Sister Gemma Simmonds CJ
Thirty years ago two of America’s leading television evangelists, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, rocked the confidence of their followers with dramatic confessions of wrongdoing. The contrast between their public and private lives was made all the worse by their previous condemnations of the sinful behaviour of others. There have been many scandals in political and public life and in most of the churches some so appalling that they’ve all but destroyed the faith of previously regular churchgoers.
Most mature believers will accept that they belong to a church made up of sinners like themselves. What’s harder to swallow is hypocrisy, when grave misdemeanours are covered over with secrets and lies and respectability seems more important than the safety of the vulnerable. Christ himself reserved harsher criticism for hypocrites than for any other type of sinner, and seems actively to have sought out the company of those considered disreputable by the judgmental leaders of his day.
Recently Pope Francis wrote: ‘I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security’. Most believers recognize and freely admit that they’re sinners. If we recognize that we’re in need of God’s forgiveness it will give us pause before we condemn too eagerly the faults of others. But hopefully it will also turn our hearts away from an obsession with our own respectability and towards those who already know their need of God. Compassionate God, you forgive all those who turn to you. Help us to live in truth and serve you in sincerity, in Jesus’ name, Amen.