When two Christian parties are at odds with each other or even in rivalry, it’s easy for people standing on the sideline to accuse everyone involved of “un-Christian behaviours”. Understandably, people get even more frustrated when the hostilities come from rivalling ministries that profess to spread the Christian faith and promote Christian love: Why can’t they co-exist? How ironic those who profess to spread the Christian faith are the first ones to abandon it, and those who claim to promote Christian love are the first ones to resort to hatred and retaliatory measures!
Sadly, history tells us that such accusations are often valid, as are in the case of the schisms of the Orthodox Church and the Protestant Reformation in the 11th and 16th centuries respectively, “for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame”, the Catholic Church admitted honestly (Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism, n. 3).
On the other hand, history also tells us it is not uncommon for a truly innocent party to get muddied by a dispute that is triggered and fuelled by the other party whose aggression, unjust persecution, or even violence make it necessary for the innocent party to defend itself. Therefore, while it’s fair for the bystanders to get frustrated when such unfortunate disputes happen, they need to observe carefully before accusing anybody. It’s important to keep in mind that those who judge without making the effort to understand the whole story and the rights and wrongs involved stand to be judged for making hasty accusations, which are not only unfair and unhelpful, but also add to the woe of the innocent party who is already suffering from malice, violence, and injustice.
Jesus often finds himself caught in heated exchange of words with the scribes and Pharisees, to the point that he calls them “hypocrites”, “white-washed tombs” that appear clean outside but are filled with all kinds of filth inside, “serpents”, and “brood of vipers” (Mt. 23:27-33).
St. Paul fares no better. His fierce battles with the false apostles, false prophets, and Jewish opponents from the synagogues, both verbal and physical, are well documented in the pages of his epistles and the Acts of the Apostles. Their squabbles were not pretty. At one point, St. Paul had to defend himself against the charges of the Temple authorities of the Jews and their lawyer in a Roman court presided over by the Roman governor Felix (Acts 24 ff.)!
Those who insist that God loving people should always be able to work things out among themselves out of humility and love for God will have a hard time understanding these unfortunate experiences encountered by many saintly people in the history of the Church. There were many innocent victims in the long history of the Church who suffered unjust aggression and persecution. Like Jesus and St. Paul, they are to be admired and complimented for their courage to stand up against unjust instigators and bullies, not criticized.
In 2,000 years of Church history, there’s no lack of people like them: St. Stephen, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, St. Justin Martyr… Need I go on? Let me conclude this reflection by mentioning a more recent Church figure who shines like a supernova in the history of the Church when it comes to staring down unjust aggressors: the Blessed John Henry Newman, who had been badly slandered and maligned by high-ranking and powerful clergy and officials in the Church ever since his conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism at age 45 until his exoneration by Pope Leo XIII at the ripe old age of 80.
Similarly, for those who still believe in throwing their weight around, I will leave them with a few words from the Gospel as food for thought: What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mt. 16:26)