by Todd Strandberg

The dictionary defines a hypocrite as someone who "pretends to be better than he really is or to be pious, virtuous without really being so." A hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does the opposite.

One of the main reasons people have double standards is that they desire to have the best of both worlds. They go to church on Sundays and as soon as they walk out the door, they go back to living their "regular" lives.

"Do the right thing" doesn't mean to do that which best serves our lustful desires. A lack of respect for the seducing nature of sin has led many to live hypocritical lives. In our heart of hearts, we know fully well that something is morally wrong with our actions, but we do it anyway because it feels good or is convenient.

The people committing hypocritical acts normally try to use some form of rationalization to justify their actions. A man committing adultery may say that he is only breaking his wedding vows by having sex with prostitutes. The ultimate rationalization is the phrase, "I just couldn't help myself."

In the past few years, several high-profile public leaders have been caught in hypocrisy. The grievous nature of some people's moral blunders proves that no one is immune from stumbling from a lofty perch. I have listed below some examples.

Hypocrites' Hall of Shame

Jim Bakker - He was once the head of the now-defunct "Praise The Lord" network. In the late '80s, Bakker was found to have been carrying on a relationship with church secretary Jessica Hahn. He compounded the salacious nature of the affair by funneling her $265,000 in hush money. Another area in which Bakker was a hypocrite was his call for sacrifice on the part of donors to help reach the lost.

In his self-serving confessionI Was Wrong, he admitted using church funds to pay for luxury cars and his six mansions. Bakker and his wife, Tammy Faye, also came up with some truly inventive ways to squander ministry money. They once spent $100 on cinnamon buns just to scent the air of their hotel suite. They equipped a dog house with air-conditioning, which was too noisy for Fido to sleep in. They also spent $60,000 on gold-plated bathroom fixtures.

Jimmy Swaggart - In the late 1980s, Jimmy Swaggart Ministries was the largest televangelism operation of its kind. His operation raked in more than $150 million annually. Every week, his television program, "The Jimmy Swaggart Telecast," attracted 8 million viewers. The downfall of Rev. Swaggart was probably one of the most spectacular in Church history. The seed of his downfall began when he helped defrock fellow Assemblies of God minister Marvin Gorman, who had been caught in an extramarital affair. When the PTL scandal erupted in 1987, Swaggart went on CNN and told Larry King that Bakker was a "cancer in the body of Christ."

In 1988, Marvin Gorman learned that Swaggart had been spotted regularly in areas frequented by prostitutes. He hired a private detective to take photos of Jimmy with a sleazy Louisiana hooker named Debra Murphree outside the Travel Inn in Lake Charles, Louisiana. When Swaggart refused demands for blackmail money, the photos were shown to church elders. The moment the media learned of the scandal, Jimmy Swaggart Ministries was doomed. His actions against Gorman and Bakker have become case studies in hypocrisy.

Rush Limbaugh - In referring to himself, Limbaugh once jokingly said he was "a man so virtuous you can trust [him] with your wife in a Motel 6, overnight, while you're away on business." When it came to providing moral leadership for America, Limbaugh had serious words to say on many subjects. As the king of conservative talk radio, Rush frequently discussed the evils of our nation's problem with drugs:

"What this says to me is that too many whites are getting away with drug use, too many whites are getting away with drug sales, too many whites are getting away with trafficking in this stuff. The answer to this disparity is not to start letting people out of jail because we're not putting others in jail who are breaking the law. The answer is to go out and find the ones who are getting away with it, convict them and send them up the river, too" (Oct. 5, 1995, The Rush Limbaugh Show transcript).

In Oct. of 2003, Rush Limbaugh announced during his radio program that he was addicted to painkillers and would be checking into a rehab center to "break the hold this highly addictive medication has on me." Limbaugh said he started taking painkillers "some years ago" after his doctor prescribed them following a spinal surgery. Rush denied that his actions were hypocritical, saying, "My behavior doesn't change right and wrong. And just because I may have been doing something that appeared to be contradictory to what I was suggesting others do doesn't mean that what I was suggesting others do is wrong."

Because Rush was making his comments before he entered treatment, his mind must have been under the influence of the painkillers. A person cannot escape the label of "hypocrite" by saying he or she was only offering a suggestion to other people. Hypocritical acts involve doing the opposite of what one stands for.

Pat Robertson - Troubles began for the founder of the Christian Coalition when a reporter for the New York Times discovered that Robertson owned a two-year-old racehorse named "Mr. Pat." The paper detailed financial involvement in racing to the tune of more than $500,000. One newspaper ran the mocking headline, "Praise The Lord And Put A 10-Spot On Mr. Pat To Win."

In his defense, Robertson said he saw no contradiction between his condemnation of gambling and his ownership of a racehorse. "I don't bet, and I don't gamble," Robertson said. "I just enjoy watching horses running and performing." Robertson eventually told his followers in a letter that he had decided to sell his racehorse: "I am sorry that my fondness for the performance of equine athletes has caused you an offense."

William Bennett - The former Secretary of Education and Drug Czar, and author of The Book of Virtues admitted to losing more than $8 million in casino gambling. Bennett would receive as much $50,000 in speaking fees to address conservative groups on the moral issues that face America. The money he earned would quickly end up in the pockets of people who promote the type of values he rallied against. Bennett's typical day of gambling would have him heading to the high-limit room of the nearest casino and blowing money on video poker or $500-a-pull slots.

Bennett was one of Bill Clinton's biggest critics during the former President's "moral failure." Of course, his own credibility was put into serious question by his high-stakes habit. When asked if he was a hypocrite, Bennett said he was not because he did not claim to be a moral authority. He also says he did not have a gambling problem.

Strom Thurmond - "Hypocrite" is about the most suitable word one can use to describe the late U.S. Senator from South Carolina, who built his career as a staunch segregationist while supporting his own mixed-race daughter born of his liaison with a 16-year-old family maid. The daughter, 78-year-old Essie Mae Washington-Williams, revealed the relationship after his death. When asked why she remained silent all those years, she said she didn't want to harm him. Of course, her humble spirit made dear old Dad look all the more like a scoundrel. Thurmond said blacks and whites should have nothing to do with each other. "All the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement," he said.

The Senator did demonstrate a strange bit of honor when he paid for his daughter to attend a university. He also sent her money before her marriage and after she was widowed with four children.

Jesse Jackson - If there were an award for hypocrisy, Rev. Jesse Jackson would be strong contender. During the dark days of Bill Clinton's Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, Jackson bravely dove into the media storm and paid a visit to the President to offer moral counseling. Jackson brought along staffer Karin Stanford, who was visibly pregnant.

It turned out later that Jackson was the father of that child. To try to cover up his "little error," the good reverend used organizational money to arrange for his playmate to live in a home worth $345,000 and to receive $10,000 per month. Because Jesse Jackson is a darling of the liberal media, the magnitude of his hypocrisy was quickly lost by the press when it declared the whole affair resolved.

Being Hypocritical about Hypocrites

Everyone would probably agree that hypocrisy in any form is no good. However, because the moral failings of various leaders allows the average person to justify his or her own moral inequalities, the actual view of hypocrisy tends to be rather positive. This is particularly true for those who aren't Christians. They seem to love it when authority figures get caught with their pants down.

If the president of the Southern Baptist Convention was nabbed in a prostitution raid, or if the Pope was discovered to own stock in a Las Vegas casino, millions of people would use these grievous examples of immorality to rationalize their own smaller transgressions.

Because God created us with a built-in moral compass, we constantly feel the need to justify our actions. It is comforting to be able to point to the deeds of someone else and say, "I may have my faults, but I'm not as bad as he is."

Rationalization is a useful tool for relieving guilt and removing ourselves from responsibility. A person who is 70 pounds overweight can look at someone who is 150 pounds overweight and marvel at the other's obesity. But a person can't make himself thinner by finding people who are fatter than he is. He may have a lower percentage of body fat than other people, but nonetheless, according to the basic guidelines for weight, he is still fat.

How Did They Get into That Mess?

If you were to study 100 cases of hypocrisy, I doubt you would find a single person who intended to become a hypocrite. Most people start off with good intentions and along the way their moral values somehow get off track.

Because our flesh likes the things of this world, compromise is inevitable for those people who play with temptation. If you keep dancing on the edge of the abyss, you'll eventually fall in. It takes people who are honest and humble to know their limits.

The apostle Paul gave some very good advice to the Thessalonians on how to avoid becoming a hypocrite. He told them to, "Abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thes. 5:22). Notice he said Christians should not only abstain from whatever is wrong, but also that we should abstain from whatever appears to be wrong.

What makes this such good advice to follow is our inability, at times, to use proper judgment in avoiding sin. By the time we realize we've gone too far, turning around becomes difficult.

Many believers who have decided that no harm would result from going out to have a few drinks with friends or co-workers have later wondered how alcohol was able to destroy their lives.

An old public service announcement about drinking urged people to know their limits. The problem with this advice is that the only way for someone to know his limit is by surpassing it; some folks may see their limit as only being reached when they end up in jail for DWI.

Image Is Everything

When people present themselves as moral leaders, they automatically commit themselves to living by a higher standard. Pat Robertson and William Bennett, two of the examples listed in the Hypocrites' Hall of Shame, found this out the hard way. Robertson said he only owned a racehorse because he liked the sport. Bennett argued that he never actually had presented himself as a moral authority. Both men branded themselves as hypocrites by failing the most fundamental rule of morality - leadership is made by example.

The Bible warns that preachers will be judged more severely than others. If some religious leaders knew of the tough standards facing them, they would probably replace their titles of "bishop," "deacon," or "holiness" with a more humble title of simply "message carrier."

"My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation" (Jas. 3:1).

One the greatest examples of hypocrisy in the Church today is top-bill preachers who mire themselves in worldly goods. It is a witness-destroying contradiction for men to point to heaven as the final hope while they continue to lust after all the finer things of this life. The example that Jesus gave in His life on earth should be reason enough for us to tend towards modesty.

"The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath no where to lay his head" (Matt. 8:20).

Because the main task of a moral commentator is to convince people to do things that contradict their fleshly desires, any indication of a double standard completely destroys the message.

When I was in high school, Mr. Block, my history teacher, talked to the class about the dangers of smoking. He had good intentions in warning us about smoking, but he compromised his message through a conflicting financial interest.

Because Mr. Block had previously told the class that he owned stock in a big tobacco company that had done extremely well for him, he said, "I wouldn't mind taking a hit on my stock if it meant some of you young folks would not take up the habit." Because his capital gains were generated by people consuming tobacco, his ethics and stock portfolio were in conflict with each other.

The Danger of Too Few Hypocrites

One of my favorite pastimes is researching prophetic commentaries written as far back as the 1800s. By reading vintage books on Bible prophecy, I'm able to get a non-biased view of how the world is progressing towards the end times.

It commonly known that the generations that lived before us had a much stronger moral foundation that the one we find today. The Bible was used as a guide for all sorts of matters that would be unheard of today. The Good Book was used as reference in such common fields as business, education, and politics. Of course, it would be considered bizarre--or in some cases unlawful--to use the Bible as a manual for daily living.

Oddly enough, I've noticed the cry over hypocrisy then was much louder then than it is today. From reading some of these 100-year-old commentaries, you would think they were living in the golden age of hypocrisy.

The decline in moral standards is the most obvious reason we see a shift away from a two-faced approach to morality. If people don't live by a moral code, they really can't be considered in violation of something they never vowed to uphold in the first place. A hypocrite loves God and his sin. Someone who is totally depraved has no such contradiction.

Very few hypocrites lived in Sodom and Gomorrah. The inhabitants of those two cities were fully dedicated to their wickedness, and this fact did not escape God's attention. It is easy to see that our generation is headed down that same path.

God Does Not Judge on a Curve

I once watched a Christian-produced video that featured a crew asking individuals at random if they were ready to enter Heaven. Most people believed they were in good standing with their Creator. They arrived at this belief by concluding that they were somehow safe because they knew there were many others who were worse sinners.

The requirement for salvation is solely based on how we react to the gift presented to us at Calvary. It has been estimated that nearly 100 billion people have lived on this planet at some point. If all members of this great mass of humanity trusted in Jesus as their Savior, they would make it into Heaven. If only a dozen of them chose to follow Christ, they would be part of the lucky few.

I don't know where people get the idea that salvation is determined by people fitting under a "nice person" category. Far too many people seem to think that only the most evil percentage of humanity will be the ones who don't make the cutoff.

The basis of our salvation is trusting in Jesus Christ as our Savior. You might be a person of high moral standards, but if you make works your foundation, you will not qualify for the Kingdom of God.

A world full of hypocrites cannot save your eternal soul. It's nice to point to hypocrites for excuses, but there is nothing they can do to better your odds. God has already determined their fate. The occurrence of hypocrisy is more negative than anything. It demonstrates how difficult it is to resist sin.

Most folks spend far too much time assessing the sins of other people. The fact that people are unable to live perfect lives is not really breaking news. Instead of measuring our lives by what hypocrites do, we need to model our lives after the One who set the perfect example.

"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).