If you haven’t read “My Green Manifesto” by David Gessner, I suggest you do so. The book is beautifully written about a compelling and urgent subject. The subtitle is: “Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism.” Gessner covers a lot of territory that has resonance for church folk. He plumbs the importance of language. He upholds the power of common vision moved forward by groups of committed people. His traveling companion is an environmental planner – who is also a prophet in some ways. As they paddle, they talk. At one point, Gessner’s green prophet proclaims, “We need hypocrites!”
“We are all hypocrites, of course,” he says. “We are all hypocrites. None of us are consistent. The problem is that we let that fact stop us. We worry that if we fight for nature, people will say, ‘But you drive a car,’ or ‘You fly a lot,’ or ‘You’re a consumer, too.’ And that stops us in our tracks. It’s almost as if admitting that they are hypocrites lets people off the hook.”
He goes on to say, “We don’t need some sort of pure movement run by pure people.”
Gessner adds, “If only non-hypocrites are going to fight for the environment then it will be an army of none.”
We need more hypocrites. We need more hypocrites rallying for the environment and we need more hypocrites in our pulpits, pews and seminaries. We need to admit with utter humility and vulnerability and honesty: We are hypocrites. We do not have all the answers, nor are our motives pure. Not one of us is righteous, no not one. We do the very things we hate, even though we know better and even long to do better.
We are hypocrites, but that doesn’t let us off the hook from following Jesus. We are still to fight for justice, mercy and kindness – even though we wear clothing manufactured in sweatshops, hold grudges against our siblings and post angry comments on the internet. If we want pure people in our churches, they will be congregations of none.
The concept of “disjointed incrementalism” has gone out of favor. The idea of moving ahead with small steps, rather than with sweeping change, has been criticized. This proximate approach to policymaking leads to “muddling through” rather than grand transformation. Recycling isn’t going to stop global warming. Opening a soup kitchen on Saturdays isn’t going to eliminate hunger. Taking a summer mission trip to a faraway country won’t eradicate the poverty there. (In fact, it will enlarge your carbon footprint!)
True, true and true. But don’t we also believe that God meets us where we are, takes the gifts we have to offer, blesses and uses them? Don’t we believe in the one who eats with sinners? Don’t we trust in the Savior who forgives the ones who know not what they do? Aren’t we kin to Peter, the denier upon whom Jesus built the church? Didn’t God turn Saul into Paul? Wasn’t it the Samaritan woman at the well who told everyone she knew about Jesus?
We need more hypocrites. We need hypocrites who aren’t afraid of disjointed incrementalism. In “Growing Up Christian,” C. Ellis Nelson writes, “This principal of ‘disjointed incrementalism’ means that leaders use events and situations as they occur to advance toward their vision… Each small move toward the vision gets more people involved, which generates more support.” Being faithful in little trains us to be faithful in much. Admitting our hypocrisy and acting anyway gives the Spirit room to work on us.
In our all or nothing, now or never, my way or the highway culture, we need more hypocrites. We need faithful, muddling through, incremental Christians who trust that God will take, bless, break and use what we offer in tainted, depraved love. We are promised not even the crumbs of cheap bread will go to waste.
We can’t be anything other than a corrupt but redeemed good. We will always and ever be hypocrites, but that does not let us off the hook to follow Jesus. We will get off the path, no doubt. We will run away and hide when the heat is on and Jesus needs us most. We are never consistent. But God will use us anyway.
Grace and peace,