He was a new patient who had been referred to me by his girlfriend. As we introduced ourselves we talked briefly about their relationship and how long they had been together. He told me they were serious and had been living together for a while. As we spoke the conversation turned to her recent diagnosis of a severely abnormal PAP smear. I asked if she was worried or stressed out by the news.
“Not at all!” he replied, “When she came home and told me I laid hands on her and we prayed for healing, so we know everything will be all right.”
Remarkably he did not catch the irony in his words. Unremarkably, I did and pointed it out with a question. “May I ask you something?” I asked. He nodded affirmatively. “How is it that your faith is strong enough to cause you to pray for her healing but not strong enough to keep you out of her pants?”
He did not respond immediately and I thought he might be angry. He paused for a moment and said, “You got me doc. I don’t have an answer.” I told him that it was interesting to me that without knowing of my faith (I had made no mention of it up to this point) he had so openly declared to me both his strong faith and his decision to reject one of its central moral teachings. “Something to consider,” I said and moved on to his reason for coming in.
I wish I could say that stories like this are rare but they are not. I frequently encounter individuals who speak openly about what they believe yet are equally open about behaviors and actions that are contrary to their faith. In these circumstances it is not the moral failings that surprise me, for all of us struggle every day. It is the lack of shame and remorse about their sin that is disturbing. Somehow the Biblical teaching about sin and its consequences has been overlooked or ignored. How does this happen?
I wonder if it might be the result of churches focusing on attendance numbers as a sign of God’s favor and blessing. When numbers become the focus there is a danger of altering the message to improve its appeal. Change is hard and repentance is an uncomfortable concept so sin is de-emphasized and acceptance becomes the message. “God loves you just as you are!” is proclaimed but the rest of the truth, that because we are broken sinners God desires to transform us, is downplayed if it is taught at all.
While many Christians may not be aware of this weak commitment to the whole Gospel, the contradiction it represents is readily apparent to those outside the church. When we emphasize the sin of those who do not share our faith and neglect our own sin we come across as hypocritical, shallow and unbelieving.
The solution to this problem is simple. Churches and pastors need to return to the teaching of the whole Gospel, the Good News that we are saved from our sin that we may sin no longer, that we are no longer slaves to our desires but freed to live as Children of God. When confronted with the truth about our sins and failings we need to address them and change. The turning away from sin is a powerful testimony.
The patient in the story did just that. When he returned for a follow up visit just a few months away he had a ring on his hand and a smile on his face! He was a hypocrite no more!
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