A church, like all institutions, is an entire social ecosystem of its own.
Like any social group, there are feuds, faux pas, and concerns about status.
Nobody wants to upset the apple cart. Now imagine overlapping those concerns with yet another peculiar social setting, full of its own unwritten rules—the group chat.
One participant in a church's group chat was stuck hovering over an uncomfortable choice—call out religious hypocrisy and risk the social onslaught or remain tight-lipped and carry the pent-up disagreement.
So "physicsandyarn," as they call themselves in the Reddit universe, brought their predicament to the anonymous internet jury. They explained the details of the situation on Reddit's "Am I the A**hole (AITA)" subReddit.
But unlike most contributors to this corner of Reddit, physicsandyarn is an advice-seeker. They didn't act first, only to ask the community if they were "the a**hole" after the fact. They posted before making the move, asking "Would I Be the A**hole (WIBTA)."
They begin with their church's new service initiative, the driving force behind their internal tug-of-war.
"Recently, my church has started a new initiative wherein they encourage members to do 'one good deed a week.' Absolutely fine, nothing wrong with that at all."
"However, they are also encouraging members to take photos/post online/tell people of their good deeds. This, in my mind, goes directly against what the Bible says."
They follow that up with the big guns—the bible verse in question.
"The specific verse I'm thinking of is Matthew 6:1 'Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.' "
After sharing some interpretation, their predicament is obvious.
"Which I take to mean - do good deeds, but not so you can show off about them, because it's good to do good things. Treat people well, take care of them etc, but don't then showcase how amazing you are for doing them."
"So, WIBTA if I sent that particular verse to the same church group chat where people are showing off their church-sanctioned 'one good deed a week?' "
As for newfound clarity at the hands of the internet, phsysicsandyarn was likely disappointed.
There were plenty of responses, but they covered an evenly distributed range of takes.
Some advised against it, assuring they would be the a**hole if they sent the verse.
"Sending them that particular Bible verse would be doing exactly what you are accusing them of doing: 'Look how righteous I am!' "
"At least they're being righteous over good deeds...you're being righteous over being righteous about righteousness." -- Dead_before_dessert
"While I agree with you that doing good just to be seen doing good misses the point... it's incredibly important not that you be seen doing good, but that other people see good being done."
"We're only human. We're driven by peer pressure and social norms. If people start seeing others picking up trash, they're more likely to do so themselves. If they see others ignoring it, they're more likely to ignore it." -- km89
"Look, I agree with you that doing a good deed just so you can brag about it to others is wrong. But your church is just trying to keep members engaged with the church in a time when (I'm assuming) you cannot gather in person."
"You don't have to rain on the parade. If it bothers you, don't post your good deed and don't spend time looking at the posts of others' good deeds." -- BasilMaisel
Others were on their side and felt something needed to be said in the group chat.
They gave some advice about how to do it with some tact.
"Religious hypocrisy is gross. Fair warning though, you may want to soften it with a little intro like, 'Hey everyone, so glad we're doing these wonderful things for the community but l'm uncomfortable with how we are advertising the good works on social media.... (insert bible verse).' "
"I'm not saying that because I think religious hypocrites deserve coddling, but because religious hypocrites tend to be very sensitive when called out and if this is a primary social group for you that you want to keep, tread lightly." -- dasturkey
"Just posting a bible verse is incredibly passive-aggressive. Find a church leader who you trust and bring your concerns to them. They will likely give you reasons for the photos that you may not have considered.
"If you have a problem with what the church is doing it is better to directly ask about it so you can gain a full understanding of the situation. Sending a bible verse will just make you sound pretentious." -- vex132
"Raising this on a group chat isn't the best way to start a discussion, though."
"It needs to be an in-person situation, perhaps with your minister, discussing the limits to be placed on this sharing of good deeds to insure they aren't selfie moments as opposed to focusing on the deed (with its own complexity)." -- LeMot-Juste
And some managed to strike a balance.
"I'm of two minds about this kind of thing. Yes, doing good things so you can show off is kinda douchey, but at the same time, the good thing is still getting done."
"But reminding people of how their religion dictates they do it is also not a bad idea." -- Meivath
"Encouraging teenagers (I assume) to do good deeds without recognition, is increasingly difficult as social media pervades our lives. It's not really harming anyone."
"If I were you, I would encourage people to focus on telling this group chat of their deed, not telling the world."
"You could write a neat and inspiring passage on this, if you care enough. Psychologically, encouragement and recognition goes a long way to making good deeds feel good, rather than feel like a chore." -- covert_operator100
"Personally, I look at this exercise as a way of encouraging communal engagement while holding each other accountable for following through and building the habit of doing good in the world."
"That said, if your conscience is stirring you, I would recommend that, instead of sharing your deeds with a group, pick one close friend to be accountable to." -- LadyMother
And finally, some chose not to give direct advice. Instead, they questioned the chosen venue for advice.
"Reddit is full of people who hate religion, so there's that." -- languagelover17
"You're also asking a bunch of non-Christians about a Christian ethic." -- kippy44
The unfortunate truth of this predicament is that there are minimal avenues toward delicately raising concern. In this time of pandemic-driven isolation from one another, navigating social confrontation has suddenly been switched to "hard mode."
The book Comfortable Christianity: Examining Hypocrisy Through the Eyes of a Hypocrite is available here.