This “I am” lingo is promoted through social media in an attempt to create “community,” or at the least to create a sense of ideological cohesiveness in an increasingly relationally fragmented world. When someone is oppressed then the “I am” language intentionally aims at a sense of solidarity in identification with the victim. This can be commendable, even a demonstration of love. It is an attempt to minimise oppression. But what about in the case of the guilty—such as Josh Duggar?
Josh Duggar has been in the news a lot lately. He is one of nineteen children born to Jim and Michelle Duggar. Until recently, they had a reality TV show. But that came to an ignoble end upon the revelation that Josh Duggar, as a teenager, had inappropriately touched his sisters. He confessed this and his family stood with him, supporting him as a changed man. We Christians grieved but were hopeful because Josh Duggar testified of God’s saving and transforming grace in his life. But that was then.
Two weeks ago, Josh Duggar was outed as a client of the website Ashley Madison, a digital business designed to arrange adulterous affairs. When this news hit the proverbial fan, Duggar went on record saying, “I am the biggest hypocrite ever.” Yes, pretty big.
You see, for many years Duggar was a major voice in a ministry/NGO that promoted family values. Among other things, he promoted fidelity in marriage. While publicly espousing faithfulness to marital vows, behind the scenes he was privately breaking his. But it is no longer a private affair. Forgive the pun.
My wife recently shared with me an article by someone on Facebook titled, “I am Josh Duggar.” The writer said that, although she was initially angered by Duggar’s hypocrisy, upon reflection she concluded that all Christians in fact are guilty of such inconsistency. Therefore, all Christians should identify with Mr. Duggar. So, “I am Josh Duggar” is to be the non-judgemental first-pluck-the-beam-out-of-your-own-eye response of the Christian community. Well, with all due respect, I am not Josh Duggar. I am not a hypocrite. And probably neither are most of you who are reading this.
Without question, I do not always live what I claim to believe. Like Peter, there are times when my behaviour is hypocritical (Galatians 2:13); I do not always consistently practice what I preach. But there is a world of difference between living imperfectly (conducting our lives inconsistently) and being a hypocrite. They are chalk and cheese.
Let’s be clear about this: Failure in the Christian life is inexcusable, but it is not necessarily hypocrisy. It is failure. It is painful. It can be humiliating. It can be deeply discouraging. But such sinful failures are not necessarily bold-faced hypocrisy.
The word “hypocrite” derives from an ancient Greek word for a mask that actors wore when they were in costume. As they changed roles, as they pretended to play a role, they would put a different mask (upokritas) in front of their face. They pretended to be what they were not. That is the meaning of hypocrisy. And to be frank, I don’t know many professing Christians who fit the description of pretender. Sinful? Yes. Hypocritical moments? No doubt. But persistent hypocrisy? Hardly. In other words, unless you are publicly pretending to be one thing while privately you are in fact another, then drop the “I am Josh Duggar” lingo.
I am certainly not making excuses for sin in the life of a Christian, and I am most definitely not trying to gloss over my own. Rather, I am making the very important distinction between knowingly putting on an act and grieving because you have failed to live up to what you really believe. (It is interesting that Peter made an abrupt about turn when Paul rebuked him in Galatians 2.) And it is for this reason that I do not think it is helpful for Christians to bandy about the language that “we are all hypocrites.” I certainly hope that we are not.
The Lord Jesus Christ reserved His most severe words for hypocrites (see Matthew 23:13–36). The scribes and Pharisees, religious leaders of Israel, were notorious for playacting. Jesus used the descriptive metaphor of “whitewashed tombs.” They advertised themselves as the purveyors of health while they themselves were decaying graves of death. More to the point, they pretended to be followers of God while in fact they were of their father the devil (John 8:44). They pretended to be friends of the gospel when in fact they were among its biggest enemies (Matthew 23:29–33).
The gospel provides hope for fallen Christians. If Josh Duggar is a Christian then I am confident that he will be restored. I am not disputing God’s forgiveness of sinners—even His forgiveness of the sin of hypocrisy. What I am saying is that we should be very slow to adopt the we-are-all-hypocrites mentality. No, we are not. Yes, we sin. Yes, we are inconsistent. Yes, we fail to live up to the Word of God in every jot and tittle. Nevertheless, unless you are pretending to be something that you are not, you are not a hypocrite.
This is not merely an argument over semantics. My concern is the insidious temptation to minimise our sin. And the corporate cop out—“Well, after all, we are all hypocrites”—is an unhelpful, even harmful, mentality. In fact, we should hate hypocrisy. We should be on guard against it. We should do whatever is necessary to avoid it rather than nominally identifying with it. Consider that hypocrites are condemned to hell (Matthew 24:51). Beware.
It is precisely here that we see some of the glory of the local church. As Christians learn to confess their sins to one another, as they are transparent about their struggles, hypocrisy is held at bay. So when we do sin, rather than saying, “I am a hypocrite,” we will say, “I am a sinner who needs, and who has, the Saviour.” So rather than, “I am Josh Duggar,” let us with deep humility and dependent trust say, “I am Christian. So help me God.”