Over the years I have heard many reasons for why people do not go to church; what perhaps tops the list is this one: “the church is too full of hypocrites!” Now, I am not sure if it is any consolation, but if this is one’s objection to going to church, then one is in good company as Jesus objected to hypocrisy as well (see here).
The objection to hypocrisy in the church is, I think, really an objection to a lack of kindness and/or mercy of/in some people in the church, which results them being judgmental toward others. Now, most know the church’s teaching against being judgmental toward others (see here and here for examples), but that does not really help at the time when one is being judged.
Being religious, but especially being Christian, is risky as it puts the person claiming to be religious and/or Christian at risk of being hypocritical because being religious means that one publicly proclaims belief in a certain way of life and morality. Obviously the rub is that, while proclaiming a certain way of life with one’s lips, failing to live a life that matches what one proclaims causes a disconnect between the two that could be considered hypocrisy. Perhaps more importantly, and more starkly, when that person whose life does not match with his words judges the behavior of others, it will inevitably rub others the wrong way and drive people from the church.
So, how should one approach hypocrisy, especially if one has been driven from a church and/or has been hurt by people in a church and do not wish to go back and experience the hurt again? In answer to this question, I would make a few suggestions.
At the outset, I think it should be remembered that the church is a hospital for the soul. In fact, Jesus makes this same analogy as recorded in St. Mark’s Gospel (see here), so I think the analogy has merit. We are all born with a sickness in our soul and that sickness needs to be treated just like a sickness in our body. The church is the only hospital where we can go to receive treatment for the sickness in our soul. Somehow, if someone had a sickness of the body, I doubt he would refuse to go to the hospital just because the people there, and perhaps even the physicians, were also infected and/or had a bad attitude or bad bedside manner. Those other people are irrelevant to one’s ability and need to receive the treatment from that hospital. In the same way, one should expect the people in the church to be infected, including the clergy, with the same sickness of the soul as oneself, but that should not stop someone from going to church to receive the treatment he needs as well.
When recoiling against hypocrisy it is important to remember that, at root, we are all hypocrites in some way as no one (save one person of course) can (or has) lived in such a way that his actions always matched up with the morality to which he subscribes. Therefore, be aware of the irony that your negative (and perhaps judgmental) view of the hypocrites in the church, even if it is the result or consequence of the hurt you received, may cause you to be hypocritical toward them as well. Always remember that you need healing just as much as someone else.
Instead of being turned away by those in the church, and missing out on the healing of the church has to offer, try and pray for those who you believe are judgmental and/or hypocrites and offer the undeserved suffering you experience(d) due to them to Jesus as a way of participating in his undeserved suffering for you (see here for authority on this point). It is important to remember that the undeserved hurts you receive from others reflects the undeserved hurts Jesus receives from you and, it is equally important to remember that Jesus’ response to those undeserved hurts from you (e.g.: his response of loving forgiveness and self-sacrifice) ought to be reflected by you to those hurting you. This is hard. This is difficult. This is contrary to your instinct and initial emotional response. Despite all of these challenges, take heart! God has given us strength to endure and find our way through these challenges. Moreover, all of the suffering we experience was also suffered by Jesus, so he knows how we feel and can specifically help us with our particular suffering. How judged was Jesus by hypocrites? He was adjudged to be condemned to death despite being an innocent man. So, do not be turned away; instead, be like Jesus and, in so doing, receive the healing you need while participating in the healing of others at the same time.
See, we all need our souls to recover and our recovery is necessary regardless of whether the others in the church are also in need of recovery and/or judge us for our need for recovery. Indeed, we ought not impair our own soul’s recovery merely because those in the church are also infected (and may not even know it!). Instead, we must go to the church, receive the graces we need despite what the others in the church may or may not think and/or do, for our own soul’s health. Do not sacrifice your own soul’s health on the altar of someone else’s hypocrisy. We need to recognize that the hypocrisy and/or judgmentalism we find in people in the church is a symptom of the same sickness of the soul that afflicts us as well (but perhaps in different ways). In fact, our perspective must be one of prayer for the others in the church and our attitude ought to be one of mercy and kindness toward those we believe are hypocrites. Perhaps our attitude of kindness and mercy may provide an example to help bring the others out of their hypocrisy. See, the church is a place where each person sharpens another like iron sharpens iron. By not going to church, one misses out on being sharpened by others and misses out on the opportunity to sharpen others in turn.
In sum, do not let hypocrites in the church turn you away from the church. Do not miss the opportunity to receive the healing to your soul. Do not miss out on the opportunity to be sharpened by others. Do not miss out on the opportunity to sharpen others. Do not let other people determine your life and your soul’s health. Do not let others define and determine your life, reality, and relationship with God. Just remember that we are all, at times, hypocrites and an attitude of kindness, mercy, and forgiveness can overcome any hypocrisy.