Russell and Duenes

Ferguson: Empathy, Good Judgment, Morality and Mercy

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I agree wholeheartedly with my good friend that “it is a lack of empathy, good judgment, morality, and mercy as to why we continue to have these problems” in places like Ferguson, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Chicago and Newark, to name a few. Yet what I’d want to do is give some definition to these words.

What does empathy mean in the context of urban life in places like Ferguson? Empathy has to do with identifying on an emotional, intellectual and spiritual level with the feelings, thoughts and attitudes of others. Empathy means considering the lives, perhaps the plight, of those who are agitated and angry in Ferguson. When I consider them, I think about the things of human goodness, and as a Christian, I ought to desire those things for them, as I desire them for myself. I’m not so arrogant as to think I always know what “the things of human goodness” are in each context, but we ought to consider them as a starting point.

This means many things, of course, and it would certainly mean police who are honest, law-abiding and faithful in genuinely enforcing the law in a fair and just way. It further means schools where truth is taught, and where the whole person is cared for in accordance with truth and righteousness. It means conditions where families with fathers and mothers are encouraged, supported, celebrated, upheld, and protected. It means sexual restraint and the goodness of chastity and purity. It means laws that protect the vulnerable: the unborn, the weak, the sick and the aged. It means churches where the truth gospel is preached and the love of Christ is shared in tangible ways. It means institutions and governance which consistently promote things like diligence, responsibility, thrift, honesty, accountability, hard work, cooperation, individual initiative, fidelity to neighbor and country, and administrative minimalism. It means having economic and vocational opportunity. It means being evaluated and rewarded for what one actually accomplishes, rather than by what “category” one might happen to belong to.

Good judgment requires wisdom. What would wisdom look like in our urban centers? Some think it wise to have affirmative action programs. Yet, as Kevin Williamson again points out in another piece: “Much of the evidence suggests that affirmative action does relatively little to help economically disadvantaged people, that its main beneficiaries are middle- to upper-income members of minority groups and white women.” At the least it would certainly behoove Christians who call for “racial reconciliation” to also call for finding out the truth about whether affirmative action really helps. It’s not enough to intend that it help. I think good judgment by Christians would lead to a call for a change of heart about education and a wholesale abandonment of public schools, particularly in our urban centers. Good judgment requires thinking about how our governance and policies in these cities incentivizes sexual immorality and destruction of the biblical family. Good judgment means thinking about what will truly promote economic and financial prosperity. Whether one is a Democrat or Republican truly does not matter, in one sense. But it certainly does matter what one seeks to implement in terms of the size and intrusiveness of government, the schools, welfare, administrative policy, the place of Christianity in society, and so forth. These are not “political” issues. They are moral/ spiritual issues.

Morality and mercy? These must, again, be in accordance with truth. What does mercy look like when it comes to local government policy? And why don’t we hear about merciful local governance from those wanting racial reconciliation, something which I want too? What does mercy look like when it comes to urban education? When it comes to economic and fiscal policies? When it comes to running a police department? When it comes to local justice departments, court and jail systems, aesthetics, providing a context for vocational flourishing, and on and on? Much of this has to do with specific policies, and my sense is that many of the progressive/ liberal policies currently in practice in our cities (whether they come from Democrats, Republicans, Independents, or Greens) are policies which are soul-destroying, family destroying, vocation-stunting, education-wrecking, and gospel-opposing policies. Is it merciful to pretend that leftist social and economic policies, foisted upon cities for decades, don’t have hurtful real-world consequences?

What if Williamson is right when he says: “It is notable that one of the most dramatic periods of progress toward closing the black-white income gap happened during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, whose administration did not do a great deal to address black families’ incomes as such — President Reagan’s program was one of general prosperity, which, if we take the economic data of the period as any guide, worked better than much of anything that’s been tried before or since. ” What if this is true? Were those policies which led to closing this gap merciful? Were they good judgment? Were they wise? Were they empathetic, that is, desirous of the good things which we all would like to enjoy? Forget about who implemented them. That’s irrelevant to our question. What’s relevant is what made a real difference.

I don’t know the full answer. But I’d like to think that Christians at least want to ask the question when they think about and call for racial reconciliation. I guess my bottom line is this: I’d like to see racial reconciliation, and I think my friend would like to see it even more than I. So I’d like to see some wider thinking about what might best bring it about, in every realm (i.e., political, educational, religious).



Written by Michael Duenes

August 19, 2014 at 7:03 pm

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