Hypocrisy Is the Worst Possible Policy
A lawfully constituted civil institution made its decision, in a lawful way, prescribed by the law books and by legal tradition. Most people in the community affected by the decision were unhappy with it, for it was obviously unjust to them, establishing a precedent for violating their rights and leaving them defenseless against future tyrannical acts by the government. So they prepared to protest peacefully against the decision. But a few radicals among them decided to take action, urged by the instigation of certain community leaders and preachers of violent rebellion against “tyranny and injustice.” Masked men used the opportunity to attack and destroy private property worth millions of dollars, and harass, torture, and even kill those in the community who remained loyal to the lawful civil authorities. This vigilante “justice” was motivated by revenge, not under the authority of any lesser magistrate. Even their supporters outside the community were appalled at their actions and turned against them, declaring that the barbarism of the “protests” was not justified, and demanding that the government cracks down in its full force on the community. “Other communities have experienced similar injustice,” they said, “and they haven’t revolted but have used peaceful means of protest. By choosing violence and destruction, you have proven you deserve no compassion and no justice. Besides, you all used our taxpayers’ money anyway, and now you complain about tyranny and injustice?” So the community – because of a few men of Barabbas’s spirit – was left alone against the military power of the state.
Ferguson, November 2014?
Boston, December 1773.
A lawfully constituted authority, the British Parliament, had made its decision on taxes on tea. Given the constitutional powers of the Parliament and the Crown, and the position of the colonists as British subjects – confirmed by oaths, tradition, and legal statutes – the Parliament had the right to impose taxes, as of the Bill of Rights of 1689. The slogan used in the colonies, “No taxation without representation,” may have been good propaganda, and may have expressed certain moral truths, but it wasn’t a legal statute. In fact, there were MPs in the British Parliament sympathetic and supportive of the colonists who were hard at work to address the grievances of the colonial communities, even though none of these MPs actually depended on colonial votes.
By 1773, about half of the colonists had adopted a rebellious attitude towards the British government, and even against their local governments which happened to be loyal to the Crown. This rebellious attitude didn’t come from reading John Locke or the French Enlightenment; both Locke and the French philosophes did not exercise much influence among the common folk in the colonies; and even among the educated elite, their influence was not felt until the late 1760s. It was the Reformed preachers in the colonies who denounced the British tyrannical government and built the ideological foundation for armed rebellion. According to the commonly accepted theology at the time, borrowed from Calvin and the English Puritans of the previous century, tyrannical government was not a lawfully established government and therefore all acts of resistance against such government were Biblically justified. Sermons like the following, from Jonathan Mayhew, a Congregational minister at West Church in Boston in the 1760s, were commonplace:
It is blasphemy to call tyrants and oppressors, God’s ministers. They are more properly the messengers of Satan to buffet us. No rulers are properly God’s ministers, but such as are just, ruling in the fear of God. When once magistrates act contrary to their office, and the end of their institution; when they rob and ruin the public, instead of being guardians of its peace and welfare; they immediately cease to be the ordinance and ministers of God; and no more deserve that glorious character than common pirates and highwaymen. So that whenever that argument for submission, fails, which is grounded upon the usefulness of magistracy to civil society, (as it always does when magistrates do hurt to society instead of good) the other argument, which is taken from their being the ordinance of God, must necessarily fail also; to person of a civil character being God’s minister, in the sense of the apostle, any farther than he performs God’s will, by exercising a just and reasonable authority; and ruling for the good of the subject.…. When magistrates rob and ruin the people, instead of being guardians of its peace and welfare, they immediately cease to be the ordinance and ministers of God, and no more deserve that glorious character than common pirates and highwaymen.
John Witherspoon, himself born in Scotland, whose powerful sermons shaped the thinking of many of the Founding Fathers, declared the protection of private property against taxation to be a religious issue, giving a spiritual sanction to revolt for protection of property against the government:
There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire. If therefore we yield up our temporal property, we at the same time deliver the conscience into bondage.
The insolent and rebellious attitude of the colonists against the British authorities (which was the 18th century equivalent of sassing cops in our day) was acknowledged to be the work of Witherspoon and other church ministers like him, as is obvious from the report of Adam Ferguson, a British officer in the colonies in the 1770s:
We have 1,200 miles of territory occupied by 300,000 people of which there are about 150,000 with Johnny Witherspoon at their head, against us.
And while Witherspoon was emphatic that a reformation of the soul of the nation was necessary for true liberty, he also courageously pointed to the corruption in the government, and the brutality of its standing army:
The ambition of mistaken princes, the cunning and cruelty of oppressive and corrupt ministers, and even the inhumanity of brutal soldiers, however dreadful, shall finally promote the glory of God.
Keep in mind he said this in a time when the “inhumanity of brutal soldiers” in the colonies was a much rarer occurrence than the inhumanity of brutal policemen in the US today who are trained and conditioned to summarily execute “suspects” on the street, beat and torture inmates in custody, break into private houses and murder infants, and rob law-abiding citizens through various fines and asset forfeiture schemes.
The Sons of Liberty, a secret organization of private individuals, had no support by any government authority, whether lesser or greater magistrate, or any legally passed law or stipulation or regulation. The First Continental Congress did not convene until several months after the Boston Tea Party, and it made no official decisions for armed resistance to the lawful British authorities. Before July 1776, when the Second Continental Congress declared the colonies independent States, there was no lawfully constituted authority and no lesser magistrates to give their approval for the acts of armed resistance against the Crown.
The Boston Tea Party was a destruction of private property, period. The tea dumped in Boston Harbor was worth £9,000. In gold equivalent, this will make it worth over $2.5 million today. Given that gold equivalent is not always representative when comparing between cultures of different purchasing power, a comparison of living standard parities should also be presented: Given that the average annual income of a working class family at the time was £22, the real destruction of value compared to today’s living standard should be estimated to $18.5 million (assuming $45,000 average annual income of a worker’s family today). While Samuel Adams took up to publicize the Tea Party as a heroic event, the rest of the colonies were not very comfortable with what happened in Boston. The Boston Tea Party was never mentioned in the histories of the Revolution until the 1830s; Americans at the time were reluctant to celebrate the destruction of private property. In London, right after the news broke of the destruction of the tea in Boston, even the most ardent supporters of the rights of the colonists in the British Parliament turned against them. For the next several years, the actions of the Sons of Liberty in Boston united all of England against America.
But that didn’t stop the colonists from committing other such acts of destruction of private property in protest against the taxation policy of the British government. Not only British private property was destroyed, but American private property as well. An example of such vandalism was the burning of the Peggy Stewart in Annapolis. A mob angry at the fact that the Peggy Stewart carried tea and the cargo owner paid the tax on it to be able to unload the rest of the cargo (including 53 indentured servants), forced – by threats of violence and vandalism – the representatives of the Stewart family (owners of the ship) and the Williams family (owners of the cargo) to burn both the ship and the cargo in it. Officially the burning was presented as a voluntary act by the owners; practically, it was forced on them. This, again, happened in October 1774, over a year and a half before any lawful Continental authority had been declared, and before there was any lawful and orderly call for resistance by any kind of legitimate magistrate. And the Peggy Stewart was followed by other such acts of vandalism and destruction by the revolutionary colonists as well, none of them under the authority of any lesser magistrate or lawfully constituted civil power, all against private property.
In addition to the destruction of property, was there any violence against private citizens who were loyalists? You bet. The story of John Malcolm, a loyalist merchant ship captain from Boston, was well known on both sides of the Atlantic. He was twice ceased by angry crowds and tarred and feathered: First in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in November 1773, and then in his native Boston, in January 1774. In both cases, there was no lawful authority present, just mobs of angry private individuals. In the second case, the mob put a rope around Malcolm’s neck and threatened to hang him. And this was not an isolated case; in fact, the colonies had a secret organization committed to private violence against agents of the government and of private companies called, Committee for Tarring and Feathering. It was the threat of violence, not any ideological persuasion, that made the tea consignees in all the colonies to resign. Only in Boston, where the consignees were the sons of the British governor and therefore thought protected by the military power of the government, did not resign.
And if we add to this picture the War of the Regulation (1765-1771) in the rural areas of North Carolina, we will see that in this colony the Patriots drew their numbers from the “anti-Regulators” of a few years prior: the corrupt, oppressive “lesser magistrate” class which used their power to impose unjust taxes on the less educated rural population. That the majority of the population of North Carolina remained Loyalist or indifferent to the Revolution was due to the fact that in the only colony where the lesser magistrates supported the Revolution, they were way more corrupt and oppressive than the Crown. The War of the Regulation ended with a widespread destruction of private property of rural families by those who later became “Patriots,” and led to the mass migration of rural population west to Tennessee where they formed the first truly independent republics in America, the short-lived Elizabethton and the State of Franklin. For many ordinary folks in North Carolina, the Patriots’ “lesser magistrate” was a symbol of corruption and immorality.
But what about sassing policemen and “showing intent to charge them”? Isn’t that why Michael Brown “deserved to die,” as so many conservatives claim? The colonists didn’t do such a thing, did they? Or may be they did. Remember the Boston Massacre? A mob of 300 to 400 private individuals, verbally abusing a simple British soldier who was not even patrolling their neighborhood but simply stood guarding a government building; throwing snowballs and other small objects at him, trying to take his musket? When the soldier received help and his comrades opened fire in the crowd (over an hour after the verbal and physical abuse started), five died and six were wounded. Did they deserve to die? (And consider the actions of the British governor Hutchinson: He immediately arrested the 8 soldiers and tried them in court. He didn’t set up a Grand Jury farce to exonerate them, and neither did he start a fund-raising campaign for them.) And that happened in 1770, when there was nothing even remotely close to a local government or a “lesser magistrate” to give his approval.
Modern Christian Hypocrisy
So, what are the differences between what happened in the 1770s and what is happening in Ferguson now? Not many, really, from a moral perspective. For one, the perceived act of injustice today is the murder of a young man by a government agent. For the colonists it was the tax of few pennies on a pound of a luxury item of mildly narcotic quality (sheesh!). For two, while in the 1760s and the 1770s the political class in England was divided on the issue and real steps were made to address the complaints of the colonists (which made quite a few colonial leaders call for patience), in Missouri, the Democrat political machine conspired to create a legal farce to save the policeman from facing trial (while faking compassion to the black community). Justice was not served, and was in fact completely ruled out. That’s about all the differences there are. All in favor of the Ferguson riots over the American Revolution.
In all else, the situation is the same, morally and judicially. Violence against private property and life and limb, vigilante committees under no lawful government authority, black[-robed] community activists inciting the people to disrespect the legitimate government and revolt against it, etc., etc. Ah, yes, not to forget the stupid argument, “When O.J. Simpson was acquitted, how many whites rioted?” The answer is: “When the same taxes were imposed on all British subjects, how many Canadians, Australians, British, South Africans, New Zealanders, or Caribbean colonists destroyed private property worth millions of dollars and harassed and murdered loyal British citizens?” But the colonial riots will remain in history as a “revolution,” while the Ferguson riots will be condemned. Victors write history.
Some pastors and preachers were a little too quick to see the “spirit of Barabbas” in Ferguson’s protests. If that was so, then the “spirit of Barabbas” is a hallowed American tradition. We all celebrate it every year, with fireworks and beer. And thus, whether we are aware of it or not, every year we remind everyone in America, including those black kids in Ferguson, that whenever there is government injustice and the system is stacked against the private citizen, John Adams’s excited words apply:
Last Night 3 Cargoes of Bohea Tea were emptied into the Sea. This Morning a Man of War sails.
This is the most magnificent Movement of all. There is a Dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity, in this last Effort of the Patriots, that I greatly admire. The People should never rise, without doing something to be remembered—something notable And striking. This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences, and so lasting, that I cant but consider it as an Epocha in History.
The modern pastors’ and conservatives’ eagerness to hail the illegal acts of vandalism and violence in the American Revolution – all for a few pence tax on a pound of a luxury item – and then turn around and with the same mouth condemn the riots in Ferguson – for the murder of a private citizen by a government agent, and the exoneration of the murderer – has only one possible name, from an ethical perspective: hypocrisy. When you apply double standard, when private violence and destruction are good when in your favor, and bad when not in your favor, then no matter how great your sermons are, no matter how faithful you are to the Bible, no matter how exemplary your personal life and how successful your ministry is and how great your church is etc., etc., etc., in the eyes of the outsiders you are a hypocrite, period. People will look at you and will see a man who is double-tongued and who can’t be trusted to speak in principle; for every “principle” that comes out of your mouth will be a “principle” that suits you and your ilk.
It is for this reason we as Christians have lost the hearts and minds of our generation. As much as we love to blame the liberals and the “cultural Marxists” and whatnot, the real reason is, we have presented ourselves as hypocrites to our generation, picking judicial and ethical sides in the cultural issues which suit us and our well-being, without showing any consistency in anything we do or say. We have denounced abortion as murder and then have called for bombing innocent civilians – including children – around the world. We have spoken against government welfare and we have fought ferociously for the preservation of our own favorite government programs. We have prayed for our children and then have sent them to government schools. We have spoken against government regulations and then have insisted on government restrictions on import, hurting those poorer members of our society who profit from cheaper imports. We have babbled about liberty and then have insisted that immigrants be restricted. We have prided in our “entrepreneurship spirit” and then have asked the government to shield us from competition on the market place from efficient businesses and immigrant labor. We have beaten ourselves in the chest how courageous we are to accept the truth, no matter what it is, and then we tell preachers who speak against our prejudices that “their colors are showing.” We speak about spiritual maturity and wisdom all day long, and then our celebrities are those who tell us how “the Gospel is simple” and is “baby talk,” because we can’t take more than that anyway. And of course, we have hailed the American Revolution as a legitimate revolt against authority, and then we have condemned other such revolts that were caused by much more significant issues than a few pennies on a pound of a luxury commodity. Everyday of our individual and collective life as Christians is laden with numberless hypocritical acts and words, in everything we do, think, or believe, and when we are challenged to correction, we react violently against the challenge.
And then we wonder why we are losing influence, in a land where there’s a church on every street corner.
Hypocrisy is the worst possible policy.
Justice Must Always Trump Technicalities
If you are the typical brainwashed conservative, you are outraged by now. “The Revolution can’t be compared to some race riots!” Of course, of course. Except that, it can. And you will have very hard time finding a moral justification for the American Revolution that can’t be used for the Ferguson riots. May be some technical detail, at the most. But as far as ethical principles are concerned, any criticism you may want to level against what is happening in Ferguson is also a criticism against what you are celebrating every Fourth of July.
But if you are a thinking Christian, you are genuinely confused. What are we to do then, in order to remain consistent? If we condemn any violence that doesn’t fit our neat theories of righteous rebellion (like the “lesser-magistrate doctrine”), we should condemn the American Revolution. If we do that, there is no way for us to establish the legitimacy of the current government of the US, and therefore there is no way to argue for any legitimate authority or submission to any government in the US today. (The British were right, then.) But if we continue honoring the American Revolution, then how can we argue against smaller act of violence for graver causes, like Ferguson? Am I advocating violence or acceptance of all violence as legitimate? Or am I declaring the illegitimacy of all civil powers in the US today?
The solution is in returning to an ethical/judicial view of society and justice.
The murder of Michael Brown and the consequent reactions revealed a very troubling characteristic of the modern American Christian mind: We have gotten detached from issues of ethics and justice and addicted to legal formalities and technicalities. Our first reaction to everything is, “Is this legal?”, not, “Is this just and moral?” Such is our approach to immigration: “We are a nation of laws, and illegal immigrants have broken the laws,” and we never stop to think whether these laws are moral and just in the first place. Such is our approach to murders committed by police officers: “It is illegal to resist cops, therefore if you do, you deserve to die,” and we don’t stop to think that there is nothing moral about laws that give special privileges to a class of uniformed government thugs; if we can resist violence from a private citizen, we should be able to resist violence from a government employee. Such is our approach to the farce called “Grand Jury” in Ferguson: “The Grand Jury was a lawfully constituted authority, it made a decision, therefore everyone should honor that decision,” and we do not stop to think that the issue of whether that decision was moral and just is more important than whether the Grand Jury was a lawfully constituted authority. (Lawfully constituted authorities can make unjust and immoral decisions, right? Think Congress and Obamacare.) Such is our approach to the riots in Ferguson: “There is a legal way to protest, and violent protests are not legal,” and we don’t stop to think that peaceful protests, even if legal, don’t achieve much anyway. Such is even our approach to a doctrine of righteous rebellion: “It has to be under a lesser magistrate,” for it gives us such a nice and neat technical excuse to tell people why they shouldn’t rebel in the face of injustice, while we keep to ourselves the right to celebrate the rebellion of people who cared nil for that same doctrine.
We have become heartless Romans in our thinking, and we think about justice as children of Caesar: in terms of legal technicalities, not in terms of real justice and righteousness. We have become statists, turning the legal statutes of godless governments into moral imperatives. We have taught our children to do so as well. It is only a matter of time before they start being herded to concentration camps because “you don’t resist a cop.”
In order to return to the Biblical view of justice, we need to start thinking ethically, not legalistically. We need to lay the ax at the root of every law the governments in the US impose on us, and compare it to the Bible. We need to start every discussion about laws or crimes or policies with the question: “What does the Bible say about it?” And we need to ask this question first and foremost of what the government does and what its officers do. The righteousness of a nation depends on the spiritual maturity of its individual citizens, but let’s not forget that the spiritual maturity of a person is measured by his ability to judge and discern good and evil based on God’s Law (1 Cor. 2:15; Heb. 5:14), not by his willingness to submit to godless governments.
We somehow know that when we judge the actions of the Patriots during the American Revolution. We realize there was violence and destruction; but we judge them inevitable and we focus on the issue of true justice (which was neither codified in law nor supported by lesser magistrates at the time): “No taxation without representation.” We look back and we don’t consider the legitimacy of the British Parliament a factor more important than the issues of justice and righteousness. Neither do we consider the violence and destruction of the Revolution to be some moral testimony against the legitimacy of the Revolution. None of us looks back today and says, “the US is an illegitimate nation because our fathers didn’t use the right kind of protest, under a lesser magistrate.” No, we look first at the real issue of justice, and the violation of the principles of justice by the British government, and then we acknowledge that the rest was inevitable in a world of sin.
But it is so convenient for us to forget this when justice is turned against poor black Americans of a poor black neighborhood. All of a sudden, the black boy deserved to be shot (remember the Boston Massacre?), the Grand Jury was a legitimate institution (what was the British Parliament?), violent protests and destruction of property are not the way (what was the destruction of the tea and of the Peggy Stewart?), and you never resist the cops (really?).
As Christians, if we want to be honest, we need to go back to the very beginning of the story in Ferguson. We need to demand that farce called “Grand Jury” where the prosecutor himself stacked the cards so that he could “lose” be canceled, and a real investigation by independent agencies be organized. We need to speak even louder about the growing number of crimes committed by cops, and show the truth about the largest standing army on American soil and its criminal character. We need to restore our Black-Robed Regiment and they need to thunder from our pulpits condemnation on our tyrannical government and its brutal henchmen. We need them to lead us in re-asserting the rights given to us by our Creator, which we have allowed to be re-defined by the State. We need to demand that the special rights for government employees be canceled and cops be just as subject to scrutiny and resistance when they are outside the boundary of the law as any private citizen out there; and yes, we need to demand to be legally free to use lethal force to defend the lives of our loved ones against cops just as we can do it against private thugs. We need to demand that the rights of the cops to issue verdict of death penalty on the spot and shoot a “suspect” be suspended, and a murderous cop be tried for murder immediately.
The more we refuse to do these things, the farther away we are from the spirit of the Founders of this great nation, and the closer we are to even worse tyranny than what they fought against. And the more we refuse to do these things while celebrating those Founders, the more we reveal ourselves as hypocritical, and the less able we are to influence our culture.
Justice must come before legal technicalities. If we fail to defend justice, legal technicalities will bring us more chaos, and destruction, and social disintegration.
And hypocrisy is the worst possible policy. It cost us this nation so far, and it will cost us even more in the future, if we don’t repent of it.