Christian hypocrisy, again

A space to discuss the essay, “Christian hypocrisy, again”

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A couple of thoughts…

  1. I’m processing the concept of ‘retaliation for having engaged in prior protected activity’. I’m assuming ‘prior protected activity’ refers to something she, by law, is not allowed to be fired for? It suggests it had nothing to do with her job performance. What I gathered was that, basically, both being long-standing members of the church, they had prior relational history, which was not expounded upon in this article. But it seems that relational history was not one of respect? According to the filing, the church contends she was fired for insubordination (what a concept!) + lack of performance. She contends it was in retaliation for, I suppose, perceived insubordination in, perhaps, a larger church matter? She also mentions gender discrimination, so I wonder if her ‘insubordination’ is tied to the PCA’s overall issues with women in ministry. But I speculate…

  2. There are a number of dual roles/layers here, which is where things get messy. The fact is, she was both member and employee. He, at one point was member, who most likely was a session member (i.e. elected leader), who then was head pastor. He is still answerable to the session, but he has a tremendous amount of singular influence in that position. Additionally, if he was on the session the entire time she was on staff, then he has a history of being a part of the authority over her both in her job as well as in her position as a member…which politically muddies the picture. Sidebar: this is why many people have deep reservations about working (as opposed to pastoring) at the same place they worship.

  3. What’s clear to me, though, is he didn’t want her on ‘his’ staff team. Which leads me to ask, isn’t it his prerogative to put together the staff he wants? Part of me says yes, but I also think that the act of new pastors ‘cleaning house’ is a sure way to wrong/disrespect people and divide a church. It, unfortunately, happens a lot. Sounds like he dealt with it very poorly, and I’d like to see both him and the rest of the session own up to it.

  4. On hypocrisy… Pastors will ultimately be hypocrites because pastors are human. There is no way they will be able to fulfill that role perfectly. Likewise, the church tries to model the way human community ought to be, but the church will ultimately be full of hypocrites because the church is full of humans. Any time one is dealing with oughts, one will find hypocrisy…because no one can live up to the oughts of whatever system one holds to.

Gentle and Lowly is now discredited because the author illegally retaliated against one of his employees. And got angry with an elder who cared for her. And denied her claims, saying, “the ‘reality’ was different than Hyland’s characterizations.”

  1. Is it though? The author certainly can be discredited as a person worthy of adulation, even admiration, (as I believe most, if not all, people are), but that doesn’t necessarily mean the content…the ideas…are not worth engaging with. And perhaps you would agree. I’ve never read the book, so I don’t know. It’s probably worth taking a second look at, as you have done a bit here…

He writes in the Epilogue,

This is a book about the heart of Christ and of God. But what are we to do with this? The main answer is, nothing. To ask, “Now how do I apply this to my life?” would be a trivialization of the point of this study.

When I first read the book, I thought this was an outstanding commitment to worshiping God. Adoring Christ for who he is, free of any legalism! But now, I have to reconsider. No. This is a truncated theology that damages people.

  1. Again, a little push back… :smirk: He says that the main answer is nothing. He didn’t say the answer or the only answer is nothing. If he had, then, yes, it would be truncated theology. As I understand it, the book was a reflection on the heart of God for his people, and it was a call to receive (and feel, be nurtured by) the love of God before or rather than immediately turning to doing…like evangelicals of all kinds are apt to do! Because what’s the other part of the answer? IMITATE IT. ACTUALLY DO IT. Perhaps he needed to receive more before he turned towards the doing that the office demands? Perhaps, then, he could have been a better imitator.

All around a sad and frustrating situation, though. :slightly_frowning_face:


Addendum: I just read the article on The Roys Report, and it gives a slightly different, more angled take on the situation… suggesting that she was fired because of her complaint re. discrimination. I didn’t get that sense reading the CT article. I am still under the impression that they were already at odds with one another when he was hired as the head guy, and that the tension was exacerbated by his now being a more direct boss.


It’s an area I’m not familiar with. The attorney Boz Tchividjian clarified it for me:

It is hard not knowing all the details. What I found to be some ‘anchors in the ground’ for my understanding, from the Christianity Today article:

  1. “[The Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR)] found “substantial evidence” that she was fired “in retaliation for having engaged in prior protected activity.””

  2. This finding is not common. CT: “Employment lawyers say it’s rare for an agency to issue a finding of substantial evidence of retaliation, making Hyland’s case a significant one.”

  3. I find Hyland’s testimony credible. CT: “Hyland said she felt bullied”

  4. A former elder believes her. CT: “Veerman, who belonged to Naperville Presbyterian for 36 years and was its longest-serving elder, wrote a statement defending Hyland to the presbytery and has since left the church—though his departure was not directly related to Hyland’s case.”

  5. Another former elder experienced mistreatment for supporting Hyland. CT: “Another elder, who has struggled to transition to a new church and asked not to be named, said he felt pushed out of the church after he helped Hyland remove some of her office items from the church following her firing. He said Ortlund was angry with him about helping her move and questioned him extensively about it.”

Yes. However, if the person with authority holds that responsibility in a way that is gentle and lowly, and faithfully serves others, I think that risk is reduced. The pastor is the one who is responsible for making sure the dual roles don’t get messy.

Yes, I think so. But, as you said, “Sounds like he dealt with it very poorly, and I’d like to see both him and the rest of the session own up to it.”

Agreed. :raised_back_of_hand: I’m a hypocrite too.

However, I’m sensitive to ‘sin leveling.’ Just because we’re all hypocrites doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be accountability when this sin is unchecked and causes great pain. For the author of Gentle and Lowly to bully a staff member off his team isn’t right.

For me, it’s complicated.

I think if someone wants to quote Gentle and Lowly, they should provide context. "As Dane Ortlund, who the Illinois Department of Human Rights found to have illegally retaliated against one of his employees, said, “Here is the promise of the gospel and the message of the whole Bible: In Jesus Christ, we are given a friend who will always enjoy rather than refuse our presence.”

It’s a beautiful truth, expressed well. But if we can only quote the book by ignoring the pain that Emily Hyland has suffered by the author’s actions, is it worth it? I would want Emily to be seen, heard, and valued.

Ok, fair enough. :slight_smile: And your pushback is welcome! It makes our community better. I honor you for challenging these ideas.

I went back and read through the Epilogue again. It still seems to me that I’ve captured what Dane is expressing in this section accurately. For instance, here’s what he writes a couple of paragraphs later:

The Christian life boils down to two steps: 1. Go to Jesus. 2. See #1.

I don’t think that’s right. From the hip, I’d say it is more like:

  1. Go to Jesus
  2. Imitate Jesus
  3. Because God has pursued you, been gracious to you, placed you in community, is working in your spirit and is inviting you to be involved in his mission. :slight_smile:

Yea, it is heartbreaking. I grieve it.

And I want to remember the greatest cost has been borne by Emily and the elders who were pushed out of the church.


Hi @kathleen and @Carson

For more context, this is from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website.

The EEO laws prohibit punishing job applicants or employees for asserting their rights to be free from employment discrimination including harassment. Asserting these EEO rights is called “protected activity,” and it can take many forms.

The website goes on and list several examples of protected activity. Which in this instance was likely her report of discrimination. It is illegal for an employer to fire or discipline an employee for filing a discrimination reports against the employer, which is why it’s called protected activity.

I wonder if hypocrisy is the best word to use when talking about Christians that don’t measure up to the standard of what they believe. Check out this definition from Merriam-Webster.

a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not : behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel especially : the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.

I think there is a type of Christian that is common in our churches that will willingly confess their faults and recognize that they fall short of the ideal. Many of which will point to Christ in the same way Paul does in Rom 7:21-25 as a testimony of Jesus’ ability to save. I think into this instance “hypocrite” is not the most accurate term.

However, in the case of Dane Ortlund, given the details available, the author of Gentle and Lowly, seems to be an example of what hypocrisy really is. Not only has he studied the nature of Jesus in these terms, but failed to apply what he learned to the reality of his life and relationships. Even if his caveat that you quoted from his epilogue gets him out of being a hypocrite about the gentle and lowly message, he still purports to be a Christian and neglects the admonitions in Rom 12:9-18.

Ultimately, I think it is right to hold each other accountable for such things. Maybe we are a “hypocrite” not just because an action conflicts with our convictions, but instead when we are questioned about the conflict and it is our response that conflicts with our convictions.


Thank you both SO much for your engagement with me on this. I’m rather short on time this morning, but I did want to say one thing before I engage later with some other things y’all have brought up. :slight_smile:

Agreed. As I typed my previous post, I was aware that I could sound dismissive of Emily and do the ‘sin- leveling’ thing. I did not at all want to do that, but I’m glad it’s been said. My point in bringing it up is to exhort us, as church leaders and members, to remember that those in these roles are human. It’s for us to engage with our own view of those roles and how we admire and elevate those who occupy them.

As humans first, these men in these roles (and women…but in the evangelical world, men tend to occupy these positions), need not be trusted blindly. Part of how the evangelical world has gotten where it is is that unquestioning (or lightly-questioning) trust has been encouraged…even demanded. We have all have blind spots, and part proper oversight of those in those roles (whether elder, deacon, pastor) involves engaging with those blind spots. We all need each other.

If she and the two elders who came to her support/defense have been sidelined out of the church, then that session no doubt have larger blind spots that needs addressing.


Hello! I’m back for more… :slight_smile:

  1. Thank you both for more light on “protected activity” and for pointing out that it (most likely/definitely) refers to her discrimination complaint.

  2. On hypocrisy…

I really appreciate this delineation. So often where we see church leaders failing is in how they respond to challenge. The typical response that I’ve read about (and what others here have experienced first-hand!) is much more in line with Peter in the garden, going after the guard with a sword. Jesus, of course, rebukes him, and leaves us all to ponder the proverb: “all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” [Mt. 26:52 NRSV]

As for this author-pastor, should he have “known better”? Absolutely. He literally wrote a book – or is it books? – on the gentleness and humility of God, and still chose not merely to take the sword, but to also wield the sword. In a way, she did too, but I am under no illusions that the size of swords – or even body army, size of army, etc. – were/are equal. I have no doubt she felt bullied. Bullying involves a power dynamic. He had the power (i.e. platform, celebrity, and sessional backing), and he pushed her and others out. The full reason(s) behind the pushing out are still unknown to us.

  1. On truncated theology and imitation…

Thank you, Carson, for pointing out further the truncatedness of his theology! I actually just thumbed through his website, and see more of what you’re seeing. What stood out to me was his mission statement, which states that he is “on the planet to enjoy the endless grace of God and to invite others to join him there.” That sounds nice…and spiritual…but not enough.

For me, this connects with something Miroslav Volf talks about in his book, A Public Faith. Volf conceptualizes the Christian life as being one of ascent and return. We will have an imbalanced, off-kilter faith if we live too much in either place. We ascend in order to return. And, in order to live well in the world, we have to ascend. In his role as pastor, his job is literally to return in order to facilitate others’ ascension and return. As Christ ascended and returned and engaged daily, as his disciples, so are we invited into that pattern.

I agree. The cost is real and acutely painful. You’ve borne it. You’ve written about it.

I don’t wish to drown out calls for justice amid pleas (or is it excuses?) of complexity. But I also don’t wish to oversimplify things in the face of complex dynamics. (And by “complex” I mean “multi-faceted”, not necessarily “untangle-able”/“unknowable”.) There are no doubt other things going on in that church and between the group of men who lead it that underpin this situation. This seems like a/the tip of the iceberg.

A final thought: Victim-advocacy requires a taking up of the sword in many ways. My psychotherapeutic training challenges my urges to do so, thus I find myself stretched…which I’m sure is evident in this post!