“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5: 22-23 NIV)
I have read these verses many times in my life. I have heard multiple sermons on these attributes. And lately I have been challenged more deeply to question the evidence of such fruit in my life. I have been wondering how much of this fruit is evident in the spiritual leaders of our day. In the political leaders. In our personal church bubble.
One question has been reverberating in my mind this week “Is it showing kindness when I ______?” That was asked by my pastor this past Sunday. He used a personal example of a specific situation that challenged him. I immediately started a list in my head. Is it kindness when I chuckle at someone’s outfit? Is it kindness when I avoid looking at the homeless man at the stoplight? Is it kindness when I stay silent if compelled to speak up in defense of someone? Is it kindness when I ignore the sniffling woman at the lunch table because I’m busy?
And then my mind turned to leaders who have troubled me. In I John 4:1 we are commanded to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Hmmm. So, if a prominent Christian leader states that welcoming refugees in our country is “not a Bible issue” is he showing kindness? Is he showing love? Is he showing the fruit of the Spirit?
If a politician championed by Christian organizations states that poor children should sweep the floors in their schools in order to get their free lunch, we should ask–Is that showing kindness? Would we want our children to have to sweep the floor in order to eat? Is that what Jesus would have done?
When our president vilifies an entire group by creating a registry for their crimes, is that showing kindness? When an entire religion and those that practice that religion are treated as evil, dangerous, and not welcome in our country, is that showing kindness? Is that what Jesus would have done? Is that what He illustrated in the story of the Good Samaritan?
If we find ourselves nodding in agreement when people say that the poor just need to get a job–is that showing kindness? When we don’t wish to give to others’ children because “their parents shouldn’t be enabled”–is that showing kindness? When we demand that people volunteer for 20+ hours a week in order to receive benefits–is that showing kindness? What if that person has no transportation? What if that person is caring for children or an elderly parent, or a sick spouse? “We working people have to come up with childcare and transportation, so why shouldn’t they?” Is that showing kindness? Is that showing love? (I will let the very genuine logistical issues with these ideas alone for now).
If we are less upset by someone’s murder because they are muslim, or foreign, or gay, is that showing kindness? Is that showing love?
If we say that we think it is wrong to help someone because they need to learn from their mistakes, is that showing kindness? Is that what Christ did for us? Does He make us work for His love, His forgiveness, His grace?
I think that what this all boils down to is that we have a severe lack of empathy in our country, in our culture, in our churches. How often do we place ourselves in the shoes of another before casting judgment on them or their circumstances? How often do we question if we would think or behave differently if it was a loved one and not a stranger? How often do we ask ourselves what we would like others to do for us if we were found in the same circumstances?
If it was my family running from war and destruction, how would I feel when I learned that Christians didn’t want me living near them? If caring for my elderly parents, or my sick husband meant that I couldn’t work, how would I feel when Christians said that God doesn’t like laziness (so I should work)? If my child became a drug addict and we struggled together with all the mess and upheaval that created, how would I feel if I was silently judged as a bad parent by church people? If my child was gay, how would it feel to hear preachers blame earthquakes and hurricanes on their behavior? Yes, I have heard these arguments from Christians. Yes, they saw no irony in those opinions. Yes, they still held themselves up as loving and kind examples of Christ. Is that showing kindness? Is that showing love?
We are incapable of truly showing kindness and love (let alone all the other fruit of the Spirit) without some serious help from the Holy Spirit. We humans are weak. We will fail. We will get our feelings hurt and then strike out. We will cast judgment without a second thought. But we cannot use these human shortcomings as an excuse for our bad behavior and attitudes. We are to strive to be more Christ-like every day. We are to give more of our time, our energy, our hearts to the things that Christ sees as worthy every day. We are to genuinely ask for God’s help in following His example. And when we finally see where we have been wrong, we are to be willing to change. We are to want to grow. We are to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge our screw-ups. We are to see ourselves as no different in our humanity than the homeless man or the trans teen.
So, I ask, if someone was to ask you to explain your views on controversial topics of today–would you be showing kindness?