The early seventeenth century playwright and poet, Ben Jonson , in speaking of hypocrisy wrote “Many men believe not themselves what they would persuade others; and less, do the things which they would impose on others; but least of all, know what they themselves most confidently boast. Only they set the sign of the cross over their outer doors, and sacrifice to their gut and their groin in their inner closets.” Nowhere is the truth of his observations more evident than in Congress in the past year. We have seen Senators Nelson from Nebraska and Landrieu from Louisiana abruptly change their convictions on abortion when it became politically expedient for them to do so. We have seen the members of both the House and Senate, who were strong advocates of the health care reform, reject amendments which would require them to participate in the health care plan they have formulated for our country. Many of the legislators who have called for civility in language have been the most scurrilous towards their opponents. Leaders of both parties, while speaking against ethical abuse, have been caught up in ethics violations themselves. The same type of hypocrisy is evident in the consternation by Congress at the large bonuses paid to corporate executives while salaries for federal employees in Washington are escalating far out of line above similar salaries in the private sector. While talking about the need to reduce our use of energy, congressional leaders jet across the country and around the world on air force jets at public expense and use excessive amounts of energy in their own homes. While selectively railing against corruption, they turn a deaf ear against the abuses of organizations like Acorn. Whether Republicans or Democrats are in power, the abuses tend to be the same. Jonson’s words are proving to be prophetically true.
But lest we attempt to pull the mote from our brother’s eye while ignoring the log in our own, we need to look at ourselves. How often do we do the same thing Jonson describes? We can say that we believe in the power of prayer, but when facing difficulties try to keep them secret so that no one will find out we are experiencing them, never enabling them to pray for us. We can talk about the importance of obeying the law as we speed merrily down the expressway far above the maximum rated speed. Many parents strongly condemn the use of alcohol or tobacco by their children while abusing them themselves. The most difficult areas are those which have an impact upon our own lives. It can be very easy to take a stand for or against something as long as it doesn’t affect us personally. Then we may sing a different tune. But that is when we will discover the true nature of our character. That which is in the depths of our soul will one day rise to the surface and make itself known. Jesus warns that what comes out of a person is more dangerous than what goes in. What arises from our soul will determine whether or not we compromise our character in times of perceived crisis. Then we will discover who we truly are. Then we will find out whether or not we have disconnected our faith from the rest of our lives, living as Jonson describes. Are we as guilty as our legislators or the English citizens of Ben Jonson’s day in effectively proclaiming “Do as I say, not as I do?” May it not be so!