Empathy

Rachel Ternes – Oct. 31, 2012

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. –Luke 6:27-31

I’ve been thinking about empathy lately.

Last Thursday I participated in an experiment to get credit for my Psych lab. It was basically a questionnaire, and one of the sections was full of questions that seemed to be centered around empathy…

When the survey was done, I went straight to the “God vs. Gay?” talk that was being sponsored by Hillel and Queers & Allies. Jay Michaelson talked about his book God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality. It was a really great talk, and there were some interesting questions and comments afterward. There seemed to be one concept in particular that really resonated with the students attending: the idea of empathy. Michaelson pointed out that people who are both religious and unaccepting of LGBT people must deal with the terrible contradiction in their minds of supposedly loving God who apparently does not love LGBT people. This is a painful and harmful dissonance, and the people who suffer it need our love and understanding. They need our empathy. The small group of students in the auditorium with me was so grateful to hear someone who didn’t believe in an antagonistic approach. Many of the people suffering that dissonance are our family, our friends, and sometimes ourselves.

We are called to love and care for people who are marginalized and treated unjustly. But we are also called to love and try to understand those who disagree with us, and this can be a real challenge, especially when they are the same people who we see participating in injustice. This is particularly relevant right now, as the election season is bringing out a lot of antagonism and hate.

Dear God, as we actively work for justice for your children, please help us to remember that those who seem to oppose us are also your children. Give us patience and hearts full enough to do to others as we would have them do to us. Help us try to understand feelings and positions that we do not share. Help us to empathize with those who are dealing with internal conflicts, and to be gentle with them. And help us to do all this humbly. In your name we pray. Amen.