Hypocrites in the Hierarchy
There is a masterpiece of a docuseries on Netflix called The Keepers. The show breaks down the murder and investigation of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a nun who went missing on November 7, 1969 in Baltimore, Maryland. By the end of the series, it is heavily implied that the priests who governed the Catholic school in which Sister Cathy taught at were to blame for her disappearance and murder because of her knowledge of the priests’ inappropriate sexual interactions with the female students. I remember shortly after watching this series, I said to myself, “I’m glad that never happened to me.” Others were not so lucky. Others have been betrayed time and time again by those who we trust, like priests or others in the hierarchy of the Church. Despite not experiencing this particular violation of trust, I have been let down in other ways by the Church, by the hypocrisy of it all. I have been told that I was an abomination by the same people who preach love and acceptance at the pulpit. That can be confusing for a young child, let alone an adult who was never told different. So why does this hypocrisy exist? Where did it all begin? Is there a way to change it?
We see the hypocrisy all around us in the Church, but let’s start with the Bible. Jesus makes it well known that the Pharisees of the times, some of the most holy people known to citizens and regular folk, were the biggest hypocrites of them all. The stories of holy men donating to the Temple in flashy ways merely for the applause of the crowds, or fasting only to explain to as many people as they could about their sacrifice is exactly what Jesus speaks against. One of Jesus’ most famous quotes is this: “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). This along with countless others, urge people to rebuke tradition and continue on with grace and love. So, you see, Jesus speaks outwardly against hypocrisy yet, it lines the Church’s walls, sermons, and announcements every week. Why is it a thing then? I think the answer lies in the motivation of it all, where it all roots from.
I’ve had a difficult road with Christianity. I still consider myself a Christian but only in the pure definition of the word: one that follows Jesus’ teachings. Nothing more, nothing less. I see the Bible as a holy relic, a sacred text, but understand that it is not infallible. The only thing I find infallible and the most reliable in the Bible are Jesus’ direct words and actions, which keeps me labeling myself as a Christian. But otherwise, I’m not so sure. But let’s take Jesus’ words and actions as a whole. Jesus preaches of love, of social action, of change in the hierarchy. So, then, why are those who question their faith silenced in the Church? Why are those who extend their hand for love shunned as an abomination? Why are those rooting for change in a corrupt system seen as traitors? Along these guidelines, American Christianity would have hated Jesus, a middle eastern, poor, possibly asexual refugee who incited uproars against tradition and even destroyed the Temple. He is not the white Jesus they all worship. Sounds like a real hoot, huh?
But the motivation of Jesus’ words and actions is very different from those in power right now. Jesus’ basis of love, acceptance, social justice, and equality is not what the Church was founded on. Stephen Mattson of Christians for Social Actions sums it up well. He explains,
"American Christendom was founded upon the genocide of Indigenous nations, and the few who survived were enslaved, along with those brought in from
the African continent and from what is now known as Central and South America. The patriotism American Christianity often exudes within its houses of worship is a revisionist lie that celebrates generations of white supremacy and the brutal suppression of others. Because after colonial ‘Christians’ conquered their enemies, American Christianity’s narrative further devolved into a horror show of violence, corruption, greed, and authoritarian dominance. ‘Heretics’ were killed, ‘witches’ burned, humans sold as chattel, and all of this was baptized under the rationalization of ‘Christian law’ and ‘missions’”
The basis of the Church does not align with the basis of Jesus. Yet, so many of those in power choose to ignore the Church’s extensive, violent history, and live in a world of ignorant bliss. I, for one, think the only way to move forward from this predisposition of righteous hypocrisy is to understand a simple phrase: we should choose to be honest sinners rather than lying hypocrites. This phrase resonates a lot with me. It provides a level playing field. Much too often, the hierarchy of the Church rides on their high horse and claims to be more pure and better than the lowly citizen; that is just not true. We are all sinners, we have all made mistakes, we are all human. One is not better than the other. And to accept that is to create a more understanding, forgiving, and accepting environment in which Jesus intended.
Perhaps the most important lesson of the Bible in regards to hypocrites takes place in the Book of John. When a woman pleaded before a village, about to be stoned for her husband cheating on her, Jesus stood amongst the crowd and announced that the one without sin could throw the first stone. No one moved. Not one stone was thrown. You see, a hypocrite preaching of purity and innocence, shaming those who don’t fall into that box, when none of us are free of sin, doesn't belong in the church. Yet, we’ve put some of the biggest hypocrites into positions of power. But with more and more instances of hypocrisy and betrayal coming to the surface, will this instill change? Will our hierarchy be driven by love instead of greed and power? I sure hope so.