[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, and allowing a second chance for those who missed them the first time, I reprint them here, with permission. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on Sept. 20, 2014.]
Living Faith: Avoiding church due to hypocrites only hurts yourself
By Roxane B. Salonen
My guess is that when he received the telegram at seminary saying she’d died unexpectedly, and as he grieved, another direction began to become apparent to him. He left, joined the military and ultimately went to college to become a teacher.
While in the U.S. Air Force, he served for a time as a chaplain’s assistant in Japan, so it seemed he retained a desire to remain tethered to his faith even then.
But at some point my father did turn away from God and the church. From what I have been able to grasp from the outside, Dad felt unworthy of God’s love. So for most of our growing-up years, my sister and I went to church with our mother while Dad slumbered away his Sunday mornings in bed.
One time he decided to go with us, but not long after he mumbled something about all the hypocrites at church and quietly slipped away from the fold once again.
Even then as a child – I was perhaps just reaching into my teens – I tried processing his words about hypocrites at church being good reason to avoid church, and I couldn’t make sense of it. To me, it seemed hypocritical to say such a thing.
This would become a returning sticking point for me – the idea that since church is filled with hypocrites, we ought to steer clear of anything that resembles church.
Thankfully, after a 35-year hiatus, my father returned to his faith. I am so grateful he discovered that he was as worthy of God’s love as the next sinner. But I continue to be challenged with this idea that church should be filled with perfect people, and that unless that is the case, we dare not enter the church doors.
As Pope Francis and other holy people before him have said, the church is not a museum of saints but a hospital for sinners.
Recently on Facebook I saw and shared a meme suggesting that, “Not going to church because of the ‘hypocrites’ is like not going to the gym because of the ‘out of shape people.’ ”
“My logic exactly,” I commented, not expounding further.
“Church is for sinners!” a cousin remarked.
But another friend took issue with the meme. “Out of shape people don’t offend me. Hypocrites do.”
Her contrary expression gave me a chance to delve deeper into my thoughts on the matter.
“But haven’t we all been hypocrites at one time or another? Haven’t we all sinned? Should we exclude ourselves from coming to God and asking for mercy because of this?” I said.
Pressing further, I asked whether we truly know the hearts of another, and noted that in my own faith journey, I’ve come to worry less about what others may or may not be thinking and doing to focus solely on my own journey.
Through zeroing in on my own imperfections, I’ve found I have my life’s work cut out for me.
“Church for me is a place to be replenished,” I explained, “not so much by perfect fellow believers but God himself. So why deny myself that chance?”
Furthermore I added, if you are truly walking the walk, “Your example might be a powerful witness to those supposed hypocrites.”
My cousin wanted to take one more stab at it, too. “How can you spot a hypocrite by scanning rows of pews?” she said. “God knows what’s in their hearts; we do not.”
And so I’m back to where I began, and so very thankful that my father decided, at some point, to join the rest of the hypocrites, to humble himself enough to realize that we are all in need of and deserving of God’s mercy.
Not only do we need these things, but we need one another, imperfect though we all are, to push through together to live out the kingdom here on earth and in our ultimate quest for heaven.