Hypocrisy and You

The topic of hypocrisy has been coming up in conversations again and again lately. In particular I spoke to an old college roommate about four months ago. She is a single mom and not all that interested in taking her two kids to church; too many hypocrites, she says. Oh, how we all hate hypocrites: those terrible people who preach one thing and do another!

My old roommate’s testimony is in a fragile state right now so I didn’t tell her the truth: she is a hypocrite. I am a hypocrite. We are all hypocrites. No, wait, that’s not quite true. The definition of hypocrisy is to pretend to believe something that we don’t actually believe. But it commonly means saying one thing, doing another.  Of which we are all guilty.

I tell my children they must eat five fruits and veg every day. I have not eaten fruits and veg today. Or yesterday. I am a hypocrite.

I stood up in church last month and told everyone how Visiting Teaching is the most important calling and needs to be our #1 priority. I didn’t do my visiting teaching that month. I am a hypocrite.

I get mad if my husband throws his cans and bottles in the trash instead of the recycling bin. Yesterday at the gas station I threw three empty water bottles in the garbage can. I am a hypocrite.

There are a lot of parents who feel it’s wrong to tell their kids not to do something they themselves have done; taking drugs, for example. It’s so hypocritical, right?  If I only taught my children things that I’d never done; my kids would all be lying, swearing, test-cheating thieves. I did every single one of those bad things as a kid. Sometimes I still do bad things. But I try to teach my children what is right. That’s what parents do. And that’s the idea behind church too.

If you are having trouble with people and their “do as I say, not as I do” approach, here’s a newsflash: nobody who teaches you at church—not the speakers, not the Bishop, not the Relief Society teacher—is perfect. Not only that, but they could have a big problem with the very thing they are teaching you about. If you’re assigned to give a talk or lesson, you can be sure it’s not going to be about the few things you do pretty well; it’s going to be about one of the things you struggle with. I’ve had that happen too many times to count.

You want a church full of perfect people? Somebody tell me which one it is because I’d like to go there too!

None of us is perfect. Yes, we all know that on an intellectual level. But do we really know that? I’m sorry that the person who gave a talk about loving one another is an introvert who was feeling shy and walked right past you in the hall without saying hello. I’m sorry that the Relief Society president gossiped about you. I’m sorry that nobody from the Elders Quorum helped you move out of your house.

I wish there were never any unkind words spoken at church. I wish we automatically knew how to lift one another’s burdens.  We’re all muddling and struggling along (I’ll admit that some people are making more of an effort than others.) But to me showing up at church means, “I’m trying.”

Let’s not point fingers at people, condemning them as hypocrites. Unless, of course, you’re pointing your finger at the mirror.

We could all be better. We could all do more.

About Hildie

(Blog Team) was born and raised in Detroit, but is happy to call Austin, TX home now. She majored in Art History and Geography at BYU and graduated a week before having her first baby. There have been five more babies since then. Hildie is an avid baker and tries to fatten up the people she loves. After years of "Mommy this", "Mommy that" Hildie is delighted to finally be waking her brain up for some other use.

26 thoughts on “Hypocrisy and You

  1. There are a lot of posts in the Bloggernacle and elsewhere discussing this very thing. Is this a fairly new phenomenon? Why do you think this is?

    Great post, btw. I have Segullah bookmarked.

  2. I think the word “hypocrite” applies more to those that tell other people, “you should/have to do this” and they know full well that they have no intention of holding themselves to that standard. Being imperfect is one thing – trying to pass yourself off as being more righteous than you are to hide the fact that you are imperfect is another. I think those were the kinds of hypocrites that Jesus condemned – not the people were honestly trying to improve.

    And just as a “by the way” I hate that “hypocrite” sounds like hypoCRIT when it looks like it is spelled hypo CRIGHT. Carry on.

  3. Nice. I think accusing someone else of being the reason we can’t do what we need to do is just a cop out, much as I’m willing to love and accept that person. People who are offended want to be. I’ve been offended. I can say that. I got over it. I’m less likely to be offended now because I don’t need the break that that provides. We are too politically correct sometimes, and I appreciate this post for calling us out on it. We can speak with clarity and still have love for one another. Political correctness is an ugly form of hypocrisy. Thanks for the post.

  4. Neal Stephenson said it well in “The Diamond Age”:

    “That we occasionally violate our own stated moral code, does not imply that we are insincere in espousing that code.

    “Of course not. It’s perfectly obvious, really. No one ever said that it was easy to hew to a strict code of conduct. Really, the difficulties involved – the missteps we make along the way – are what make it interesting. The internal, and eternal, struggle, between our base impulses and the rigorous demands of our own moral system is quintessentially human. It is how we conduct ourselves in that struggle that determines how we may in time be judged by a higher power.”

    http://thmazing.blogspot.com/2010/01/hypocritical-svithe.html

  5. The thing is, people who admit that they’re asking you to do something they don’t have a perfect record with, actually means much MORE to me. The single most influential reason for me not doing drugs as a teen? My dad, a former hippy, told me first hand his experiences and why he doesn’t want that for me. My husband has jokingly, unthinkingly, punched my arm twice in the last month while driving (once, it actually hurt a bit, but I’m a wimp), with my son in the back seat. While we don’t go out of the way to break the rules we set for our kids, this was a great opportunity to explain that we sometimes make mistakes too, and had daddy apologize and me forgive him after a bit of hamming up the negative effects of his mistake for the kid’s sake. He’ll probably learn much more about mistakes and forgiveness and why we try to not hit than from that than from us telling him “no hitting” ad nauseum. Again, we don’t purposefully break our own rules, but we’re perfectly ok with our kids knowing we struggle with making good choices sometimes too, and that as a family our job is to help each other remember.
    So while I 100% agree that no one is perfect, I do think honesty in such situations goes a long way.

    1. Jenn–I appreciate honesty too but I’ve come to realize that it’s nearly impossible for Mormons to admit from the pulpit that they have shortcomings. We all like to think everyone else is doing a great job and we’re the one that should improve.

      Louis–I don’t read any bloggernacle blogs but maybe we all have the same friend who hates hypocrites!

      RecessionCone–What a great quote. I should memorize this as a reply the next time someone I know spouts off with the whole hypocrite thing.

      BonnieBlythe–It’s totally a cop out! It’s not fair to blame others for your faults. I wish people would just own up to it and say, “I’d rather spend my Sundays on the sofa” instead of saying it’s another persons fault.

      MormonHermitMom–But don’t you think it’s part of the LDS culture to get people to think we’re more righteous than we are? I guess I give people the benefit of the doubt too much and assume we’re all trying to be better. Some people really aren’t.

  6. Amen! We are all trying to do the best we can. We make mistakes. We are imperfect. We trust in the Lord to help us with our imperfections just like we all should.

    I have gone to church praying each Sunday that I would be able to say things that would lift those I come in contact with after I had someone tell me point blank I offended her. I have been working on it even when someone rubs me the wrong way. We are all working on things but we have so much to learn from each other.

  7. Trying to show the world we’re more righteous than we are isn’t unique to LDS culture, it’s Calvinism, Puritanism at its core and therefore at the very foundation of this country, sadly. Other secular names for it: “keeping up with the Jones”, “fake it till you make it.” Those may speak of financial hypocrisy, but the inherent lack of transparency, of humility, is the same. I think it’s basic humanity to not want to share your foibles, to appear strong and invincible, to hide. I agree with Jenn that honesty is power.

    I too have a friend who says she won’t go to church because of the hypocrisy. She has been badly burned by hypocritical in laws, catty ward members and she is done. But, when you get her quiet and honest and with guards down, she will tell you that it hurts to go to church, her imperfections (again, single parenthood) are unhideable, so she won’t go, thus robbing her children of gospel learning experiences they might have.

    Once I remember reading the definition of offense as someone being unable or unwilling to be what you needed them to be. Thinking about it that way takes the sting out of offense for me, reminds me that we all fail to measure up some days and that it is only our honest attempts at transparency, honesty, humility that will get us to that perfection, that ability to measure up, in the end.

  8. I heard something on my mission that has stuck with me (I think a member said it): If you allow a hypocrite to come between you and God, well, guess who’s now closer to God…

  9. #4, That’s a great quote.

    It’s funny, just today someone told me, “We’re all hypocrites in the church, but the difference is we’re honest about it.”

    I think for the most part we are honest about it. I’ve heard plenty of people at the pulpit confess that they’re failing at what they’re teaching and that the talk was for them to learn – we just hear people say that so much that we discount it as something trite that everyone says.

    At the same time, if all we do is walk around depressed because we realize every minute of the day how hypocritical we are, then we’re not utilizing the atonement. There has to be some small amount of letting go of our sins, hypocritically aspiring to more than we currently are, to progress.

    Calling someone a hypocrite seems like you’re saying, “Who do you think you are? Get back down here in the mud with the rest of us.”

    Another aspect of this is that if we’re waiting to be taught by a perfect person, we’ll never be taught. Christ was the only perfect person and he asked us, the imperfect hypocrites, to teach each other. I believe He had a purpose in that.

  10. Such a good post. I am working at developing a R.S. lesson and was considering this as part of it. Even if I don’t use it, it really made me think and examine myself.

  11. Great post, Jennie.

    And Jendoop, I’m glad you brought up the atonement. I think when I keep more centered on the Savior, I can teach with more honesty. He’s the only one going to fill the gap.

    I think true hyposcrisy lies in the intent of someone’s heart–so who are we to judge?

  12. I read a BYU devotional a couple of months ago that has changed how I looked at the atonement, at offense, and hypocrisy. It was given by Brad Wilcox and is called, “His Grace is Sufficient.” One of the phrases that I have been chewing on is, “learning heaven.” We are all in various places on the road of learning heaven. The atonement pays the whole price of our sins and pains. Grace gives us the chance to learn heaven. I’m coming to see that it is a line upon line thing. If learning to become like God is a process for me then it is a process for everyone. I cannot tell you how freeing that is for me. I can give myself a break for not being perfect (meaning I don’t have to beat myself up every time I make a mistake). I can also give a break to those who make mistakes or hurt me (especially unintentionally). It puts me in a place to try to understand and on the path to forgiveness. For my own growth I can stop wallowing in the mistake, put my big girl panties on, and start again. I’m learning heaven.

    Here’s the link for his talk. It is so worth going there.
    http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=2968

  13. I haven’t been able to fool anyone for years as to my lack of shortcomings, they are all right out there. Having teens and Young Adults, this comes up a lot. I have explained to my kids not only that 100 percent of the people at church are deficient, but that on any given Sunday many of them are not only struggling with weakness and sin, but whether or not they believe any of it or can get through another Sunday School class. Being Christlike requires digging deep and becoming “less” focused on others, in a comparative way. Does that make sense?

  14. Becky, I have that talk in my iTunes! What an awesome talk!

    Jennie, I peruse the bloggernacle every now and then when I’m in the mood for killing time. I see it as discussions between members about issues relating to membership in the Church and it actually makes me think sometimes about stuff I already “knew”. It helps also because in my ward I don’t really know if what I want to discuss or what I’m thinking is “socially acceptable” in LDS terms. Also, let me state I’m not taking any personal insecurities native to me out of that statement either.

    I found Segullah from the bloggernacle…

  15. I loved every word. I am that shy person that is lost in a group without words. I also know that most people don’t understand that and that sometimes things–inappropriate things–just seem to pop out of my mouth.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  16. Such a great post.

    My favorite part? “Nobody who teaches you at church…is perfect.” I’m teaching Gospel Doctrine for the third time (in three different wards) and I struggle with feeling like a complete hypocrite most weeks.

    Thanks so much for the reminder that I’m just one hypocrite teaching a room of hypocrites. :D

  17. I was thinking about this post yesterday when I went to the temple. Mainly I was wondering how to be less of a hypocrite myself.

    I did my usual sit down in the chapel and flip to somewhere in the scriptures. I ended up in Doctrine and Covenants 121 where I learned something, so I thought I’d share.

    41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

    42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without eguile—

    43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

    Pay attention to verse 42. If you break down general thought on hypocrisy, it seems like the only ways to avoid it would be to either 1) stop teaching gospel doctrines, or 2) to become perfect. So, as Jennie wrote, it is impossible not to be a hypocrite.

    In these verses it doesn’t mention either of these options, but says the way to avoid hypocrisy is to teach with “kindness and pure knowledge”. That was a good insight for me.

  18. A friend of mine has also left the church (but 2 decades ago) and recently launched into a rant about hypocrisy within Christianity on Facebook.
    Anyhow, in the course of the discussion/rant, a lot of really ugly things were said. For a long time, part of me just wanted to avoid saying anything, but I felt impressed to comment. And I did, acknowledging my own hypocrisy without going into detail about my own weaknesses and mistakes. It was an amazing thing. I watched an entire conversation turn to a different direction. I can’t claim credit for what happened, as I felt that my words were really coming from the Spirit.
    I think we would do better to acknowledge our weaknesses, but we also have to remember that some things are better kept private. We needn’t confess all our sins when acknowledging that we are weak and imperfect. On the contrary, I think admitting that we frequently fall short, but still pick ourselves up and keep trying anyway, is something really powerful.
    When we come together as Saints, acknowledging our imperfections, acting with genuine humility, I think our weaknesses come off less than hypocritical and more like flawed, imperfect humans.
    I guess I can see where people put up fronts of perfect lives, perfect marriages, perfect children, perfect homes, while the reality of our lives is far from perfect, we alienate those around us.

  19. @ Tiffany: “…we alienate those around us”; and by alienating those around us, we become more isolated from each other and the separation widens.

  20. So true Jennie.
    I often think of myself and my fellow church goers as “good people trying to be better.” Sometimes I will just sit there in Sacrament meeting in awe over that fact….that I am surrounded by people trying to do better. I’m not sure I feel that way other places I go.

  21. Once I learned that no one can ever completely get away from hypocrisy, including myself, I found it much harder to judge others.

  22. This is a good reminder. I know someone who said that she is not very religious because Church people are too judgmental. Having a list of values certainly does give a person a measuring stick if you use it that way as we may all be apt to do to one degree or another. Yet, I know of someone who was not allowed to be raised in a Church as her dad was very anti-religion. This person has done terrible things for which she is ashamed. I admire her humility. But she does have a vice that she also judges people and you wouldn’t expect it of someone so put down by many. However, I realize it is often about feeling good about ourselves that we put others down.

    While it is nice to be honest when necessary, I do think it is distracting when a speaker is too self-effacing. You can deliver a message and testify in a way that upholds a principle while in no way claiming to be perfect in the application.

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