Like many children, the first Scripture I memorized was, “Be ye kind one to another,” from Ephesians 4:32.
Through the years I have often fallen short of being kind, sometimes in deed, sometimes by word and often by insensitivity to the needs and feelings of others.
Secular culture does not much value kindness, particularly on the part of men. Kindness is perceived by a host of commentators as a sign of weakness.
Still, when I failed to be kind, my conscience would speak to me about my failure. Often, I would rationalize my unkindness away. I would salve my conscience by declaring that the other person or organization had been unkind to me. While this may have helped me feel “justified” at the time, I still would have a nagging conviction that my unkind word or deed was sinful.
While I believe I am kinder now than I was a decade or two ago, I still catch myself reverting to old ways and responding to unkindness in kind. Further, I seem to be becoming more and more critical of those who do not treat others, particularly fellow Christians, with kindness. (A common malady of those recovering from some addiction, we are told.)
Being back in a rural community has been helpful to me. I see so many acts of kindness day by day, that I am moved to be more kind toward others. In Carrollton, Ala., kindness is our “way of life.”
I suspect this “culture of kindness” has contributed to the difficulty many of us here have had over the past month in accepting the decision of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention to terminate a daughter of our association. We just do not find any kindness in the action. Consequently, we view it as unchristian.
This woman, a single lady, served faithfully for more than 30 years on a difficult field in Asia. She will turn 60 this summer. She has some chronic health problems that, while not debilitating, are expensive to treat.
She has a brother, cousins and an aunt in our association. She has spoken in our churches. Several of our WMU groups are named for her. Her father planted one of our churches, was pastor of nine others, and led most in building programs.
We do not question her orthodoxy. Had we been asked if we were willing for the money we contribute to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering to be used to keep her on the field until she retires, I dare say we would have been unanimous in saying yes. We believe the kind, Christian, thing to do would have been to have allowed her to continue to serve until she reaches retirement age.
It is our understanding that she was fired, along with 42 other career missionaries, for not signing a document saying that she affirmed the revised statement of faith adopted by the SBC in 2000. She saw this as changing the rules in mid-course.
She says she wrote out her reasons for not signing, but her supervisors did not discuss the matter with her. That troubles us. After 30 years of service, to be summarily dismissed cannot be construed as an act of kindness. With such a small number of people involved, there was no reason for IMB officials to have acted so harshly without a face-to-face discussion.
We won’t stop supporting Southern Baptist work because of this. We still have three other IMB missionaries, whom we claim as our sons. They apparently were able to sign the document in good faith. We know them to be good, orthodox, Baptist Christians, as well. Even those of us who would not be comfortable signing the document ourselves will continue to love, pray for and support them and the other missionaries.
Here is what I think we will do, however:
–Knowing that our missionary has now spent the majority of her years in a culture where “saving face” is very important, we will need to shower her with kindness and affirmation as she returns and settles in our area.
–We will need to guard against responding to perceived unkindness vindictively. Satan will be prompting us to do otherwise.
–We will need to learn from this and seek to be more sensitive in our responses to others.
–We will need to share with those who administer the boards and agencies that have been put in place to help Baptist churches be truly Great Commission churches that we expect not only orthodox belief from our leaders and missionaries, but Christian behavior as well.
Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.