Hypocrisy, Consistency, and Jesus in the Age of Outrage
When I was serving my vicarage (i.e., pastoral internship) in Illinois, I had the occasion to meet one of the previous vicars (i.e., interns) who had also served at the same parish. I don’t remember his name, but he gave me some pastoral advice that I still remember to this day. He said, “My one piece of advice to you for when you are a pastor is this: be consistent.”
If the man offered up examples of how and why this was good advice, I don’t remember what they are. However, I have often meditated on this advice and thus far I’d have to say that it’s pretty good.
Consistency can be applied to nearly every aspect of ministry, but where I really see “consistency” at play is in its connection to justice.
When children fight, it’s often over “fairness.” One child only had to eat two bites of coleslaw but the other child had to eat three. One child got to watch two episodes on Netflix, but the other child was sent to bed after only watching one. What’s going on? There is a perceived injustice over the “inconsistent” application of rules and privileges between children. Adults are angered by this too.
That our country is divided is as easy to see as glancing at my Facebook newsfeed. You know how it is…Facebook has become a breeding ground for axe-grinding and political advocacy—and civility is nary in sight. I’ve got friends on both sides of the political and social spectrum and they have opinions on every issue under the sun. Sometimes I agree with them, sometimes I do not. But regardless, the vitriol and anger seems to measure out about the same. Shaun King is about as tactful as Matt Walsh.
So what is it that has people’s dander up so much?
As alluded to above, injustice is the chief offender. I say this, because injustice often manifests itself in inconsistency. Allow me to supply you with just one example.
I live in South Dakota and serve a dual-point parish. I serve Concordia Lutheran Church in Cresbard and only eight miles to the west I serve Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wecota. It’s only eight short miles on the open plain, but do you know what runs between these two congregations? The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). I watched the workers put it in the ground, and I watched the ground respond to their work. For about twelve months it was obvious something had been done. Today, I’d have to tell you where the pipeline is…and even then you’d have to trust me, because there’s hardly a trace of its existence.
You might well recall the media firestorm that erupted around this pipeline, especially as it concerned the protests occurring near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Now, not every person was protesting this pipeline for the same reason, but by and large, the media portrayed it as an environmental protest mixed with Native American spirituality for good measure.
The DAPL protests were interesting in the sense that there were so many facets to them: oil, greed, money, environment, Native Americans, racial tensions, science, engineering, judges, governors, executive orders, celebrity advocacy, and public scandal. These protests had it all. It was the perfect mix for a media maelstrom. Of the many angles one could take in talking about these protests, I’d like to zero in on just one; namely, the environmentalism angle.
Hypocrisy and Consistency
During the protests, my Facebook feed was filled with articles, posts, and memes lamenting how this pipeline was going to be bad for the environment, leak into the Missouri River, and leave a permanent scar on the landscape, possibly even affecting the Standing Rock Indian Reservation nearby. These protests were necessary (it was claimed) to preserve the environment.
And yet, after the protests were over, my Facebook feed was filled with pictures, images, articles, and memes showing the absolutely disgusting conditions of the DAPL protest camps. The mounds of garbage were indescribably grotesque. The filth left behind cost the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over $1.1 million to clean up.
Not surprisingly, a great number of people, myself included, wondered if environmentalism was really the concern at all, because the shouts of the people didn’t match their actions. The actions weren’t consistent with the words.
If you’re going to advocate for the environment and get angered over the possibility of an oil leak ruining the environment but are seemingly not at all angered when people leave 800+ dumpsters worth of garbage behind for someone else to clean up, well, you can understand why someone might cry foul. It lacks consistency and it smells like injustice and hypocrisy. I personally couldn’t help but notice that my friends and acquaintances who were opposed to the pipeline and vocal in their support of the protestors were noticeably silent about the garbage left behind. They expressed no public distaste or frustration at all.
On the other side of this coin were those who were in favor of the DAPL construction. They were noticeably angered by the protesters and their interruption of the construction but were conspicuously silent—and seemingly not at all angered—when masked white men terrifyingly threatened protesters who were staying at a Ramada Inn in Bismark, ND. Apparently it’s unjust for protestors to impede a construction project, but it’s not at all lamentable or unjust when people are threatened. Their silence on this matter is entirely inconsistent. It smells of injustice and reeks of hypocrisy.
The DAPL is just one news story where inconsistency and injustice is on display on every side. Take any inflammatory news story (which seems to be almost all of them these days), and you can find the same thing. You can, without too much trouble, distill all the angst and vitriol down to a lack of consistency. One side is holding the other side accountable to a certain standard, but that same standard is not being applied to themselves or to those whom they support.
So what’s the solution? How do we overcome this inconsistency?
The Consistency of Christ
Well, Christians can follow the advice that I received back in 2008 while on vicarage. We can be consistent. Jesus advocates for this kind of consistency. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus famously says, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Mt. 7:1). The next sentence is not nearly so well known, but in it Jesus says, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Mt. 7.2). What’s Jesus getting at here? Among other things, he’s advocating for “consistency.” The same measure or standard of judgment you use on others should be and will be applied to yourself.
In a world of chronic injustice, Jesus, who will come again to judge the living and the dead, advocates for consistency which expresses itself in justice. When it comes to consistency, Jesus is the very model of it. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Jesus is incredibly consistent. It’s no wonder the Psalmists repeatedly compare the Lord to a rock and a fortress (Ps. 18:2 & 31, 19:4, 31:3, 71:3).
When Jesus took on our sins, he was consistently punished. His Father didn’t lessen the pain or the punishment. The wages of sin is death, and death was dealt to Jesus. He received no special treatment. God didn’t suddenly change the rules and allow for certain concessions. The punishment for sin, foretold already in the Garden of Eden, was consistently doled out on the Son of God on Calvary.
In a world of lobbyists, special interest groups, and constantly shifting standards and expectations, there is one constant. Jesus Christ. In a world raging in inconsistency, the one thing constant must come as a breath of fresh air.
One of the many ways that the church can proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light is to be consistent in our proclamation, and hail Jesus as being the same yesterday, today, and forever.
God is wildly mysterious and deeply unfathomable, and yet we don’t have to flounder in chaos and despair in uncertainty because God in Jesus Christ is perfectly consistent. There is no guess work in Christ. You know exactly what you’re getting in Jesus. You’re getting one who loved you and gave himself up for you (Eph. 5:25).
In a world where the standards keep changing, and the expectations keep shifting, the goals keep moving, and the accusations of “unfair” are endless and inconsistent, we have Jesus Christ who does not change. He consistently loves us and consistently forgives all those who come to him in faith. He is eternally consistent. He is the Lord our righteousness.
Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. ~Psalm 71:3~
Rev. Tim Koch - Pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church in Cresbard, SD and Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wecota, SD.