Every now and then, someone complains to me that the reason he or she doesn't come to church is because it is so full of hypocrites. I wonder at times how these purists continue to live in a society that reflects a fair amount of hypocrisy outside the walls of the church.
I read in the St. Petersburg Times recently that a Tampa Bay doctor has been suspended by the Florida Board of Medicine, which felt he should be able to tell the difference between a 9-week and 22-week fetus. The purists are going to have to start avoiding everyone in the medical profession. There could be hypocrites among them.
I read in the Times that a former youth football coach in San Jose, Calif., was sentenced to 82 years in prison for molesting a dozen of his players over the past several years. The purists are going to have to avoid all Little League and community-sponsored football, basketball, baseball and soccer activities because there may be a hypocrite involved.
I've been reading in the Times for the past year about the supposed mishandling of a student athlete at the University of South Florida in Tampa. The purist students should withdraw from USF pronto. There could be a hypocrite or two there.
I read in the Times that a former state prosecutor in Tampa is on trial for bribery charges. The purists will have to give up completely on lawyers and our justice system. There may be some hypocrites in our legal system.
I read in the Times that a Fort Lauderdale physician has been suspended for inventing a new medical syndrome and naming it after himself. It's another reason for the purist to give up on medical professionals as well as medical research and experimentation. If one of them is a hypocrite, they all must be.
The church has its warts and blemishes. If it has a preacher or any members, it is not perfect. No one knows that any better than a pastor such as myself. The disgruntled churchgoers need not blame certain TV evangelists for their disillusionment. I could introduce you to some flawed preachers in the Tampa Bay area. I could introduce you to one if you come to 2875 State Road 580 in Clearwater (where my office is located). Walk into any church. The first person you see will have some level of hypocrisy in his life.
And yet the hypocrite in church on Sunday is a different breed of hypocrite. I know my hypocrisies. I don't like my hypocrisies. I'm making an effort to do something about them. The Rev. Bob Campbell of Napoleon, Ohio, has put it like this: "I am unimpressed by the person who stays away from church to live a hypocrisy-free life. How low one's values must be to always be able to follow them."
If you haven't seen a hypocrite yet today, go look in a mirror. You will see a person who sometimes pretends to be one thing when on the inside he or she is sometimes something else. You'll see a person who is sometimes good and sometimes bad. The shoe fits all of us.
You'd expect me to write what you're about to read. Our choice is whether to choose to associate with only the hypocrites of the world or the hypocrites of the church. It is the latter who recognize best our true condition.
During his earthly ministry, the founder and head of the church one day said in typical parabolic fashion: "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
The true church is for sinners only. There are hundreds of churches in the Tampa Bay area. Welcome!
Dr. Raymond Guterman is the senior pastor of Northwood Presbyterian Church in Clearwater.