It is always tempting to reduce the proclamation of the Gospel to an exercise of power—spiritual, moral, social or political. More easily then I prefer to acknowledge, I find myself thinking that because what I am proclaiming is of lasting, even eternal, significance, I can be indifferent, and if need be hostile, to what is of only transitory or of passing value. After all, “The good,” as some have said, “is the enemy of the perfect.”
Well, no it isn’t—the good is just that, good and just as we ought not to sacrifice what is best in our pursuit of a lesser good so too we ought not to sacrifice a lesser good in pursuit of a greater. When we do this—and this happens frequently in ways great and small—we commit an act of violence. The violence that afflicts the human soul and divides the human community arise precisely out of my willingness to sacrifice one good for another.
In the public square we often see this in the debates about abortion. A woman’s freedom, her physical or emotional health are often allowed to trump her unborn child’s right to life. All are good, but we justify an act of violence by our willingness to accept the sacrifice of some goods in the pursuit of others.
Or, to take another example, think about the pursuit of material progress. Yes, many of us are better off materially then any time in human history. And while there still are people in wretched poverty, as a whole humanity is better off. We have more to eat and we live longer and while these are both good things to be sure, they are good things that often come by our willingness to sacrifice other goods such as community or even the Gospel.
Christianity in the public square must, I think, proceed by way kenosis, a self-emptying witness patterned after the incarnation of the Son of God (see Philippians 2). His Beatitude place this kenotic witness at the heart of the vocation of the Orthodox Church of America. He goes on to argue that it is this self-emptying witness that is the way not only toward Orthodox unity in America, but also at the center of the Church’s evangelistic witness and engagement of America and her people. In his own words: “It is the task of the Church in this country not only to offer the life of the Orthodox Church to the American people, but also to bring to the practice of Orthodoxy all that is best, all that is valiant, all that is most noble, in our American life.” As I have suggested before, at the heart of our witness to Christ and the Gospel is a reciprocity in which we embraces not only each other but the surrounding culture.
But this raises for me a question: How has our witness be characterized by kenotic reciprocity?