Righteousness and hypocrisy

Jesus seems quite clear that we cannot be righteous. “No-one is good but God alone“. “If you say ‘you fool’ you will be liable to the hell of fire“. Non-christians might agree that while we can imagine an ideal of right behaviour in all situations, we might not live up to it.

Yet most of us are sort-of OK. We fall below the standard of perfection, we acknowledge it, we try to be and do better. We encourage each other or we point to each other’s sins in a futile game of one-upmanship, seeking an illusory moral high ground. To “I’m OK: You’re OK” Anthony diMello responded, “I’m an ass, you’re an ass”.

Some conservative Evangelical churches welcome divorced and remarried couples. I think Jesus would too. However, Jesus, who tells it like it is, says that “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her,” though when I searched I found that even Google preferred Matthew, with the exception for victims of adultery.

Ideally, people would marry, become one flesh, and live together in mutual supportive love until death parted them. And- some marry unwisely, and some couples grow apart, and sometimes divorce. Finding a partner is a good thing: “It is better to marry than burn” says Paul. Churches now welcome such couples, though they might not have done in the past. Roman Catholics deny them communion, but even some bishops want to change this policy.

Where does this leave gay marriage? Brent White wants to permit remarried divorcees in church, while still telling gay couples to begone. He cites Robert Gagnon, though in that passage Gagnon does not go so far: Gagnon permits divorcees, but not specifically remarried people in church. Two commenters delight in his arguments. They too would permit remarried couples, while excluding gay couples. He is a hypocrite.

If remarried sex is adultery, as Jesus says, nothing can stop it being adultery. Ideally, if the couple repent of their adultery the only course is for them to separate, as their lovemaking will always be adulterous against the wronged first spouse. That is the traditional view of Catholics and Evangelicals alike. However, as I am as much of an “ass” as the remarried couple, I welcome them in church. Remarriage is not Perfect, but is sort-of  OK. Gay marriage is perhaps not perfect, but again sort-of OK.

We can imagine an ideal target- the mother who is never flustered, always loving, always tidy, never a hair out of place- which we fail to reach. One response to my imperfection is to see how often I fall short, and keep trying. Another is to pick on a group of sinners- married gay people, perhaps- and exclude them from church as the Worst Sinners Possible.

Before I sin, that sin is monstrous. After, it is what happened: deal with it and move on. “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect”- perhaps we are perfect, just as we are.

14 thoughts on “Righteousness and hypocrisy

    • Good for her. It is force of personality: British titles are titles in law, so the Duke of Argyll is the Duke, recognised by the State; but as the French revolutions are more recent and restorations less effective than ours, a French duc is only a duc if

      I was going to say, a French duc is only a duc if people say he is. That applies to a British duke as well, but having- the establishment? recognise the title counts for something, I suppose. With the number of life peers getting gongs for party donations, then only becoming generally known when they do something disgusting or criminal, respect lessens for that recognition.

      As for the correct usage of the word “lady” are there not still “dinner ladies”?


      • French courts sometimes do get involved, it’s rare, but a possibility. This case concerned an ancien regime title, and it was successfully argued that even though it only has ‘souvenir de famille’ legal status, the original rules apply. In other words it can only be used as a souvenir de famille if the original conditions are obeyed. Strange but interesting.


  1. I’m not sure that Jesus would call anyone a sinner, and I shy away from parts of the Bible that attribute unkindness to him or to God, and then use that to excuse their own prejudice. “God says….therefore I’m off the hook, and you can’t argue with me, or else you are a sinner….”

    We all do the best we can, and that is good enough.

    Great post, thank you! xx :-))


  2. I’m sure I’m missing subtle nuances, like in your final line, but I find the whole sin delusion to be terribly troubling and damaging. Plus, going by the Bible, remarriage is a serious and definition sin, whereas gay marriage is a ‘guessed sin’. I was right though, it is about Bible interpretation and judging.


    • No, it is about movement and hope. The conservative evangelicals (though not all of them) are accepting remarried divorcees into their churches, by a little shimmy round the condemnatory interpretations of the Bible. Even Christian “legalists” realise legalism is wrong, though they imagine they avoid it.

      The alternative is to hold two things in your mind: an ideal and an actual. We seek the ideal. We manage the actual. Perfect Mum is always fragrant, little ones always happy, she is CEO of a multinational yet needs no nanny etc, and her house is immaculate. Actual mum loves her little ones and manages more or less OK. though she does not make that “perfect” ideal. In community, we can help each other in love to get closer to the ideal, and celebrate all our successes.

      Sin can be damaging, judging the bad people (including onesself) for breaking the Rules. Or it can be a spur to do better. Be aware of it, and aware of the infinite love and forgiveness of the great I AM.


      • There’s no such thing as perfect – it’s just a word we throw around. There’s no ideal either, and that’s what we need to stop imagining. Everyone’s doing their own thing and we need to celebrate that. Feeling bad about ourselves doesn’t generally spur us on to do better, it just makes us feel shitty and demotivated. That’s my experience anyway.


        • For me, the perfect is inspiration, not a stick to beat myself with; mostly what I manage is good enough; there is love and forgiveness freely available.

          Or- imagining the best I can be inspires me to get closer to that best. If I cannot imagine an action I cannot perform it. That could make me feel shitty- I never reach that perfect- and to avoid that, there is freely available love and forgiveness at the heart of Christianity. Those who see Christianity as a system of rules and punishments miss its point.

          And- it is my perfect, my idiosyncratic ideal, which matters, not some standard one.


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