In case you missed it, Lady Gaga made headlines last week when she posted online pictures of herself wearing nothing but her underwear. The photos, she explained on her website, were a response to media criticism of her weight gain. Reportedly gaining around 25 pounds, Lady Gaga quickly became the subject of tabloid fodder. So, she decided to fight back and celebrate her body, au naturale.
Upon reading this story I had two responses. The first was, UGH! If THAT is what she looks like after gaining 25 pounds, then the media really is the devil. Even with the weight gain, she has a body that many women would kill for. In fact, I wasn’t sure if she was trying to expose just how insane the media is, given that she’s still rather thin, or if this was a “humble brag” kind of message (you know, purporting to be open and honest about her “flaws,” even though they are virtually imperceptible).
I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume the former. Especially since she also confessed to a long-term struggle with bulimia, one she has battled since she was 15. Which, strangely, leads me to my second reaction to the story:
I thought she was a hypocrite.
Now bear with me for a moment. I know that reaction seems harsh, but I want to walk you through my thought process. Thinking she was a hypocrite is where I began, but it is not where I ended.
As I read about Lady Gaga’s struggles with body image I thought back to her “Born This Way” campaign, which was both a song and an ideological banner supporting the gay community, as well as anyone who felt like a social misfit. The message has been embraced by fans–or “little monsters”–around the world who feel like they don’t quite fit in for one reason or another. It is a message of acceptance and self-love, and one that Lady Gaga proclaims loudly.
Which is why her eating disorder surprised me. As one who stood on the hill of self-acceptance, it was clear that she hadn’t lived out the message herself. She hadn’t bought the goods she was selling. And that is why my first reaction was to cry, “Hypocrisy!”
However, the more I’ve thought about it the more I think my reaction was unfair. Yes, Lady Gaga has spent her whole life trying to accept the body she was born with, and yes, she failed to do so even while she encouraged others to do the same. But I’m not sure that makes her a hypocrite. At least, not entirely.
Instead, I wonder if she preached her message as loudly as she did because it was a message she needed herself. Although she believed her words to be true, she couldn’t make her body conform to them. Instead her body fought her, and the result was an inconsistency between what she professed and how she lived.
At face value that inconsistency looks like hypocrisy, but there is also an extent to which it is the human condition. Just look at the Apostle Paul. While Paul is dogmatic on matters of holiness and sin, he also confesses in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” What’s more, the same man who exhorts us to “glory in our sufferings” (Rom. 5:5) and to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4) is the man who begs God to remove an unspecified thorn in his flesh (2 Cor. 12:7).
Did Paul contradict himself? Or worse, was he a hypocrite?
Not necessarily. Instead, he was a fallen man working to reconcile the truth of God with the brokenness of his flesh. And because he was imperfect, he sometimes failed. But that did not prevent him from preaching what he knew to be true. Nor did his imperfection detract from the authority of his message, because its authority did not come from him. At the end of the day, Paul was a recipient of God’s truth just as much as the next person. Very likely, he was often preaching to himself.
Although Lady Gaga and the Apostle Paul are two very different figures with two very different messages, I see some parallels between them. I think Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” campaign was also a sermon to herself. And I say this as a Christian writer and teacher who preaches to herself as well. As much as I would love to say that I live out my teaching perfectly, I do not. I am a creation in progress just as much as the next Christian. I need to hear the things that I write.
I share this, not simply to encourage you when you fall short and think you can’t compare to other Christians who have it altogether, but also to encourage grace for Christian leaders. There are times when I’ve found myself disillusioned by teachers and preachers who, it turned out, are not super-spiritual Christian gurus in every day life. They are impatient with their kids, get angry with their spouses, and love some of their possessions just a little too much…just like the rest of us. They are not other-worldly persons without any discernible sin. They are works in progress being sanctified by the grace of God.
In short, they need their own sermons just as much as their congregations. Perhaps that is why many of them preach with such passionate urgency.
Although hypocrisy is a vice to be combated, authentic Christianity can sometimes have the look of hypocrisy. We are imperfect beings following a perfect Savior. In a world that expects Christians to be perfect, and lambasts the church when it falls short, this is a difficult paradox to accept. But it is a paradox we must embrace, nonetheless. As much as we must strive to reflect Christ in this world, the story of his perfection in the face of our imperfection is the heart of our faith.