Four Good Reasons to Attend Church with Hypocrites

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by jendoop

arbyreed (CC)

At church today I witnessed one of my fellow citizens in the household of faith making a rude comment to my daughter. She tried to befriend this girl but the girl seems to enjoy drama more than friendship. My daughter wanted to avoid her by not attending activities, but I encouraged her to go anyway and hoped that the storm would pass. Today when the nastiness flew in front of me it was all I could do not to go mom crazy on the offender.

Thankfully I didn’t let emotions overwhelm me; instead I wrestled my thoughts. These are some of the thoughts I encountered in the mental struggle over attending church when the people there don’t live up to expectations. They are by no means all inclusive or concrete, they are thoughts on my path to understanding and discipleship.

To learn how to be Christian
Can we learn to be Christian by associating with people who are not good examples? I especially worry about this with my children. I assume that the ideal situation would be for people at church to act as examples of true Christian behavior for children (even big ones like me) to emulate. The irony is our universal imperfection; Christ is our sole true example. I wonder if God has something besides emulation in mind, asking us to deal with imperfection. When I see others act badly it reminds me that ideals are important. The commandment to “love thy neighbor” gains significance when we are the neighbor in need of love. The consequences of not obeying become obvious when we are affected by the sins of others. Through the pain of sin we learn why sin is a sin, and not only because God said it is.

Patrick Tanguay (CC)

My object lesson about this came in traffic. Someone turned dangerously close to me; I honked my horn in frustration, and noticed that there was a Jesus fish on their bumper. The irony made me chuckle and fume at the same time. How could someone openly display their Christian faith while acting in such an un-Christian way? Then I remembered that I leaned pretty hard on my horn, not a particularly Christian action either. I was guilty of my own accusation. This lesson in discipleship came from the jerk in the red sedan with a shiny Jesus fish riding the bumper.

We human beings have a tendency to see people as all good or all bad. If we witness a fellow Christian do something that is not Christian we tend to assume that they act that way all the time, or that they’re bad people altogether. The truth is that there is good and bad in all of us. Thomas Jefferson may have had babies with his slave mistress. Martin Luther King Jr. had an affair. Russell Wasendorf Sr. is an Iowa businessman who defrauded people out of more than $200 million dollars. He also gave millions to charity.

I wonder if Christ was trying to point out the duality of man when he asked us to treat our enemies with compassion, to love those who despitefully use us. Even when they act poorly, God can help us see the good in every man and woman. Perhaps that is why he commanded us to forgive others so that we may be forgiven- because in that process we gain a more complete understanding of the power of mercy. With that understanding we are more capable of accessing mercy. It is a beautiful feedback loop that doesn’t depend on our human perfection; only upon the perfect giver of mercy. If I can make a connection between my need for mercy and the mercy my daughter’s offender requires maybe I can move past this.

Because God said so
When God asked us to follow him he never said it would be all blessings and angel wings.

“For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?” Matt. 5:46-47

These difficult questions came right after Christ implored us to love our neighbors as ourselves; we hear that scripture quoted a lot, the one above, not so much. Christ tells us to love our enemies, to bless those that curse us. Today at church when that girl was rude to my daughter I did not have a prayer in my heart for her well-being. Tonight I’m getting closer to thinking compassionately for her, but it’s difficult.

We learn to love through loving, especially when the person doesn’t love us back in the way we would like. (I’ve got to give the disclaimer about not being a glutton for punishment either. God does not want us to treat ourselves and our emotions as trivial things. Although I believe we are capable of dealing with quite a lot if we seek His help.) This difficult situation with my daughter is an opportunity to exercise my faith and learn about the real power of love by doing what God asks of me, even though my human inclination is a swift and aptly applied slap. What would the result be for her and me if I were to smile and ask how she is doing instead?

To understand Christ, if only a little
Christ suffered persecution and horrid acts throughout his life, even in humbly submitting to a horrible death. He spoke often about the persecutions his followers would suffer for his sake. I don’t think Christ necessarily meant that all Christians will be crucified upside-down like Peter was, or beheaded like John. In modern times it is more often a persecution of the spirit. After serving as Relief Society president my friend observed that these persecutions even come from within the body of saints. If we are Christ’s true disciples we will come to understand his loneliness in obedience a bit better through our more simple, suffered persecutions.

My reasons for tolerating un-Christian behavior, as good as they might be, do not magically erase the pain of harsh words, neglect, or ignorance from our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is difficult, more difficult than words can convey – it can test us down to the core of our covenants.

Liver and Onions!

Jason Ternus (CC)

Part of the process of becoming one with God is going through these things while being faithfully obedient. Only in doing so will we come to understand why the obedient Christian life is better than any other way. You don’t learn how good a chocolate éclair tastes by eating liver and onions. We will, however, learn to recognize the opposition of these tastes if we give each a try. After tasting many chocolate éclairs in my life, and liver and onions just enough to gain wisdom, I’ve decided that forgiveness and love is the better way. Although, I’m still tempted to scoop up the liver and onions when my feelings are hurt. 

Look inward
This is the part that is get down and dirty difficult. It takes place in a quiet room with no distractions but my thoughts, emotions, and reality smacking me in the face. Many times I feel pulled from the fold because I am somehow uncomfortable there. Recently I’ve found it difficult to reconcile my deep faith with those I love that are not of my faith, or that snub their noses at my faith. I want us all to sing Kumbaya around the fire and agree. I don’t want to force them, but I want to stop hurting, and this difference between us does hurt. It is so deeply instinctive to make that hurting stop that my subconscious clings to any little excuse to avoid the discomfort. A few weeks ago it was dissatisfaction with the lessons at church. This week it was a rude teenager. Those aren’t really the problem though; it’s that I’m avoiding the real solution- that people are complex, so is my faith, and balancing my love for both is a series of daily choices. Those choices are impossible to navigate without God’s assurances and personal revelation. It’s never “done” and it’s rarely easy. What seems easier is to push church (and the people there) away, than to pull God closer.

In the church we talk a lot about feelings – feeling the Spirit, feeling welcome, feeling needed, feeling peace and joy as a result of righteousness. We focus on it so much that when I feel offended I often jump to concluding that my feelings are justified. Instead, the solution is often to set my feelings aside. Alma counseled his son Shiblon:

“Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love.”

Applying Christ’s teachings, accepting the duality of man, suffering persecution for Christ’s sake, and examining our inner lives is part of the refiner’s fire that is a necessity for any Christian. It isn’t about being perfect now, it’s about being willing to go through the often painful process that gets me there. It can’t be rushed and there are no shortcuts.

Miniature French Patisserie

Stéphanie Kilgast (CC)

I don’t have easy answers for my daughter, or myself, regarding hypocrites, but I do believe there are answers better than avoiding church. God wouldn’t command us to attend if there wasn’t something worth the effort and discomfort. I know that being in the presence of our fellow saints (sinners) at the sacrament table is important; many times it has saved me from myself, despite the uncomfortable seat.

  • We’ve all been hurt at church in one way or another; let’s talk about how to overcome it. 
  • When have you continued to love, obey, understand, and looked inward in an effort to graze with the rest of the flock? 
  • Or was there something else that helped you?

About jendoop

Jen writes, reads, paints, walks, prays, eats and sleeps. Paul is her co-conspirator in teaching these skills to 4 children.

14 Responses to Four Good Reasons to Attend Church with Hypocrites

  1. Missy says:

    Wow what a great post! I have been struggling with these same exact issues lately. I have a family member that has been making gross assumptions about me and my husband, about our children. The assumptions go into several areas of my life and our past and they are all so wrong. Hurtful things have been and are being said and this is all coming from an individual who claims to be the most active LDS individual you could ever meet. Someone who speaks for the Church at BYU and other functions, holds callings, etc. The disconnect between how I am being treated by this person and how I have been treated and the image being put forth to the rest of the world is so huge it is hard to understand. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to handle this, I pray for this person, as does my husband, beyond this I don’t know what the solution is. This is a situation that for me at least forgiveness is the easy part, what is next? When you are talking about a family member it is hard to just cut that person out and never go back, inevitably something will come up and we will have to be around each other. I feel for your teen aged daughter, I have two teen daughters myself and they have both experienced similar things. One of my daughters felt like she was being judged, she was taken aside by one of the other girls at the weekly activity and lectured about her shirt, the girl felt that it was too tight. Problem is my daughter was having some health issues and her entire body happened to be a little larger than normal that day. Her shirt was a little tighter than usual but it wasn’t that bad, it wasn’t even hardly noticable. The swelling in her wrists was, why not ask her if she is ok and if she is feeling well? Why not ask her about her struggle and let her share? Instead she got a lecture from another girl about what a tight shirt means and the message that she is sending and that they would prefer if she was going to come to activity that she dress more appropriately. This was another girl not a leader, the leaders are all very kind and caring and they did notice her swollen wrists and asked if she was ok. This whole thing made my daughter not want to go back, she felt judged and actually she was. I can completely relate to your experience. I think that we just have to remind ourselves that church and the gospel is for sinners, none of us are perfect. Those that think they are or think that they know so much usually are those that actually know the least and we can be happy that the gospel is there for them, that the Lord is there to teach them just like he is teaching us. This post really hit home for me, thanks for sharing it!

    • jendoop says:

      Missy, I’m sorry that you know this struggle so well. It is wonderful that you are doing your best to move forward despite the hurt. One thing that a friend taught me for framing my thinking around hurtful situations/words has really helped. She said, “Tell yourself another story.” When someone does something hurtful I try to think of the circumstances in their life that would lead them to the hurtful words/actions. Maybe that YW who criticized your daughter’s shirt was similarly criticized and no one helped her understand how inappropriate it was, so she now thinks that it is OK? Even if the story I tell myself isn’t reality, it helps me move on, not letting the situation poison my heart.

  2. Rob says:

    In our collective journey together to the promised land, sadly, there are always going to be a few Lamans and Lemuels along for the ride.

  3. Paul says:

    Bob, your observation is spot on. I wonder, though, if we’re right to label them so. Perhaps we are the L&L to someone else in their journey?

    Jen, your essay made me think about something that happened last night as I attended a training meeting related to my present calling in the church. I found myself wondering why I was there; the presentation gave me no new information and no new insight. I felt like I had at least as good a handle on my calling as my presenter. Not a very teachable position. When it was over, I observed to my wife that I need to be more teachable in those settings.

    I reminded myself that I’ve been this way most of my adult life: it is clearly part of my natural man. Some days I’m better than others at keeping it in check, but it is part of my heart that has not (yet) changed.

    For me, recognizing that I am the way I am makes it easier for me to take my fellow saints as they are — we’re works in progress along the way home.

    • Rob says:

      Almost certainly have each of us been a Laman and Lemuel to someone else. And I don’t know that it’s a good idea to so explicitly label anyone in particular (to their face or behind their backs). But if we are to “liken” the scriptures unto ourselves, how Nephi dealt with his brothers can be very instructive in situations such as the one Jen related. Nephi suffered greatly because of his brothers, especially when it was necessary to call them out; he also, however, “did frankly forgive” them” (1 Nephi 7:21), “had joy and great hopes of them” (1 Nephi 16:5), and didn’t disassociate from them until his life was at stake (for the fourth time).

  4. Bonnie says:

    So true, Jen. Isn’t it true that it’s the imperfection all around us that stretches us best. Why couldn’t Joseph Smith have been born with Martin Harris’ financial opportunities? Wouldn’t that have been more efficient? Why were Jesus’ earthly guardians living in a backward, poverty-stricken area of the world, strangers in a strange land during his youngest years? Why send a wanted man back into Egypt after 40 years when he had been a prince earlier on? The struggle was as important for them as it is for us, and refines so much more efficiently than Satan does. The natural man is a considerable thing to overcome in and of itself, an isometric exercise that targets our core. Cool post.

  5. jendoop says:

    Rob, I have to admit that I might be my husband’s Lamen. He hears all of my complaints, which probably make his journey more difficult but somehow he loves me still. The good news is that there is a promised land and we will get there!

    Paul, I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, I’ve never been in a boring meeting 😉 In reality I know exactly what you’re talking about. It is humbling to realize how very far we have to go sometimes.

    Bonnie, Thank you for all those wonderful examples!

  6. MinSue says:

    I have been all wound up and offended this morning over local politics…this post was like a cool washcloth on my forehead, just what I needed. Thank you!

  7. loraine says:

    I met today with a friend who I love very much, in great trials. In sharing with her some of my trials I overstepped the mark and shared some things that were a real downer. She really disn’t need that burden.

    Whilst this is my confession, I also wanted to point out that we can harm each other with even the best of intentions. Ech. It’s hard work cleaning the soul, and I’m so glad I know that there will be redemption.

    • jendoop says:

      Me too Loraine, me too <3

      That’s the catch 22 in it all, we’re all hypocrites in one way or another, intentionally or not. That’s why this conversation always turns back to the Savior.

  8. Ray says:

    5) Because I’m a hypocrite too often, myself – and with judgment I judge, I will be judged.

    I want mercy, so I try really hard to be merciful; I want to be the recipient of charity, so I try really hard to be charitable.

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