Why I Like the Hypocrisy Sign

Our sign guy put this one up this week and I really like it. A lot. And, apparently, a lot of other people do too.

But, not everyone does, and I’ve been a bit taken back by some of the reactions to it. Specifically, it has me wondering if I just read this thing in a fundamentally different way from other people? Am I missing something they see? I don’t know why my brothers and sisters don’t like it, so what I want to do is tell you why I do. Perphaps that can begin a conversation — which is what a good sign is meant to do.

I like this for several reasons.

First, it is a statement of radical hospitality. Few people are more demonized in our culture than those perceived to be hypocrites. No one wants to be a hypocrite. No one wants to be around hypocrites. The thing is, though, all of us are hypocrites. You are. I am. We. All. Are. Every one of us will have those (too regular) moments when we say one thing and do something else.

And, you are welcome in my church. God is big enough to do something in your life if you will let him.

Randy Harris tells this story about an ethical dilemma he gives his students when they start bashing all the hypocritical politicians out there. I won’t give you the whole dilemma — it is the “Moby Dick dilemma” for those who know his work — but the long and short of it is this: when push comes to shove, most of the students aren’t all that different than the politicians.

When I look at our sign, what I see is this: “There’s a place for me in this church.” And, when that person driving by comes to grips with their hypocrisy for the first time, I hope they remember our sign. There’s a place for them too.

Second, I also like the sign because it forces me to own up to my brokenness. Here is a simple, scary truth — I don’t live up to the message I preach. It’s not for a lack of trying. I try, but my message will always be better than my life, and I am not alone there. This is true for everyone who ever walks into a church building or claims the name Christian.

Our churches are not places of escape for the holy, who have figured it all out and don’t want to taint themselves with the stink of the world. They are communities where God fixes broken people. As such, churches are places full of broken people who don’t live up to what they know their lives should be. Again, this is not from a lack of trying. This is not from a lack of desire. This is how it works. We will always have room for improvement. We will always have room to grow. There will always be more refinement.

I do think this trying and falling short is technically different than hypocrisy. Hypocrisy requires some intention. I know I shouldn’t lie, but I do. I know I shouldn’t judge my neighbor, but I do — even though I preach against judging our neighbors. Again, we are all hypocrites, but we also try really hard to do right thing and fall short.

While I don’t think this second category is hypocrisy, it is important to note that many people in the world see it as hypocrisy. Whether we like it or not, many will interpret our protests against claims that we are hypocrites as declarations that we are holier-than-thou. For most us, we don’t think we are holier than anyone else. But it comes across that way, and communication is a two-way street.

So, I like this sign because it says to the world in terms the world will understand: we are not a perfect church, and other imperfect people are welcome here. There is something powerful about saying we’re not always getting it right.

(And, for what it’s worth, it’s okay that we don’t have it all right. I’m not saying let’s go out and intentionally be wrong or stop caring, but for all our efforts, we still have room for improvement. That’s fine. We’re saved by God in Jesus, not by whether or not we have everything right. Praise be to the Lord.)

In the end, I like the sign because it causes me to confront some uncomfortable but true things. It calls me a hypocrite. I have to confess, that is true. It hints at my brokenness. Guilty there as well. But, for all of us screw-ups, it also sounds God’s call of welcome. There is room for someone like me in the kingdom of God.

Our church isn’t full of hypocrites. There’s always room for one more.

Glory be to God!