It’s a charge I hear frequently - the Church is full of hypocrites.
I have to admit, as frequently as I hear it, it never fails to sting me. There is no doubt that the biggest obstacle to evangelization is the bad example of Christians. If we were living the gospel message with integrity, sharing our food with the poor, loving one another and worshiping with joy every Sunday, there would be no need for apologetics and evangelization. The beauty of Jesus’ message and the power of the Christian life would be clear to all. It is painfully evident to me that my primary evangelizing effort must be to my own heart, mind and soul. If I am not preaching the word of God with my actions, none of my words will have any effect.
On the other hand, I have found that I need not fold whenever someone pulls the hypocrite card. I usually counter by asking them what they mean and if they can give me an example. Usually I find with a little prodding that what is really going on is that they are projecting on to Christians their own feelings of shame and inadequacy. They realize how they have failed to live up to their own ideals and so picture a Christian community looking at them with the same disdain they often feel for themselves.
One approach I’ve taken when dealing with the charge of hypocrisy is using the example of a gym. We do not go to the gym to show off our strength but to build it. We are not there to model our physique but to improve it. Just so, we do not go to church to show off our holiness but to grow in it through the grace of God. Jesus put it this way: “Those who are well do not need a doctor. Sick people do.” A congregation at worship will be made up of all types of people with all types of sin, weaknesses and temptations. None of us deserves to be there or has earned our spot in the pew. We are there because we have been touched by the teaching of Christ and are striving to emulate Him. We often fall and so are in need of forgiveness, inspiration and renewed resolve. Just as we shouldn’t be surprised to find sick people in the hospital, we shouldn’t be surprised to find sinners in church.
Also, when I go to church, I want to be accepted as I am - even with my sins and faults. I don’t want to be looked down upon because I struggle to live my faith. I don’ want to be judged because I still have a long way to go to be the model of love that Jesus calls me to be. So, I would really be a hypocrite if I did not extend that same charity to my fellow worshipers. I should be willing to accept them with all their sins and failings just as I would want them to accept me - even when their sin is that of hypocrisy.
Most often, I find the hypocrisy card is played as an excuse for not going to Mass and living the Christian life. Sadly we too often give such people more than enough reason to level that charge at us. But we must still press on, pushing through to the heart of the matter which is Jesus and the relationship of love He extends even to hypocrites like me.