Conflict tests ties between Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches
Frank Kaufmann «View Bio

The September 6 edition of the New York Times ran an article by Sophia Kishkovsky titled: `Conflict Tests Ties Between the Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches.` 

Kishkovsky quotes Russia’s Patriarch Aleksey from a statement he made on August 8, while the fighting raged:  

“Today, blood is being shed and people are perishing in South Ossetia, and my heart deeply grieves over it. Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox peoples called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love are in conflict.”

This article and the role of religion in the Russia-Georgia conflict are important at least for two reasons:

1. We see potential signs that religion can serve as a harmonizing force across warring boundaries
2. We see signs that media analysis and reportage is maturing beyond the debilitating bias of secular parochialism.

The struggle and lamentation of both Georgian and Russian Orthodox Church leaders demonstrates the potential for religion to serve as a unifying factor, a voice of conscience, and an impetus to move states and militaries away from the nation state habit of killing people, harming nature and destroying property.

In this particular case, the sensibility and concern happened because all victims and targets were from the same religion (Orthodoxy). But isn`t it possible for us as a species to evolve beyond the archaic shackles of religious parochialism so that the type of despair suffered and expressed by these Orthodox leaders would equally arise in the hearts of all religious leaders any and every time any believer from any religion suffered from political and military actions?

Or for that matter, couldn`t religious leaders grow to feel the same sense of the unconscionable, not only when a co-religionist, or even any believer suffered, but even whenever human beings degenerate to the point of killing, harming and destroying life, the earth and property?

Perhaps the solidarity and lament seen this time in the confines of denominationalism can serve as an example and ideal for the emergence of a broader spirituality that draws from the same basic impulse and sensibility.

If international diplomatic efforts had less of a tin ear for clues from the universe of religion and religious identity, one might have recognized an opportunity in this “cross-enemy” solidarity so rarely found in the midst of this sort of dangerous and horrible war. Could not this Christian (albeit denominational) high-mindedness be seen as a window through which higher and less divisive positions might have been seized by the United States?

GOP presidential nominee John McCain (perhaps feeling a campaign wedge in the offing) outpaced his own government to rattle US sabers against Russia. Soon thereafter reports came in of a rare Dick Cheney sighting, this time as he surfaced in Georgia itself to further sour US-Russia relations.

Might not a more elegant and holistic foreign policy approach to such an intensely sensitive international breakdown benefit from recognizing a rare and pre-established harmonizing force through these Orthodox leaders? Why not trade on the so-called ‘Christianness’ of American identity and stand in solidarity with leaders from both countries who in unison are calling on conscience and community to rise above the geopolitical forces that led to this tragic and dangerous conflict? Could not ‘America’ have stepped through this door, to engage the leaders on both sides of this dangerous conflict?

In the Times article we celebrate an occasion in which a writer from the mainstream, liberal media has done a fine job of making religious matters, and religious history, clear and comprehensible for a popular readership.

Let us hope that the secular bias that has so harmed and diminished the fullness of analysis and human understanding is starting to turn the corner, and fair and solid reporting like this can become a more frequent staple in the news we consume daily.

Frank Kaufmann is the director of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace. These opinions are his own.