I am late to this strange party.
There is a kerfuffle going around about empathy being a sin. Some theodudes think it is and most people know it isn’t. I am not going to get into it too much, but here are a couple of links to the empathy is sin crowd.
When you start with man as image-bearing creature of God, you can understand why sympathy is good, but empathy is sinful.
Do not surrender our mind to the sinful emotional responses of others.
Minnesota pastor Joe Rigney sat down with Doug Wilson to declare empathy a sin in this odd exchange.
Rigney: That’s right. And the, and I think that actually is the most relevant difference between them because, so empathy is the sort of thing that you’ve got someone drowning, or they’re in quicksand, and they’re sinking. And what empathy wants to do it jump into the quicksand with them, both feet, and-and it feels like that’s going to be more loving, because they’re going to feel like, I’m glad that you’re here with me in the quicksand. Problem is you’re both now sinking.Wilson: Right.Rigney: Right. Whereas, if you do, I’m going to keep one foot on the shore, and I’m actually gonna grab onto this big branch, and then I’ll step one foot in there with you and try to pull you out. That’s sympathy, and that’s-that’s actually helpful. But to the person who’s in there, it can feel like you’re judging me.Wilson: So sympathy’s clearly hierarchical.Rigney: Right. It implies that one person is the hurting, and one person is the helper.Wilson: Right.Rigney: And, and no, and that’s part of the problem is no one wants to feel like they’re the hurting. We want to equalize everything. And so, and so empathy demands, get in here with me, otherwise you don’t love me.Wilson: But what do you lose— when you get in there with them, and you’re all in, they’re drowning, they’re in the quicksand, they’re in the trouble, and you identify with them completely.
Rigney went around a little with Karen Prior here.
What the theodudes seem upset about is that they seem to believe empathy puts the person who understands another’s feelings and experience on the same level as the person who is being understood. They want to be in authority.
Equality. What a concept.
Furthermore, they seem to think empathy means accepting everything anyone else does without moral evaluation. Or at least James White seems to think that. White goes out on the porch of his blog and yells at all of the empaths on his lawn, screaming:
We are not to weep with the bank robber who botches the job and ends up in the slammer. We are, plainly, to exercise control even in our sympathy. We are not to sympathize with sin, nor are we to sympathize with rebellion, or evil.
But the new cultural (and it has flown into the church as well) orthodoxy is: you shall empathize. You shall enter into the emotions of others AND YOU SHALL NOT MAKE JUDGMENTS ABOUT SAID EMOTIONS. By so doing YOU SHALL VALIDATE ALL HUMAN EXPERIENCES AS SUPREME. The greatest sin of all today is to say, “The emotions that person is experiencing are the result of sinful rebellion against God, and hence do not require my validation, support, or celebration.” HOW DARE YOU! That is the great rule I stepped upon, and must now pay the price.
I’d like to say I know how you feel, James, but I don’t.
Empathy is Not Sin
Empathy isn’t acceptance of things you don’t agree with. Empathy doesn’t require you to give up any position you might otherwise have. For instance, parents can empathize with their wayward children (“when I was your age…”) and still adminster correction and direction. When parents communicate their understanding with care, it helps build relationship even when restrictions need to be imposed.
Empathy is simply understanding the inner world of other people. It is all about being able to relate to them and understand what they are going through. It quite important in human functioning and when absent is associated with cruelty and antisocial behavior.
When Joe Rigney and Doug Wilson talk about someone jumping into quicksand with both feet, they are not describing empathy; they instead describe impulsivity. Sympathy or empathy might move a person to prosocial behavior, but strategy to conduct the behavior is another matter. A thoughtful person would perform the rescue safely; an impulsive person might just jump in. Both would be empathic, but only one would live to tell about it.
Understand this; empathy is good.
Here are some articles on empathy and related topics.
As a part of my ongoing tracking of place of worship related outbreaks of COVID-19, I asked the Georgia Department of Public Health if the department logged the number of church related outbreaks. Public information representative Nancy Nydam told me, “As of today, there have been 49 COVID-19 church/place of worship outbreak investigations reported to DPH.” She added that as a result of those investigations, 517 cases have been reported as have 91 hospitalizations and 15 deaths.
As of today, GA has reported 241,702 cases and 4,795 deaths. Thus, in GA, church outbreaks have been a small fraction of total cases. However, these cases may be accelerating. There were 8 place of worship outbreaks from August 6-12 of the 110 outbreaks in Georgia during that time period.* As churches have come together in person, outbreaks have increased. The low total numbers may not be due to safety in church as much as because many churches were meeting online until recently.
As of August 18, 2020 in the U.S., I count 263 religious gatherings associated with at least 3,136 cases of COVID-19 and 43 deaths. My sense is that it is getting harder to keep up with them as churches are beginning to relax their restrictions.
*From the Coastal Health District of the GA Dept of Health website. There were 110 total from August 6-12, 2020. An outbreak is defined as 2 cases or more.
These outbreaks are occurring in settings where people are physically congregating and underscore the need for distancing and source control.
- Long-term care facilities 23
- Schools/school athletic teams 14
- Offices/workplaces 14
- Manufacturing facilities 13
- Prisons/jails 13
- Churches 8
- Restaurants 4
Outbreaks were also documented in hospitals/outpatient facilities, daycares and grocery stores.
Keystone Church in Keller, TX is under fire from parents who want answers about the number of COVID-19 cases among teens returning from a camp experience sponsored by the church. However, Keystone may not be the only church needing to provide answers. I have learned that campers and staff who attended Allaso Ranch this month sponsored by Ed Young’s Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX have also tested positive after attending the church’s Mix Camp 2020.
On 7/20, Amy Smith at her Watchkeep blog posted some social media postings about a possible COVID-19 outbreak due to Fellowship Church camping experiences at Allaso Ranch. A public Facebook posting described a camper and staffer positive with COVID. Since then, I have had several conversations with multiple parents about their children who have tested positive for COVID-19 since returning from Allaso Ranch. One parent on Twitter pegged the number at ten positives, while others have no way to estimate since the church or camp has not offered that information. Emails to both the church and Allaso Ranch have not been answered.
One staffer developed symptoms and was sent home and is now quite ill. Another child tested positive but has more mild symptoms. Parents I spoke with said that they have heard from parents that other children have also tested positive. A Fellowship Church pastor called at least one of the parents and left a voice mail saying that a staff member at the camp tested positive during the camp week.
The pastor also said in his voicemail,
We followed every single procedure, actually gone above and beyond that, and anybody who may have exhibited any symptoms of anything, headache, cough, sneezing,whether it be a temperature, anything, we were on top of it and in fact if it was a trainer we just sent them home, and that actually took place in your [child’s] room and we sent [them] home, [they] were having some mild symptoms, we don’t know if their COVID positive, but we just took precautionary measures and sent them home, and there’s a new leader in that group. So we just wanted to let you know that, and if there is any COVID positivity, we will let you know that immediately.
While it was good that the pastor called this family, is it true that the camp followed every procedure? A review of photos of students at camp indicates that masks were not worn and social distancing was not followed. Here is a tweet from Fellowship Church as an illustration.
Heaven threw a party today! ? Congratulations to every student that went public with their faith at Allaso Ranch! We’re just getting started! pic.twitter.com/3gbv2GRRsa
— Fellowship Church (@fc) July 9, 2020
I also reviewed several photos from camp during July and campers are bunched together without masks throughout the week. According to the camp guidelines, masks are not required for campers. However, the guidelines specify that “Camp staff will wear face coverings whenever they are in close proximity to others and while handing food.” In the tweet photos and any other camp photos I have seen, volunteer staff are not wearing masks when they are near campers. If volunteer staff are considered staff, then it is understandable that parents would be concerned that guidelines may not have been followed.
Allaso Ranch has not posted (or has removed) pictures of camp from 2020. However, there are many photos of camp from past years. If you want to see what camp looks like at Allaso Ranch in 2020, go look at what it looked like in 2019.
As with the Keystone situation, there are hundreds of teens back in the community who may be spreading the virus without knowing it. Furthermore, the camp remains open to continue acting as a super spreader. Surely, Fellowship Church can find a way to spread the Gospel without spreading the virus.
UPDATE: Just after I posted this, another parent posted word on Facebook that her daughter attended Allaso Ranch and tested positive for COVID-19. Although this parent signed a waiver, she was under the impression that the camp was going to require mitigation efforts. However, she also confirms she saw no evidence that any efforts were conducted.
Here are some additional photos of campers at Allaso Ranch. Also, Fellowship Church has blocked Amy Smith on Twitter. Scroll down to the bottom tweet to see the photos. You will need to click that tweet.
— Amy Smith (@watchkeep) July 21, 2020
All DFW locations: The Mix is at Allaso Ranch for the next two weeks! If you haven’t registered for camp there’s still a chance! SIGN UP TODAY: https://t.co/dG6d3p9Vs6 . We can’t wait to bring the party back to our DFW locations on July 22nd!! See you soon! pic.twitter.com/td0rf34ZIk
— Fellowship Church (@fc) July 8, 2020
Allaso Ranch – July 13
If you have more information about COVID-19 cases at Allaso Ranch, contact me here.
Interview with author Jeff Sharlet
In this interview, we discuss our shared recollections of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, the Netflix documentary The Family, liberty of conscience, and evangelicals in relationship to Donald Trump.
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009
On March 2, 2009 I posted a article about an ex-gay conference in Kampala, Uganda. Three Americans, Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and Caleb Brundidge, had been invited by Stephen Langa of the Family Life Network to speak on the topic of homosexuality. Scott Lively told the crowd that gays were behind the Nazi takeover of Germany and subsequent Holocaust. Don Schmierer told them that homosexuals were disturbed by poor parenting and that they needed therapy, and Caleb Brundidge, a client of reparative therapist Richard Cohen was there to show that the ex-gay therapy worked.
That was the first of hundreds of articles about Uganda and the effort of that nation’s Parliament to make homosexuality a capital offense (The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009). I don’t think it is too far fetched to say that Box Turtle Bulletin and this blog became key thorns in the side of Ugandan and American proponents of the bill. Jim Burroway and I (incidentally both originally from Portsmouth, OH) wrote nearly every day about some aspect of the bill and kept the story alive.
Because of my strong opposition to the bill and the kindness of Bob Hunter (as well as other Fellowship members), I attended the National Prayer Breakfast in 2010. There, I interviewed Fellowship Foundation leader Doug Coe. That was one of a handful of interviews he granted over the course of his life. A summary of it was published in Christianity Today later that year. Coe put the Fellowship on record as opposing the bill in Uganda.
When the Ugandan members of the Prayer Breakfast movement learned of American opposition, they felt betrayed by Coe and the Americans. They persisted with their efforts to pass the bill. As Jeff and I discuss in the interview above, the Ugandan members seemed to believe American evangelicals were afraid to really speak their minds. The Ugandan proponents of the bill seemed convinced that American Christians really supported their efforts, and it was their Christian duty to set a tone the world could follow.
Despite the Ugandan’s belief, I don’t believe the American Fellowship supported the bill. At the time (December, 2009), Jeff wrote a guest post for my blog which outlined his belief that the American Fellowship opposed it. In my rare interview with Doug Coe, he made it clear that he and the Fellowship opposed the bill and criminalization for homosexuality anywhere. Furthermore, at the National Prayer Breakfast, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton spoke directly to the Ugandan people and by name opposed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I don’t think the opposition could get any clearer than that.
I was in the African suite watching Obama’s and Clinton’s speeches on television when they condemned the bill at the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast. It was silent in the suite as the African delegation watched. Afterwards, some were stunned, some were angry. Some still believed that some Americans had to say those things in public, but may privately support them. However, they could not deny that the American Fellowship opposed the bill.
Through years of parliamentary maneuvering, the bill moved and then stalled. Sessions ended without action, but finally it passed at the end of 2013 session. The President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni proclaimed that he would not sign the bill if scientists could convince him that being gay was innate. He claimed to want to know if being gay was a choice.
At that point, at the request of others lobbying against the bill, Jack Drescher and I wrote a letter summarizing the research on sexual orientation in layman’s terms. The letter was signed by over 200 scholars and researchers from all over the world. Museveni acknowledge the effort but also convened his own panel of “experts.” They returned a letter which allowed him to sign the bill.
In August 2014, the bill was struck down as unconstitutional by Uganda’s Constitutional court due to the fact that the Parliament did not have a quorum in place when the bill was passed. A five year story of ups and downs came to an end with that decision.
Jeff and I became friends as we compared notes over what American interests and influences might be at work in this Ugandan mess. As I noted in the interview, he went to Uganda on one occasion (I think he asked me to go along but I can’t be sure of my recollection on that). His report of that trip was a lengthy write up in Harper’s.
Jeff has an inspiring sense of fairness and is a captivating writer. I don’t know of anyone outside of Uganda who worked harder to expose the truth relating to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill than Jeff. I am grateful and humbled by the kind and overly generous remarks from him in this interview. Thanks to Jeff for doing it. I hope you benefit from our discussion as much as I did.
Straight Man’s Burden – Harpers
The Bill Inspired by American Evangelicals – The Atlantic
All of my post about the Fellowship Foundation (aka The Family) and the National Prayer Breakfast
Image: Jeff Sharlet’s Twitter Page
Buzzfeed News is reporting this morning what I wanted to report last week but couldn’t verify: Prior to V.P. Mike Pence’s visit to First Baptist Church in Dallas on Sunday, there was an outbreak of COVID-19 among the church’s orchestra and choir. I had heard this from two twitter accounts but could not get primary source verification, so I didn’t run with it.
Buzzfeed reporters were able to get that confirmation and went with the story today. The video of the event shows that the choir was singing and the orchestra was playing without masks. The congregation was close together and the only real precautions were taken by Pence. You don’t need to watch the whole video to see what I mean:
Texas is experiencing a scary surge in cases and V. P. Pence should have shown leadership by canceling his appearance and urging Robert Jeffress to hold an online event. Just last week, in neighboring Arkansas, fellow evangelical Governor Asa Hutchinson told the public that the churches who are not experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks are the ones using masks and social distancing. He identified by name nine churches on a naughty list of churches which had not been following guidelines and thus experiencing more cases of COVID-19.
Jeffress’ church was a clinic in how not to do things. Singing and playing wind instruments are effective ways of spreading a virus. The congregation was not spaced properly and it appears not all were wearing masks. Given that some of the orchestra members have been infected (although none of those members were there), it is possible that some of the orchestra members playing that Sunday had been exposed in prior rehearsals.
While it appears that most church leaders are trying to take COVID-19 seriously, I don’t see how it helps to have so-called leaders disregard best practices. I have been tracking church outbreaks for just over a month and it is starting to get a little hard to keep up with. I count 48 churches as of this writing. As the pandemic enlarges in the U.S., it may be difficult to keep a complate count.
In any case, having church as normal can be a super spreading event and leaders need to heed best practices while still caring for their flocks.