When Christians Discover Empathy
Posted on April 19, 2013
I emphasized yesterday that empathy is something we have to practice. It doesn’t come naturally to us because often, it’s not in our own self-interest.
Meanwhile, my most popular post this week (actually, most popular post to date) dealt with the times when Christians show disdain and disgust for the poor either in conversation or through vicious anti-welfare memes shared on Facebook. I got some well deserved pushback on that post–did I mean that ALL Christians despise the poor? Did my title make Christians look bad across the board? What did I mean when I said in the comments that Christians are perceived as stingy when there is such a rich history of Christian charity and giving?
Those questions fit really nicely into the post I have been working on for today: When Christians Discover Empathy.
And I have some good news.
There are a lot of empathetic Christians out there. The same goes for people of other faiths, too. Many people in the world who feel connected to God–whatever they call that God–believe that one of the most important things a person can do is to serve the poor. Why?
It makes sense. The Christian Bible is full of admonitions to care for the poor. Specifically, the “alien, the fatherless, and the widow.” Why so many demands that we should care for these groups? Because they are the marginalized in any culture. They are the ones most likely to be in poverty, the most likely to be without the means to improve their lives. Aside from the commands of the Bible, it’s worth noting that many of the people who experienced miracles at the hands of Christ in the gospels were poor. His teachings were pretty heavy on giving to the poor, too. He didn’t just say pay your taxes–he also instructed one of his followers to literally sell everything he owned and give the money to the poor. When the man balked, Jesus emphasized how difficult it is for someone with wealth to truly follow him!
Jesus taught that when we throw a party, we’re supposed to invite the poor. In the Sermon on the Mount, he first declares that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor. When an impoverished widow gave the tiny amount of money she had to the local synagogue, Jesus observed and said that her giving was more important than the giving of anyone who gave out of their wealth.
Jesus clearly cared about the poor. It makes sense that so many people who love Jesus also feel the need to care for the people he cared for.
I asked my Facebook followers to help me think of people of faith who are doing important, practical, and non-judgmental things for the poor in the United States and around the world, and I love the list we came up with. If you’re like me and get ragey at the horrible anti-poverty memes and statements made online and all around us, perhaps this list can serve as a meaningful reminder that people of faith are doing good in the world.
This is what it looks like when Christians discovery empathy.
- Meg from Dumbleadore told me about Sara Miles, an activist whose Food Pantry project provides groceries to 1200 needy families in the San Francisco area. Meg calls Miles’s memoir Take This Bread “a credit to the faith.”
- My friend Nina, who is an extraordinary poet and fiction writer, suggested that I add Troy Polamalu to the list. Polamalu plays football for the Steelers. He and his wife Theodora converted to Orthodox Christianity in 2007, and together they work with the denominational organization FOCUS to alleviate the difficulties of being poor through Tackle Poverty. I don’t really watch football, but it looks like I know have a favorite player.
- Julia, a friend who was in a Bible Study for middle school kids that I led as a freshman in college, has turned into this awesome, giving, thoughtful woman. She didn’t suggest an individual, but rather the Church of the Brethren, which started Heifer International.
- Frequent commenter here Susan mentioned the Quaker Church. Quakers are a great example of a group that is doing something to promote social justice in the world, and that includes working to eradicate and alleviate poverty.
- I couldn’t help but think of Bob Goff, a lawyer, who doesn’t go abroad to preach the gospel or try to convert people. Instead, he goes to places like Uganda and uses his skills as a lawyer to represent child inmates. So far, he and his colleagues at Restore International have helped to free seventy-one children from prison.
There were some other great suggestions, which I recommend you check out over on my Facebook page.
There are a lot of things about Christianity and its history that are really embarrassing, or worse, shameful. But there are good things out there, too. As important as it is to confront the problems of my religion, I also want to remember to celebrate the things that are good.
Who else should we celebrate?