Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. (Ps. 82:3)

A guest speaker in chapel at the Christian college I attended took for his text James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Then he proceeded to spend the entire message talking about keeping ourselves from being polluted by the world. I admit it was a message we needed to hear. There was plenty of worldly pollution that we needed to avoid, things that would contaminate our hearts and minds. There still is.

But I never quite understood why, apart from reading the Scripture, he didn’t say another word about orphans and widows. He ignored the fact that James held up compassion alongside the avoidance of pollution as part of what God calls “pure religion.”

All the more striking is the splendid example I have seen in recent years of young married couples who have gone to great lengths and great expense to adopt children that would have been discarded by their cultures. Or the example of a young woman who took a discarded, sick baby girl and nurtured her for weeks until she died, so that she would not die alone, unloved.

We need to resist pollution. We also need to embrace compassion. Pure religion includes both.

Reach out to someone who needs a compassionate touch or word today.

Ron McClung works at his denomination’s world headquarters and lives in Fishers, Indiana, with his wife, Carol. They have two sons and nine grandchildren.