On Pots and Kettles image

On Pots and Kettles

Probably the most tweeted article in my twitter timeline last week was that of Tom Wright writing in The Guardian under the headline: ‘The church may be hypocritical about sex, but is no one else guilty?

“The reporting of clerical scandal is hypocritical in itself” ran the sub-heading, and although the article was a little more nuanced, his point was essentially ‘people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’ - we’re all hypocritical and we’re just going to have to live with that.

Aside from the fact that it is somewhat ungracious to respond to criticism with a schoolboy-ish ‘Yeah well, you do it too!’, what Wright’s argument misses is that this isn’t a level playing field. Comparing the Church and the media you are not comparing like with like. We are not evenly balanced when it comes to either our imperative or our empowering to avoid hypocrisy. Journalists have only their own strength of character to lean upon. Christians have a secret weapon.

Wright alludes to it when he notes that “part of the ‘fruit of the spirit [sic]’ … is self-control”, but he then suggests that self-control isn’t something that comes overnight, but must be worked at, like practising a Brahms concerto. Yet that is not Paul’s point in the Galatians passage at all. Just a few verses earlier he has said “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (note the capital S). The Christian message is that we don’t just have a moral code we try to follow and hope that practice will one day make perfect. We actually have the Spirit of God living inside us. He doesn’t just suggest virtuous actions and attitudes, he actually empowers us to be able to choose them.

Yes, it requires daily choices, yes, we fail, and yes, with practice it becomes easier, but it is not in the same category as practising to play a Brahms concerto - your own effort and dedication are not going to get you there. That was the whole point of the Old Testament Law, to show that human effort is never going to be sufficient to achieve perfection.

When we sin, as we will, and the world points out our sins, as they will, our response cannot be ‘that’s the pot calling the kettle black!’  We need to draw on the secret source of strength that has been given to us and do something the media cannot do: humbly repent, before God and man. We must seek forgiveness, make reparation where it is needed, then live in the light of the forgiveness freely given, with our sins removed as far as the east is from the west, empowered by the Spirit to walk in righteousness once more.

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