Empathy is Not a Sin

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.

Reformed pastor and apoligist James White says empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” and is sin:

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.

Empathy-related Responding: Associations with Prosocial Behavior, Aggression, and Intergroup Relations

Empathy in Narcissistic Personality Disorder: From Clinical and Empirical Perspectives

Why empathy has a beneficial impact on others in medicine: unifying theories

Prosocial motivation: Is it ever truly altruistic?

News Reports: India’s Tax Authorities Take Control of Gospel for Asia’s Cheruvally Estate in Alleged Money Laundering Case

According to news reports out of India this morning, government Income Tax Department has confiscated the Cheruvally Estate and another 2,000 acres of land  belonging to Believers’ Church in the state of Kerala. This action, according to reports, is tied to the governments ongoing investigation of a money laudering scheme involving allegedly $821-million in foreign donations. Believers’ Church is run by K.P. Yohannan who is the founder and CEO of Gospel for Asia, headquartered in Wills Point, TX.

In November 2020, the Income Tax Department raided Believers’ Church and Yohannan’s homes and due to suspicion of a money laundering operation. According to this recent report, Yohannan was supposed to return to India for questioning in December 2020 but failed to do so. According to this report, he is at the Wills Point headquarters.

The allegations are similar to those at issue in the RICO lawsuit settled in 2019 with GFA. In that case Garland and Phyliss Murphy accused the mission giant of failing to spend donations as promised and diverting money to other projects in India. The $37-million settlement was followed by a similar suit in Canada which is ongoing.

See also this report for a pretty good summary of Gospel for Asia and K.P. Yohannan’s legal troubles.

 

The Master’s University President Sam Horn Resigns

This just in from TMU and TMS:

March 1, 2021. Special Update From the TMUS Board of Directors:

On Friday, February 26, the Board of Directors received a letter of resignation from our TMUS president, Dr. Sam Horn. The board is grateful for the several important institutional milestones that were reached this past year, including the school’s reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the reaffirmation of accreditation by WSCUC. This past year has been one of the most challenging years in higher education and we are grateful for our entire leadership team during this unprecedented time. In the coming days, the Board of Directors will appoint an interim president and begin the process of looking for the next president. Pray for us as we seek what is best for the future of both TMU and TMS.

This doesn’t sound like a joyful send off.

Update on the John MacArthur Went to Memphis the Night of Martin Luther King, Jr’s Murder Story

Recently, Grace to You Executive Director Phil Johnson publicly questioned John MacArthur’s account of his whereabouts and activities on the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. In the past, Johnson has sharply criticized others, including me, for doing this. Since at least 2007, John MacArthur has claimed that he traveled to Memphis, TN with Charles Evers and John Perkins on the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. He said he stood where James Earl Ray shot the fatal bullet.

Civil rights icon Charles Evers denied that he went to Memphis with MacArthur. John Perkins has refused to comment on the record but empowered his daughter Deborah Perkins to speak for his foundation on the matter. She told me that Charles Evers denial is accurate.

In a recent interview with Justin Peters, Johnson was asked about MacArthur’s story. I have a transcript of what he said beginning at 51:40 and will comment below.

I think it’s possible that John has compressed the timeline of those events in his mind but he absolutely did go with John Perkins and his team to Memphis and stand on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel. He says within hours, I think it might have actually been within 48 hours or 72 hours after the assassination, it was right afterwards, and John describes how the blood stains were still on the balcony and that’s a matter of historical fact.

In fact, I read one story that I’m eager to find the facts on this one. But that in order to preserve some of the stuff people in the area had actually cut that piece of concrete with the blood stain out and moved it, removed it, and it’s been replaced where it originally was at the Lorraine Hotel and covered up with plexiglas so you can see the blood stain, apparently even until today.

There’s an article online titled something like, ‘the blood stain that won’t go away’ or something like that so can read about the facts of that.

But anyway, he, John describes how he was in the room where, uh, James Earl Ray shot the fatal bullet. Here’s how I know John’s memory on it isn’t exactly precise in every detail. ‘Cause he said he stood on the toilet where – he he he was in the room where the toilet was that James Earl Ray stood on when he shot MLK. The fact is he [Ray] was standing in the bathtub, There is a toilet right next to I, but he was, he was standing in the bathtub.

Little facts like that, that I think John misremembers, but the fact is, he was there, and there are other eyewitnesses who will verify that.

One of them is the president of Shasta, I think it’s called Shasta Bible College. Okay so, let me read this. The president of Shasta Bible College, his name is David Nicholas. He was part of that team that John was with when he was when all of that happened, and he has written a fairly thorough account of that summer with John Perkins. I say fairly thorough, it’s a letter. He wrote a lengthy letter to his constituents and described some of the same events that John described. And when I saw this letter. I took it to John and I said, “Do you remember this guy?” and John goes, “Oh yeah, I remember, we went to college together.” Uh so, And he mentions that he was there. John was there. They went to the assassination site and all that. So he tells the same story John does.

This is confirming eyewitness testimony which I have sent to some of these people who are insistent on you know calling John a liar and all that.

There is this Detwiler guy who puts stuff out all the time. And uh you know, they simply ignore any testimony that would corroborate John MacArthur’s account, and cite the testimony of people who say they don’t remember John being there, as if that’s somehow proof that John MacArthur’s lying about this.

It’s not a lie. He may have some incidental details wrong, but I think we all have fuzzy – uh the details of our memories from 50 years ago are, tend to be a little bit fuzzy. That’s more than 50 years ago, isn’t it. That’s 53 years ago…So if you wanted to pick apart John’s story say it couldn’t have been hours later, well, it depends on what you count as hours. If it was 72 hours later, it actually, it’s credible. And in fact there are photographs of the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, within days after the assassination, loaded with people looking and seeing and wanting to visit…

The other eyewitness Johnson mentioned here is David Nicholas, who was then the Director of Admissions at Los Angeles Baptist College. Nicholas, who is now president of Shasta Bible College, said he accompanied MacArthur on some of his preaching trips to MS and claimed in a June 2020 letter to Shasta constituents that he was along with Perkins and MacArthur on this trip to Memphis.

Despite what Johnson says here, Nicholas’ account is at odds with MacArthur’s. MacArthur makes it sound as if the group went to Memphis the night King, Jr. was murdered, whereas Nicholas (see the full letter here), said they went “later” (no closer to the murder than the next day after the 10am meeting with the sheriff). The whole account of how they heard of the murder is different than MacArthur’s. The account of the arrest is also different. Here is the relevant information from the letter:

One night after our team ministered at Voice of Calvary Church, we walked in the darkness to our car (there were no street lights in the black quarter of Mendenhall) and started to leave. Almost immediately, bright red lights came on behind us. It was the local Sheriff. He pulled us over and asked for John MacArthur’s driver license. This was a problem because John had unintentionally left his license back at our motel. The Sheriff then demanded that we show up at his office the following day at 10:00 a.m. Our entire team arrived on time and as we walked in, the officeradio was blaring out the news that Rev. Martin Luther King had been assassinated in Memphis. We were shocked by this news but astounded by the jubilant reaction of the law enforcement officers in the Sheriff’s office. Why? Because when we failed to join their jubilation, the Sheriff was not happy. He informed us that he knew why we were there in Mendenhall (assuming we were civil rights workers helping John Perkins). I’ll never forget the name tag on his uniform. It said, “Sheriff Willis.” He continued by telling us, “I’ve been Sheriff of this town for 25 years and my daddy before me and my granddaddy before him. You step out of line one time and we’ll take care of you and do it all legal-like.” He then threatened to beat us, mentioning the use of a belt, which was probably an idle threat since there were five of us; and after John MacArthur produced his license, we breathed a sigh of relief as we left his office. All we wanted to do was to assist John Perkins in reaching the black community for Christ, and being from CA where attitudes were far different, we were shocked by the Sheriff’s reaction both toward the assassination of MLK and us!

Following our encounter with the Sheriff, John Perkins suggested we visit his friend, Charles Evers, Mayor of Fayette, MS, brother of American civil rights activist, Medgar Evers, who was assassinated July 2, 1963 in Jackson, MS. He drove all five of us through the barricades erected to control the crowds of black folk protesting the death of Dr. King. There we were, five white guys being driven by a black man, something that in those days was certain to raise suspicion. As we drove through they yelled out, “Are you guys “soul?” We quickly answered, “Yeah, we’re “soul.” When we finally made it to Mayor Evers’ office, John Perkins introduced us and as we sat before him sharing why we were there, a red phone rang on his desk. It was President Lyndon Baines Johnson, begging Mayor Evers to come to Wash., D.C. and help quell the protests there. Mayor Evers replied, “I’m sorry Mr. President, I can’t come. I have my hands full here.” Later we traveled to Memphis and stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was shot and looked out the window of the bathroom of the rooming house where James Earl Ray aimed his .30-06 at Rev. King. But as a result of that meeting with Mayor Evers, our team, including John MacArthur, myself, and three other musically talented men from BIOLA University, were asked to speak and minister in music at public school assemblies all around Jackson, Fayette and Mendenhall.

These details are the kind that can easily become altered by time. My issue here is not that small details may have been rearranged by time. I write to update my previous posts on the subject with these acknowledgements by Johnson and the new information from Nicholas.

I also note that Johnson is free to question MacArthur, but the motives of others are insulted when they do. Unknown to me, Johnson told blogger Brent Detwiler that I made “evil insinuations” in my article on this topic when I reported what John Perkin’s daughter Deborah said she was authorized by John Perkins to say about the subject. Johnson also told Detwiler that I made no effort to get John Perkins to answer the question: “Is it true that you went with John MacArthur to the Lorraine Motel in the wake of the MLK assassination?” That statement was false when he made it, and it remains so.

John Perkins’ Puzzling Silence

One of the aspects of this story that remains puzzling to me is why John Perkins has refused to comment directly. If his experience corroborates MacArthur and Nicholas, then what does he gain by remaining silent? When I asked Deborah Perkins about this, she said John MacArthur was a friend of Dr. Perkins and that was all they wanted to say. However, this line of responding implies that Dr. Perkins’ candid response would not be favorable to their friendship. If Perkins’ reply would support MacArthur’s account, why wouldn’t a friend say so?

 

 

The entire interview with Phil Johnson:

Reframing the Trump Prophecies: When Prophecy Fails

Julia Duin, who has a long history of stellar religion writing, yesterday published at Politico a deep dive into the world of Trump prophets and prophecies.  I urge you to take the time to read it. The business of the charismatic church right now is in disarray because the prophets can’t get their prophecies straight. Some think Trump is about to return to the throne and others think those prophets are foolish.

I am not very bothered by this. I have never had much confidence  in modern day prophets. Although I think some of them are good guessers, I doubt any of them have an inside line on God’s will. They all wanted Trump to win so badly that they groupthought their way into near unanimous predictions of a Trump landslide. They were listening to each other, not God or the majority of Americans who were fed up with the Narcissist in Chief.

Some like Jeremiah Johnson can admit this, but others like Johnny Enlow and Greg Locke are providing evidence for cognitive dissonance theorists. The key source for understanding reaction to prophecy discomfirmation is Leon Festinger’s book, When Prophecy Fails. Festinger and his co-authors describe the distress true believers experience when their prophecies fail. I can also recommend in Religion Dispatches a nice summary of more recent work of prophecy disconfirmation which provides a fuller account of the bizarre reactions to prediction failure.

Magnitude of the Dissonance

Let me share a short portion from When Prophecy Fails:

Theoretically, what is the situation of the individual believer
at the pre-disconfirmation stage of such a movement? He has a
strongly held belief in a prediction – for example, that Christ will return -a belief that is supported by the other members of the movement. By way of preparation for the predicted event, he has engaged in many activities that are entirely consistent with his belief. In other words, most of the relations among relevant cognitions are, at this point, consonant.

Now what is the effect of the disconfirmation, of the unequivocal fact that the prediction was wrong, upon the believer? The disconfirmation introduces an important and painful dissonance. The fact that the predicted events did not occur is dissonant with continuing to believe both the prediction and the remainder of the ideology of which the prediction was the central item. The failure of the prediction is also dissonant with all the actions that the believer took in preparation for its fulfillment. The magnitude of the dissonance will, of course, depend on the importance of the belief to the individual and on the magnitude of his preparatory activity.

In the type of movement we have discussed, the central belief
and its accompanying ideology are usually of crucial importance in the believers’ lives and hence the dissonance is very strong and very painful to tolerate.

Festinger predicts that the magnitude of the dissonance generated by prophecy disconfirmation will hinge on the importance of the belief to the individual. He says the person’s central belief and accompanying ideology are of crucial importance. As is very obvious for all to see, the dissonance for the Trump prophets is “very strong and very painful to tolerate.” For Trump prophets, it appears that their central ideology is about Trump being in charge. Instead of Christ, they have put their trust in Trump.

The focus on Trump at all costs is what is so frustrating to other charismatics like Michael Brown. Brown and some others are forming a rival group of prophets who know the election is over and, despite their apparent belief in predicting other futures, are trying to keep some real in reality. From Duin’s Politico article:

In a December 15 article, Michael Brown, a longtime charismatic revivalist and scholar in Charlotte, North Carolina, had sharp words, warning co-religionists: “There is no reality in which Trump actually did win but in fact didn’t win. … To entertain possibilities like this is to mock the integrity of prophecy and to make us charismatics look like total fools.”

In his interview with Duin, Brown seems to describe well the primary ideology held by the Trump prophets:

 “How did we become so politicized?” he wonders. “How did so many of us end up with an almost a cultlike devotion to a leader, compromise our ethics for a seat at the table and drape the Gospel in an American flag?”

Actually, Brown should know the answer to this in that he often defended Trump against criticism during his term. However, he now sees accurately the result. Reality is here. Trump lost. For some, however, Trump became so integral to their religion that they can’t quit him. They can’t see reality without him. The dissonance is to great. To recognize Trump’s loss might do damage to their faith in God.

At some point very soon, there will be a final disconfirmation. Some will go quietly. Some will accept reality. Some will blame the Satanic forces of their ideological opponents. While I doubt any of these public preachers will give up the gravy train of their ministry, many every day Christians who have been hoodwinked by these false prophets might indeed resolve the dissonance by deciding that none of that god stuff was ever true and become another casualty of the Trumpvangelical transformation.

Owen Strachan’s Public Theology

Owen Strachan is a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a Southern Baptist school in Kansas City, MO. There, he leads something called “The Center for Public Theology.” Today his public theology showed up in the following tweet:

The Time article in question describes a brilliant and successful effort by many people to safeguard the integrity of the 2020 presidential election. As people in the real world know, Donald Trump lost his bid for a second term in an election which was — according to former Homeland Security official Christopher Krebs — “the most secure in American history.”

With this Time magazine article, we have a more informed idea of factors which led to the security of that election. We also have information about how the right of minority voters were protected and encouraged. Guess what? Evangelical supporters of Donald Trump were not cited for helping to stop voter suppresion or provide truthful information to the public.

Strachan’s public theology laments the “sinister” efforts to increase voter participation as a “plot.” What the Time article documents is an effort to combat lies and disinformation and make sure all legal voters used their privilege. Apparently, these strategies were quite successful in countering voter suppression tactics aimed frequently at minority voters.

In my Twitter response to this tweet, I asked Strachan how telling the truth and fighting against voter suppression can be considered a sinister plot. He rarely ever answers those who question him so I don’t expect a response. But I offer that question to any Trump supporting evangelical. If your public theology is to lament legal get out the vote efforts and the dissemination of truth because your candidate didn’t win, then what religion are you with?

 

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. – Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Dated April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King wrote a letter from jail in Birmingham during the non-violent campaign there. In the letter, he defended the strategy of non-violence used in the Birmingham campaign.
One of the striking elements of the letter is King’s disappointment with the white clergy in the South. Here is a key passage:

Currently, white and black evangelicals are divided in obvious ways as we observe another MLK, Jr Day. For instance, African American Baptist churches are leaving the Southern Baptist Convention as white leaders there take aim at Critical Race Theory while yawning at Christian nationalism. White evangelicals as a group find themselves in much the same place as when King, Jr. wrote in 1963. I long for a change. I long for an end to concern for ideological purity and a striving for relational purity.

Mystery Pastor at the Capitol Riot is David Barton Student

Yesterday, David Bonner at his Wondering Eagle blog wondered about the identity of this pastor who showed up in video culled from Parler by ProPublica.

Twitter came through again and identified the pastor as Tyler Ethridge:

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t post about this but I was interested in this detail: Ethridge is a big fan of David Barton and graduated from Charis Bible College’s Practical Government School which is a project of Barton and Andrew Wommack.

In this video, Ethridge explain his view that it is quite possible that Trump could get a second term after mass arrests on Inauguration Day. If that doesn’t happen, the U.S. will surely become completely communist under Biden.

When I started writing about David Barton and Christian nationalism in 2011, I really didn’t think I would be reading and writing about the bitter fruit a decade later. I thought that the demise Barton’s The Jefferson Lies in 2012 would do damage to the entire Christian nationalist movement. It did for awhile, but the movement morphed and thrived. Barton has not had the public prominence he once had, but he is still behind the scenes animating Christian soldiers marching as to war.

I wonder which class at Charis covered insurrection.

 

 

American Thinker Retracts False Claims About Voter Fraud and Dominion Voting Systems

The far right website American Thinker just published this statement about Dominion Voting Systems. The site had published articles accusing Dominion of throwing votes from Trump to Biden.

American Thinker and contributors Andrea Widburg, R.D. Wedge, Brian Tomlinson, and Peggy Ryan have published pieces on www.AmericanThinker.com that falsely accuse US Dominion Inc., Dominion Voting Systems, Inc., and Dominion Voting Systems Corporation (collectively “Dominion”) of conspiring to steal the November 2020 election from Donald Trump. These pieces rely on discredited sources who have peddled debunked theories about Dominion’s supposed ties to Venezuela, fraud on Dominion’s machines that resulted in massive vote switching or weighted votes, and other claims falsely stating that there is credible evidence that Dominion acted fraudulently.

These statements are completely false and have no basis in fact. Industry experts and public officials alike have confirmed that Dominion conducted itself appropriately and that there is simply no evidence to support these claims.

It was wrong for us to publish these false statements. We apologize to Dominion for all of the harm this caused them and their employees. We also apologize to our readers for abandoning 9 journalistic principles and misrepresenting Dominion’s track record and its limited role in tabulating votes for the November 2020 election. We regret this grave error.

This is an important statement. Of course, they were threatened with a defamation suit, but the owners of the site recognized that they couldn’t prove their claims.

There will be more of these as right wing sources realize they are going to have to prove their reckless and false claims or back off. They can’t do it, so they are going to have to tell the truth to people. Much damage has already been done but I hope some people will listen and realize these claims were lies from the start.

Dominion has filed suit against several other news outlets and persons, including Eric Metaxas.

Former PA State Rep and Christian Nationalist Rick Saccone Stormed the Capitol During Jan 6 Invasion

Rick Saccone is a former state representative and adjunct professor at St. Vincent College in PA. He once ran and lost an election against a current member of the House of Representatives from PA, Conor Lamb. He also once sought the GOP nomination to run for Senate in PA and had Christian nationalist icon David Barton’s endorsement. More recently, Saccone showed up on January 6th as a part of the crowd that stormed the Capitol. In fact, he filmed himself describing it.

He then issued a statment minimizing his earlier words. In this KDKA report, part of that statement is provided.

I don’t buy his explanation since he said they were going to run the evil people and “Rinos” out of their offices. Shortly after this video was posted on Facebook, he resigned his adjunct position at St. Vincent and took the video off of Facebook.

I am posting this because I want to draw a line between Saccone’s Christian nationalist beliefs and his appearance in a mob willing to “storm the Capitol.” I realize this is one person and not all persons who hold Christian nationalist beliefs are willing to go as far as Saccone. However, Saccone is a case of an individual who articulates a pious Christianity on one hand but on the other justifies aggressive action when he perceives that his ideology isn’t dominant.

Here is a Saccone on Christian television, Cornerstone TV:

Saccone’s evidence that the Lord is working in America is Trump’s leadership and a good economy. He says as long as “the Lord is leading us,” America will be fine.

But what happens when Trump (or the current messianic political figure) isn’t in power?

Apparently, for at least some Christian nationalists, it is time to take to the streets and storm the Capitol. If your Christianity doesn’t include nationalism, you simply accept whatever happens in each election and continue to pursue the Kingdom of God. However, if your Christianity requires America to be run by Christian rule, then when your preferred candidate loses, your faith is threatened. These are incompatible visions of what our mission here is about. One leads to peace and preoccupation with redemption and service to all. The other leads to political preoccupation, division, discord and sometimes violence. I have a pretty clear idea about which one I think is right.