All hypocrisy is ugly, but religious hypocrisy is especially ugly. That’s because we are putting on a show before the God who knows everything. We are claiming to be pious when He knows we are not. We are boasting to the world about our spiritual devotion when our secret lives are full of corruption. That’s why this sin is singled out for special rebuke in the Scriptures (see especially Matthew 23).
But there is another type of religious hypocrisy which is public and flagrant, yet does not hide its hypocrisy. We openly sin but act piously in the process. We defy God’s moral principles in broad daylight but do so with scrupulous religiosity. It is as if we wash our hands so as to be ritually clean before picking up a dagger to stab an innocent victim. We thereby make a public and open mockery of the God we claim to serve.
Before I focus on the subject of this article, let me give you some glaring examples of this type of blatant religious hypocrisy.
According to a 2009 interview in the Jerusalem Post with a former Iranian Islamic militia member, “In the Islamic Republic it is illegal to execute a young woman, regardless of her crime, if she is a virgin . . . . Therefore a ‘wedding’ ceremony is conducted the night before the execution: The young girl is forced to have sexual intercourse with a prison guard - essentially raped by her ‘husband.’”
So, a virgin is, for all practical purposes, raped by another man in order to comply with the letter of the religious law. She is raped in the name of righteousness so she can be “legally” executed under Iranian Islamic law.
This story was confirmed in the memoirs of Hossein Ali-Montazeri, who for 10 years had been “the designated successor to [Ayatollah] Khomeini.” He claimed that Khomeini did not want the girls put to death but stated that his words were “perverted” to mean, “Don’t execute girls. First married [sic] them for one night and then execute them.”
This, then, was the tacit acknowledgement of this horrific practice. Virgins were raped before execution in the name of radical Islamic law.
A less extreme example of religious hypocrisy is the secret practice in some ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel of having sex with “kosher prostitutes.” These women live in scrupulous observance of traditional Jewish law in order to be acceptable to the religious men who sleep with them. “Are you ritually clean? Good. Now I can commit adultery with you.” (This was discussed by Prof. Samuel Heilman in his 1992 book Defenders of the Faith: Inside Ultra-Orthodox Judaism.)
And this brings me to the most sickeningly hypocritical prayer I have ever seen in my life.
It took place during the storming of the Capitol, and it was led by the now famous, horn-wearing, man known as QAnon Shaman. A group of rioters had made their way into the floor of the Senate, now standing triumphantly behind the very dais where our elected officials, including Vice President Pence, have stood.
They were flagrant lawbreakers, they brought disgrace to our nation, and they endangered the lives of our political leaders.
Yet they stopped for a word of prayer. They lifted up their voices in Jesus’ name. They made intercession for America.
What utter, sheer, brazen hypocrisy. How dare they lift up a prayer to the God whom they are defying at that moment. How dare they lift their hands in worship after using those same hands to illegally breach the Capitol. (Needless to say, it was as nationalistic a prayer as you could pray.)
But it gets worse – and more comically absurd.
The men quickly realized that they were wearing hats, and that presented a problem. (They must have learned somewhere that men should pray with their heads uncovered, based on a common interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13).
So, they quickly stopped the prayer, removed their hats – surely, they must be careful in their religious observance – then continued their prayer, ending with a hearty Amen.
What makes this anything but funny, though, is that they brought reproach to the name of the God we love. In the eyes of the world (or, at least, in the eyes of many in the world), if you are a white Christian conservative who voted for Trump, those men represented you.
And, while I have made clear that it was not Jesus-loving evangelicals who ransacked the Capitol, I don’t doubt that some of the rioters who could (mis)quote the Bible back to me to justify their madness.
That’s another reason why God so hates religious hypocrisy. It makes Him look bad in the eyes of the people who need Him most.
That means that, in the days to come, all of us who have gotten a bad rap because of the actions of a few need to let our light shine all the more. Let the world know there is a difference between those dangerous lawbreakers and us (and may the Lord purge each of us of any stain of our religious hypocrisy).
For my related video commentary, go here.