Tombstone is one of my all time favorite movies. It is the favorite of many guys my age, I have discovered. Val Kilmer gives one the most endearing performances as Doc Holliday. Throughout the film, Doc makes several mentions of his hypocrisy. We can infer that his references are related to his siding with law keeping friend Wyatt Earp despite his drunken carousing, his gambling, and his other nocturnal activities. An ending scene has him receiving last rites from a Catholic priest. He tells Wyatt “It seems my hypocrisy knows no bounds”. Because certainly this debaucherous man can’t have any kind of genuine faith, right?
Hypocrisy is the great plague of the church. It seems a difficult task to have our words and deeds line up in a meaningful way. It is even harder for those of us who speak often of our faith or who speak of faith professionally. When we speak openly of our morals and values, we open the door to having our actions scrutinized. It seems that every six months or so, some gay-bashing preacher or politician is discovered having some sort of same sex affair. People who speak out on behalf of the environment get ripped to shreds for traveling in less than fuel efficient ways. The scandals du jour circle around conservatives like Josh Duggar and Bill O’Reilly who speak vehemently about the value of family while concealing molestation and abuse in their own lives.
It’s easy to take shots at the hypocritical behavior of others. It’s much harder to look in the mirror and see my own hypocrisy. I can consider myself something of a feminist, yet I can’t escape the ways that my own chauvinism and misogyny have damaged some of my very close relationships. I consider myself a pacifist, yet I love the NFL, most of my favorite TV shows are violent, and hell, my favorite movie franchise has “Wars” in the title. I am devoted to being a force for good in the city, yet I live in the suburbs. Sure, that’s circumstantial right now, but I it still makes me feel hypocritical.
Jesus warns about dealing with the splinter in someone else’s eye before dealing with the plank in our own. I think it’s a matter of perspective. I think we’re all running around with planks in our eyes, but the distance makes someone else’s plank look like a speck. The point is that we’re all dealing with the same damaged perspective and yet we somehow feel entitled to judge.
I spent two hours with a psychologist last week. I did so in hopes of proving to the presbytery in whose bounds I currently serve that I am not a sexual predator… or something. It ended with the doctor telling me that I am no more vulnerable than anyone else. That I am human. My initial feeling was vindication. Then I was angry. It took two hours of a stranger outside of the church to sit with me, listen to my life, and discover that I’m just a guy with a broken heart who made some bad decisions. Why couldn’t the church reach the same conclusion? Why is it that at every turn where I’ve expected to receive grace, I received more judgment? Why is it that every time I enter a church building, I feel like I have the Scarlet Letter affixed to my chest?
Institutions are inherently conservative. They have to be for the sake of preservation. The church is no different. So the institution circles the wagons when there is a possible threat. Sometimes it means blaming the victim when a key figure of the institution is implicated in wrongdoing. And sometimes that means distancing itself from someone who may be a threat to its long term viability. My case was the latter. And while I certainly didn’t want my wrongdoing defended…I hate that I was treated as a threat.
It’s easier for me as an individual to extend grace to someone than it is for me as a member of an institution that has to worry about things like funding. I hate that. Institutions set themselves up to be hypocritical for the sake of self preservation. It is frustrating. The church is supposed to be different. We’re supposed to be willing to risk death for what we believe and that should include risking institutional death. We don’t. By not being an institution set apart, we have actually ushered in our own decline. I’m tired of it. I would rather continue to be a part of institutions that don’t make special claims about doing the work of grace in the world while actually doing the work of judgment. I’m tired of the institution’s hypocrisy. And I’m tired of my role in it.
After his climactic gunfight with Johnny Ringo, Doc Holliday takes off his badge and lays it on Ringo’s dead body. Wyatt comes upon the two of them looks down at Ringo and sees the badge. “My hypocrisy only goes so far,” Holliday tells his friend. In other words, I can’t keep wearing the badge. I know who I am and I can’t keep wearing the badge. It served a purpose for a time, but it’s not me.
I feel ya, Doc. I feel ya…