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Must Christians Be “Perfect” to be Right?

Question: Do you ALWAYS live the way you think you should? Do you HaloPERFECTLY embody your own morals and standards?

  • If you answer “yes,”  I could say you were a liar.
  • If you answer “no,” I could say you were a hypocrite.

Question: So does your being a “liar” or a “hypocrite” make your standard or morals  inherently wrong?

If perfection is the requirement for any moral position* to be “right,” then no position can be. Because no one can perfectly live up to the morality they believe to be right.

Nevertheless, this fallacious approach to moral issues has been so over-used as to be knee-jerk. Especially as it relates to Christian morality.

I know I will probably get some heat for using this example. I usually do. But it’s a prime example of the constantly careless wielding of this argument. On Out of Ur, in an article entitled They Think We’re a Hate Group, & They Might Be Right, Michael Chesire responds to the Newtown Shooting, specifically some “religious leaders'” blaming the massacre on societal decline (such as abortion and homosexuality) and secularism (as in prayer being removed from school).  Bold is mine.

I’m tired of our so-called religious leaders speaking for the rest of us in blaming entire people groups. I have never met a Jesus who rejects people or blames them for the atrocities in which they were not involved. Yesterday I had a gay friend email and ask how this shooting was his fault. It’s a fair question. Many Christians commit adultery, steal, and withhold forgiveness. What if it’s those sins that caused this evil? Silly, right? But as long as we are playing the blame game, let’s deal ourselves in for one hand.

Can we agree that the world is a dark place and it needs hope? Maybe we could try something different when bad things happen. We can still have convictions and strong beliefs without trying to create some new morality law ever year. We cannot legislate good moral behavior because it does not work. We demand that no one be allowed to get married unless they are a man and woman, and we shout about the sanctity of marriage. All the while, well over half of Christian marriages end in divorce. Perhaps we should shore up our own issues before we try to pass laws that take rights away from others?

Okay. I realize that Chesire’s article is about more than just gay marriage. Also, I agree with him about many things in this article. I’m simply highlighting what I think is a rather casual, utterly predictable, rebuttal to Christians opposing gay marriage:

“Perhaps we should shore up our own issues before we try to pass laws that take rights away from others?”

So if we curtail the high divorce rate among Christians, THEN the world will listen to us about homosexuality???

Pardon me but, does anybody believe for a minute that opposition to gay marriage would be considered more valid, more genuine, more admissible if the opponents were MORE married? I mean, what should the divorce rate be inside the Church before we CAN criticize gay marriage? 40%? 15% 0%?

This argument suggests that a moral stance about homosexuality is more or less relevant depending upon the advocate living up to their own moral standard. Not only does this mimic and feed into existing anti-Christian sentiment (which is why I find it even more sad to see Christians employing it), it perpetuates an approach that we rarely apply to anyone but Christians.

Nevertheless, this approach is used constantly. Not just about gay marriage. It’s used about abortion, promiscuity, sexual abstinence, even the claims of Christ! But…

  • Is abortion MORE wrong if Christians never have them?
  • Is promiscuity LESS destructive  if Christians aren’t promiscuous?
  • Is sexual abstinence MORE valid if Christians practice it more?
  • Is gay marriage LESS tolerable if Christians remain married?
  • Is Jesus MORE the only way to God (Jn. 14:6) if Christians act more Christlike?

Of course, I’m not suggesting there aren’t good reasons to NOT force Christian morality on others. I’m also not suggesting that Christians don’t need to “shore up our own issues before we try to pass laws that take rights away from others.” Nor am I suggesting that Christians can act like jerks and expect everyone to respect their positions or clamber after their Savior. I’m simply saying that Christians don’t need to be perfect, to be right. For if we apply that logic across the board, NO position ever is.

* Some will object that all “moral positions” are personal and shouldn’t be imposed on society. Not only is this a moral position that they seek to impose on society, it makes all morals relative to individuals, therefore rendering any societal morals moot.


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{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Patrick Todoroff January 11, 2013, 7:12 AM

    It’s obvious believers either reinforce or undermine the Gospel message with their lives. Personal testimony is critical. However, I think most people recognize the Perfection Guilt-Card is a weak play. Some people will use anything to deflect conviction. Their Smoke & Mirror defense.

    That said, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect Christians to exhibit character, consistency, and credibility. I used to tell Sunday school kids Christianity may be a narrow path but it isn’t a tightrope: God doesn’t expect perfection – just honesty. (If we say we have no sin… But if we confess our sin… 1Jn1:8-9) Quite often, it’s what you do AFTER you make the mistake that matters most.

    Police, Judges, Doctors, Personal Trainers, aren’t perfect people, yet we know when they’re giving sound advice. I think it’s the same with the Gospel. Now just because God spoke through a donkey once doesn’t give me license to be an ass, but God is bigger than my flaws. I think people are made to be redeemed. On some cellular level they know they need grace and forgiveness. Christians have to make sure that’s what they’re offering.

  • Melissa Ortega January 11, 2013, 7:31 AM

    Taking an intellectual position on how someone else lives is a long leap (or should be) from going behind a curtain and asking the Romans to make them live the way you want.

    In like manner, nobody should go behind a curtain and make you think they way they want. If it comes to that, I’ll take the (1984) rats.

    • Melissa Ortega January 11, 2013, 7:35 AM

      ….and this has something to do with the post because….lol…I don’t think our imperfection would matter to other imperfect people if we weren’t trying to enforce something in their lives from some higher plane. Isn’t that what we’re doing when we create laws that tell our neighbors how to live? We are saying we know better than they do.

      A divorcee saying they think divorce is bad is different than a divorcee creating laws that actually interrupt other people’s ability to make that discovery for themselves.

      • Jenni Noordhoek January 11, 2013, 1:57 PM

        This. ^^

      • D.M. Dutcher January 11, 2013, 3:48 PM

        But you make that discovery often by suffering tremendous harm, and many times with collateral damage to society. It can also have a force multiplier effect. When you find out divorce is bad in a society where it’s legal and easy to get, you can also need to find out why drugs are bad in a society where hard drugs are legal and easy to get, because you risk turning to them for solace. And your kids can also repeat this cycle and worse, if you have them.

        That sort of laissez faire society often comes with a tremendous loss of human capital. It’s tough.

  • Greg Mitchell January 11, 2013, 8:09 AM

    I’m sooo with you on this, Mike.

  • R. L. Copple January 11, 2013, 8:56 AM

    Good points. I even thought it before you said it. lol.

    My only quibble would be that all laws are an attempt to legislate morality of some type. It is true you cannot get 100% compliance on any law, but that doesn’t invalidate the law’s value to society. Same argument you’re using on the Christian perfection issue. If we ditch legislating morality, then murder would not be against the law.

    I’ve met people who still think white people are superior to blacks (real racism). Does that mean the Civil Rights laws have failed and should be repealed? I’d like to see anyone make that argument that the morality those laws are based on (all people are of equal value before God and man) should not be legislated because you can’t force people to not be racist through laws.

    The fact you can’t force people in all cases to be 100% perfectly moral through a law does not negate the value of the law. It is only those potential laws (like gay marriage) that are in wide dispute in society that this issue tends to be raised.

    • Bobby January 11, 2013, 9:01 AM

      This is good.

      • Melissa Ortega January 11, 2013, 9:10 AM

        It seems that a law’s value to society depends on the society. While most society would deem laws protecting its members against bodily infractions committed by other members, the level of infraction varies. Murder is obvious. What people do to themselves, not so obvious.

        I have a lot of Christian friends who would, if possible, remove all behavior from society which merely makes them uncomfortable. Murder doesn’t make me uncomfortable. It makes me dead.

        It just seems that there has to be more to lawmaking than “Stop! I don’ t *like* it when you do that!” As soon as you go there, yes, double-standards become a much bigger problem.

        • R. L. Copple January 11, 2013, 10:32 AM

          Yes, a law’s value is based on society’s values as a whole, my last point I made. But it is still all based on morality of some kind. In things like murder, morality is simply more agreed upon. But it is still enforcing/forcing a particular morality upon us, that killing of other individuals is a bad thing.

          Though I’m sure there are those who want laws because certain things “make them uncomfortable,” in most cases, it is because they believe it to be wrong and violating their moral standards. But they are not morals overwhelmingly held by a vast number, like murder, and now in current society, that racism is wrong. So any attempt to write laws on them are felt like to one part of the population, the other group forcing their morality upon the other.

          But the fact is, all law is in effect legislating morality. It’s just a matter of whose morality. And a morality is either right or wrong as held by the person, no matter how perfectly they keep it. If I break a law, it doesn’t mean I don’t agree with or value the morality behind it if I do so due to inattentiveness (like when I ran the red light the other day) or human weakness or lack of living up to my morals.

  • Bobby January 11, 2013, 8:58 AM

    It seems like, according to Jesus, we do need to be perfect. But, that gives no allowance for others to ignore their own status with Jesus because another is living his life (eg, witness) poorly.

    Eh, that’s the easy answer. When it comes down to it, I share the frustrations. People will do anything to avoid talking about their own lives. Anyone who’s attempted to evangelize or witness to others knows they’ll wriggle like a pro to try and get off that hook. It’s a weak argument, but it’ll be used until the end of time.

    And on the other end, there’s a boatload we Christians can do to improve our image in the eyes of homosexuals, or any other group that doesn’t claim Christ. If Christ were to come by for an earthly visit, not the book of Revelation kind, I doubt he’d be very happy with a lot of us who claim his Name

  • Jim Williams January 11, 2013, 9:49 AM

    The thing that has always struck me is the lack of impact gay marriage has on any other marriage. Lack of demonstrable impact. I am a heterosexual male, in a marriage to a heterosexual female. If the couple living in the house on my right were married lesbians, and the couple on our left were married gay men, and the couple across the street were a transgendered couple where you couldn’t even tell where they started, how in the world would that affect my life?

    I’d be much more affected if they didn’t own a lawnmower, or parked their junk car the wrong way or blocked my mailbox, or had a barking dog. Or were republican, and I had to look at yard signs.

    • Bobby January 11, 2013, 10:40 AM

      Jim, I’m not sure one can measure the “impact” of something based solely on their own experience with it.

      I could easily say, people in the ghettos addicted to crack doesn’t affect me, therefore it has no impact and those people shouldn’t be bothered. But while it doesn’t impact me, it does impact society as a whole.

      The specifics of homosexuality/gay marriage’s “impact” can be argued at length, but my point is the basis of argument, in my opinion, is flawed.

      • Jim Williams January 11, 2013, 10:57 AM

        Well, Bobby, if you said that “people in the ghettos addicted to crack doesn’t affect me..” then you would be of course, dead wrong. Those people commit crimes, get sick and use your tax money at the ER, distract law enforcement, support violent gangs with their cash purchases, etc.

        The common refrain in the gay marriage debate is “sanctity” of marriage. The sanctity of my marriage is affected not one whit by the gay couple next door, the unmarried couple across the street, or the 5 times divorced baptist preacher in the corner house.

        No one legislated my morality. No one can.

        • Bobby January 11, 2013, 12:02 PM

          We’re not talking about legislating morality, or sanctity of marriage. My point is that just because you are not affected by the decisions of others, doesn’t necessarily mean those decisions have no impact on others or society as a whole and can simply be dismissed.

          Really, the effects of societal shifts such as acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage won’t be understood for several more years, whether good or bad.

  • Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman) January 11, 2013, 9:51 AM

    Thank you for pointing out the argument fallacy.

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller January 11, 2013, 3:44 PM

    Mike, this part of the quote was what caught my attention

    We demand that no one be allowed to get married unless they are a man and woman

    According to that statement, it sounds as if those of us who adhere to the man/woman definition of marriage are trying to impose something rather than uphold it. It happens to be the gay community that is trying to change what has been the understood definition of marriage in the US since its inception. They are the ones who are demanding a change in the accepted moral practice of our society–a practice, by the way, upon which society depends.


  • D.M. Dutcher January 11, 2013, 5:43 PM

    They both are right. We shouldn’t have ridiculous purity tests for people who speak against things, even popular ones. But Christians also do need to live their game a bit more, and sometimes we don’t help by over arguing our cause or by demanding too much from a nation that really doesn’t follow our beliefs.

    I’m kind of worried though about the former. In a way, when we do argue, we are doing something unique-saying things are not just about our beliefs, but harm society as a whole. we care not just about what benefits Christians, but unbelievers too. If the purity tests succeed in stifling that, I’m not sure people will like the society that comes from it. Shades of 2 Thessalonians and the secret lawlessness being held back until what opposes it is removed. Not about the end-times, but as a general principle.

  • jed January 11, 2013, 7:34 PM

    Nothing in Christ’s life, ministry, teachings, parables, mission, etc. would lead me to believe that compelling through force an “outward” form of righteousness is to be a goal of the Church.

    The “Brood of Vipers, White-washed Sepulchers” of Christ’s day possessed a societally-enforced “outward” righteousness only. For this, they were denounced by Christ himself. This phenomenon, then, obviously, does not contribute in the slightest towards building the “Kingdom of Heaven”.

    Being renewed from within, is, however, at core of the Christian life.

    Is the Church composed of Lying Hypocrites? Hypocritical liars? Yes. And I am one. All the more reason to maintain humility in being the recipients of grace and mercy. It is okay to “preach” Law, but it should always be followed by Gospel.

    And this gets closer to expressing the core of the mission of the Church.

  • Jason H. January 12, 2013, 6:18 AM

    We as followers of Christ must remember that Scripture is the authority, not some tele-evangelist, a politically active religious group, or even the Church. If I claim that stealing is wrong (as just one example), that truth does not rely on my creditability, but on the creditability of Scripture. What does rely on my creditability is whether others will be pointed to that truth through me. We must be careful not to preach ourselves, but instead point people to the truth of Christ and let it speak to them. After all, we are in the same boat as everyone else – fallen and in need of redemption.

  • Joel Q January 14, 2013, 2:15 PM

    We can’t legislate morality.
    But we can create laws that help guide us toward a moral lifestyle.
    And as Americans we can push our lawmakers to create laws that reflect our moral beliefs… which is awesome by the way, even if we don’t agree with an opposing group we surely must respect that fact we have the freedom to pursue laws.

    I think most people want to create laws and standards that will pave a way to a better life. But to do that, we must realize not all we agree or live up to those laws or morals. Have to love grace.
    And if we are criticised for failing, we must acknowledge that, ask for forgiveness, not tolerance. Then move forward knowing we might fail again, along with a long list of others, and rely on that grace.

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