time the argument is not that he simply sinned therefore he is a hypocrite, but that his actions are evidence that his public stance against homosexuality is not what he true believes because in his private life he was actively living that lifestyle.  Now, do I know whether those actions were a result of a continuous struggle against his sin nature OR was he accepting of that lifestyle but due to his position in the church was outwardly morally opposed; no I do not know that answer.  That is why we are Christians are called not to judge one another but to help, support and build each other up. 

    • Robert Ewoldt

      I agree with you, Broc, but I think you’re drawing a line between hypocrisy
      and ineptitude that most people don’t acknowledge… especially
      non-Christians. They see our failings as hypocrisy. Perception is reality.

      • Broc

        Even if they (non-Christians) incorrectly view every “failure” as hypocrisy, that does not mean we accept that wrong labeling. Christians could use those discussions as an opportunity to inform and educate about the standards we have both mentioned and how it affects our lives.  Incorrect perception only creates an incorrect reality. 

        • Robert Ewoldt

          Sure, there are times when you would want to steer the labeling of something
          toward something that’s better for you. Politicians do this all the time
          (ex: “death tax” vs. “estate tax”). It’s all about how the receiver
          perceives what you’re talking about. There are also times when you want to
          deal with the perception issue directly, which means using the terminology
          that your audience is already familiar with, or has already accepted. In
          this case, people are being “turned off” to Christianity precisely because
          of their perception of Christian leaders as “hypocrites.” If you say, “No,
          they’re really not hypocrites, we just don’t live up to our own standard
          sometimes, and, by the way, what you’re talking about really isn’t
          TECHNICALLY hypocrisy,” then you’re only arguing semantics with them,
          instead of trying to address what their issue really is: they believe that
          Christians are hypocrites for saying one thing and doing another.

          • Broc

            I see what your intent with that labeling is, and if your purpose/heart is to have non-Christians view us in a different light then they previously did…. more power to you.

  • thedonnybrook

    Nailed it.  Thanks.

  • Russell Kaufman

    Stimulating and necessary conversation.

  • Kacie

    Speaking of Ted Haggard… my initial reaction to him was… yes… there are so many Christian leaders who deny to the public and sometimes to themselves that they struggle, and then end up burnt out and falling into a hole.

    Then more news came out, specifically about his relationship with Grant Haas, the chaplain for Isaac’s class at MBI. Grant put up his own blog about it… and the news came out but wasn’t very public. That news seemed different. In this case, Ted was specifically and intentionally manipulating a kid that came to him for help and mentorship. Gaah. The more I read about the story the angrier I got at Haggard.

    • Robert Ewoldt

      Yeah, it seems like there are so many leaders that fall. And it seems like
      Haggard knew what he was doing, and wasn’t even trying to deceive
      himself–he was only trying to deceive others. I feel sorry for Grant.

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  • Cjmybad

    I hold the clergy up to a higher moral standard because they are the mouthpiece of the Lord and the teachings of the Bible.

    The hypocrocy is not to be allowed in the church. If they cannot follow the tennants of the word of God then what makes anyone else think they can?