In the court of public opinion, nothing is more perversely pleasurable than exposing a hypocrite. Celebrities, politicians, or those least favorite cousins who live in the next town over. It doesn’t matter. People enjoy a hard fall from grace, no matter who it is.
In arenas like politics, few seem to care about the risk of a character-razing. They probably expect it at some point in their career. When someone gets burned, it’s the cost of doing business. They know that with the right blend of charisma and contrition, almost anyone can return to public service. The risks don’t outweigh the benefits.
But that’s not the case for many of us who find our lives at the center of the cultural spotlight. For those who are gay and Christian—who are attempting to live out a traditional sexual ethic—the threats of becoming another headlining hypocrite are enough to keep us from opening up about our own stories.
We know that our sins aren’t private like they were just a decade ago. We worry that, with enough effort, someone might find the eternal debris of our weakest moments.
So many of us decide that it’s better to stay quiet than to face the potential of public shaming. We keep our lives, stories, and struggles private. Under the threat of public exposure (be it at church, in our small group, or even with a friend), we trade-in the shouts of faith, hope, and love for the silence of fear, guilt, and shame.
In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the White Witch has in her possession a magic wand. She uses its power to turn her enemies into stone. When a creature musters enough courage to cross her, Jadis flicks the wand, and her enemies become statues that she places like trophies throughout her castle.
In real life, we don’t need wands to turn others into silent statues. Shame, guilt, and fear possess a darker power than any witch’s stick, because they come from within us. Sin leaves its invisible residue on our conscience. Where we stand acquitted by our Savior, we find ourselves perpetually accused by our soul. Where we’ve been forgiven our own eternal debt, we can too easily become a debtor to our own fear, shame, and guilt.
This isn’t the guilt or shame many feel when trapped in the grips of unrepentant sin. That guilt is a function of conviction, and we need such sorrow to help lead us to repentance. Instead, this is the guilt, shame, and fear that follow us as we stumble imperfectly toward Jesus. They are the voices that step into our moments of weakness and whisper, “Liar.”
Have you known this shame? Maybe you’ve felt it after your mind has lingered in the gardens of flesh and desire, or after your fingers have tapped in automatic rhythms the names of explicit sites into your computer’s browser. Perhaps you’ve experienced it after your thumb confirmed your download of a hook-up app on your phone, or even after your feet carried you into that forbidden apartment where you crossed a line you know you can’t erase. This shame doesn’t care about the shape of the sin.
Then comes the fear. Not the fear of wrath or retribution; the fear of having your sin exposed. You’ve been forgiven by Jesus. His grace has freed you from sin’s debt. But when you think about opening up about it, or when you think of someone else stumbling across your sin, all you can hear is the word hypocrite echoing inside your heart. So instead of opening your mouth, you keep quiet, because you know—deep down—it must be true.
This silence is its own captivity. A side effect of sin itself. But in Jesus, we are freed both from captivity to sin and from the silencing effects of its guilt, shame, and fear. While our minds echo hypocrite, our hearts can counter with the words of Paul who says in the midst of his own weakness, “There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1 ESV).
Yes, we are hypocrites. No matter our best attempts, we will continue to sin in our moments of weakness, as all Christians do. We will sin as Paul continued to sin, and we will cry over and over again with him, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24)
Our hypocrisy, however, is not our undoing. When our sin follows us, we must not keep quiet in fear and shame. Instead, we must remind ourselves that “[i]f God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31b). When past sins are thrown back in our faces, we must repeat with confidence “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies,” (vs. 33). When accusers come forward with evidence of our guilt, we must shout inside our own hearts, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us,” (vs. 34).
Sin and weakness can only be judged as hypocrisy in the court of public opinion if we hold our reputations closer than we hold our Savior. If, instead, we trust in the reputation of Jesus alone, the exposing of our hypocrisy holds no power, because we have entered into a posture of humility.
Such a posture of humility requires a life of vulnerability. Our openness may cost us dearly. We may lose our reputation, our status, or our friends. There’s a good chance we will look weak, or even humiliated, to those who have no true interest in the grace of God.
Yet in that humiliation, we also find the beauty of the kingdom of God. Jesus came to save sinners, not the righteous. God “chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise…what is weak in the world to shame the strong,” (1 Cor. 1:27). Why? So that “the one who boasts, boast[s] only in the Lord,” (1 Cor 1:31). In our weakness and sin, we can’t boast in our own perfection. Because no Christian is perfect.
We cannot be sinless, but we can be confident that our sins no longer hold us in their grip. When we open our mouths, our boast is no longer in ourselves, but in our God. In that confidence, then, we can follow the example of our Savior and willingly sacrifice our reputation in the court of public opinion for the declaration of the ever-present grace of God in our lives. Even better, we can boldly proclaim this same freedom to anyone who remains captive to their own shame, guilt, and fear.
Our lives as Gay Christians should not be filled with a special guilt, shame, or fear that forces us to keep our experiences with God’s grace between ourselves. If we are pursuing Jesus, our sins—whether physical, emotional, or spiritual—are forgiven. We must not fear our weaknesses more than we fear the God who gave his Son to forgive us of them. We must not hold our reputations so tight that they turn our mouths to stone.
We were not created to be silent statues in the hallways of our accusers. We were created to be beloved children of a King who has conquered every sin and weakness; a king who has turned our private guilt, shame, and fear into shouts of faith, hope, and love.