In the church today many battles are being fought over issues that would have been non-issues to our forefathers. Issues such as women priests, sexual morality, and abortion have not been a matter of debate throughout any but the most recent decades of the past two millennia. Those of us fighting to preserve traditional Christianity have a lot of work to do, but sometimes it is difficult to get out of “fight mode.” It is sad when the fighting engulfs people who are on the same side. Then the fighting is no longer motivated by a desire for Truth, rather it is from pride and a lack of kindness.
Kindness is a virtue that is often neglected, especially among the theologically-inclined. How many times have you seen someone vilify a fellow orthodox Christian over some small point of canon law that is not widely practiced by the Church Universal? In our zeal for Truth, we lack a love of kindness. In our desire to demonstrate our knowledge of Truth, we lack humility. In our effort to show the world that we have the true faith, we sometimes show that we have the personal piety of the Enemy instead.
Christ commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. He told us to love one another truly. He did not say just to love those who agree with us.
Kindness is such a fundamental part of the life of piety that one needn’t even be Christian to recognize its importance. Confucius said, “Superior men, and yet not always virtuous, there have been; but there never has been a man who is unkind and at the same time virtuous.”
The prophet Micah reminded us that we are to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. To love kindness is to take no delight in criticizing or condemning others. It is to treat everyone with compassion. It goes hand in hand with humility. If we approach others with humility, then kindness should follow.
We need to be able to disagree as gentlemen on minor points. Everything is not a matter for schism! Not every tradition has a capital T. There are some issues over which we can agree to disagree and still call each other “brother.” For example, arguments over whether pirogies or spaghetti or steak and kidney pie makes the best dish for a church luncheon is hardly in the same class as a debate on the nature of the Trinity. Yet issues nearly this inane are argued by some with incredible fervor. And sometimes the arguments end in name-calling and anathemas. And the advent of e-mail has brought on new and creative ways for Christians to condemn each other to the darkest depths of hell.
An age-old plan of the Enemy is to divide and conquer. Let us not fall prey to this scheme. Let no one be so proud as to think that God has revealed the entire Truth only to him. There are issues that we fight over because we wish to save souls. But there also are minor issues over which, through our arrogance and unkindness, we can lose our own soul. Let us be careful which fights we pick.
Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children.
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“Loving Kindness” first appeared in the January/February 1998 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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