I learned to spot hypocrisy at an early age. As a teenager, I was a member of the Baptist church youth group. Our group was led by a twenty-something woman who also happened to be the leader of my school dance team for a time. I loved dancing. I loved movies about dancing. Footloose was my favorite, though I also loved Grease and would later become obsessed with Dirty Dancing and Flashdance and Fame. I was even smitten with the Helen Hunt/Sarah Jessica Parker tragedy Girls Just Want to Have Fun. Really, I had no standards.
Other people had standards, but not standards I understood. That youth group leader, the same one who taught us the cute dance floor moves, put her foot down over Footloose. The movie, she announced, was sinful and people who watched it were sinners. At the time it didn’t occur to me that she was actually mimicking, without irony, the close-minded preacher from the movie (John Lithgow!). I’d watched the movie for the dancing, not the message. I didn’t feel like a sinner when I watched it, but there she was announcing my sin in front of this group of teenagers at my local church. It made me angry. How could this woman who taught us dance steps suddenly proclaim dancing was a sin? “Boy-girl dancing is a sin,” she clarified for idiots like me who expressed confusion.
I was the only one who expressed any confusion. This woman inspired a strange, cult-like following among the teen set. She once declared black eyeliner to be inappropriate and an entire group of young women abandoned their kohl pencils. This was the eighties. If you didn’t live it, there will be no way for me to illustrate to you the gravity of this decision. Forced to choose, I abandoned religion for the much sexier charms of dark eyeliner and sharp dance moves. Like Cyndi Lauper and the actresses in that bad movie, I really did want to have fun and that church group had long ceased to be any fun at all. It’s not that I thought dancing or wearing eyeliner made me a heathen; it’s that I knew throwing in my lot with that youth group made me a hypocrite. I didn’t believe what they believed. Heck, they didn’t believe what they believed, but they put on a good show.
To this day, hypocrisy is the thing that rankles me most. When I see it in myself, I work to cut it out. When I see it in other people, I hate it. I am particularly disgusted by religious hypocrisy. That’s why I’m shocked by the self-proclaimed Christians throwing their support behind our current president. I am not a Christian, but I can see the value of Jesus’s teachings. All that “love your neighbor” and “don’t kill people” and “treat others like you want to be treated” stuff is just good sense. If anyone strives to live a life modeled on Jesus’s life, I’m all for it. The God of the Christian bible is a nightmare of contradiction and vengeance, but Jesus is consistent and kind. So I don’t know how Christians can claim to support this ban on Muslims entering our country. It is hypocrisy at its finest. What would Jesus do? I don’t know, but I don’t believe he would deny aid to Syrian refugees. I don’t believe he would put up walls. I certainly don’t believe he would support the administration’s deliberate omission of Jews from its Holocaust Remembrance Day statement. Jesus was a Jew.
The current president calls this Muslim ban “extreme vetting,” which sounds like he just wants to be really careful, but we already have an intense vetting process in place for refugees and people seeking asylum. “Extreme vetting” is racist code for “you aren’t welcome here.” And it is rich coming from a man who won’t release his tax returns for ordinary vetting by the American people. Why must we put desperate mothers and young children under a microscope when this man refuses even cursory examination of his own affairs?
I know some Christian leaders have spoken out against this ban, but there are too many self-professed Christians who support this president and it feels like the 1980s all over again. I’m the sinner wearing bad eye makeup and dancing my way to hell while good Christians eat cake and pass judgment. Only this time, I’m not a teenager and I’m not confused about why I’m angry. I’d rather be a compassionate heathen than a religious hypocrite any day of the week.
Years from now when this chapter is written for the history books, much will be said about the people who stood by and did nothing to stop this tyrant from his hate-filled rampage of exclusion. The historians will write about how a so-called Christian nation allowed an entire group of people to be persecuted because they prayed differently and had brown skin. They will write about the people who supported these policies based on some misguided sense of nationalism and who defended this man in the name of God. Maybe some future president will release a statement about it without mentioning Muslims at all and future Christians can nod smugly while our country burns.
What would Jesus do? I don’t know, but you can bet your ass he wouldn’t do this.