I’m finding faith issues sorta boring lately, so I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about empathy, how it affects our conclusions in personal and political matters, and whether with enough self-reflection we ought to be able to change our minds without having to confront an issue via a personal situation.
Republican senator Rob Portman announced his support for gay marriage last week, 2 years after his gay son came out to him and his wife. He is likely the most conservative Republican in the senate to have taken this position. His position changed because with the knowledge that his own say is gay, has always been gay, and didn’t choose to be gay, he couldn’t stomach the idea of his son being treated unfairly. His interpretation of the Bible seems to have also changed based on his personal confrontation with the issue.
“"It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that's of a Dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have -- to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years," Portman said.
Portman said that his son, who is now a junior at Yale University, inspired him to reassess his position on same-sex unions. The senator also consulted clergy on the matter, as well as friends such as former Vice President Dick Cheney, whose daughter Mary is openly gay. According to Portman, Cheney told the senator to "follow his heart" on the matter.
"The overriding message of love and compassion that I take from the Bible, and certainly the Golden Rule, and the fact that I believe we are all created by our maker, that has all influenced me in terms of my change on this issue," Portman said.”
While my gay friends were quite excited to have Portman’s support, I felt disappointed that it took something so personal to make him look in the mirror. Shouldn’t we be able to look at any issue as if it personally affects us, and make our decisions from that perspective? White people will never be black, but we can see the harm in racism and discrimination. So why is gay marriage and acceptance so different? Both are easily supportable with Bible verses, yet some issues are easy for people to see from outside their own perspective, and some aren’t. Why is this?
Certainly not all issues are as simple as racism. The use of taxpayer money for social programs can’t, in my opinion, be resolved simply by asking how we would vote if our own children needed those programs. But it’s certainly a good starting point. How would we think differently if our own daughters got pregnant at 15? Or our sons fell in love with an undocumented immigrant? Our it was one of our kids at Sandy Hook? Maybe we’d see things differently, maybe not, but I propose we don’t take the “if it were my family” approach often enough. A friend of mine recently wrote, discussing his increased empathy, that it didn’t mean he was going to raise taxes to help people. So if not taxes, what? What are we going to do differently today, that we would end up doing anyway if an issue affected us personally?
Perhaps we wouldn’t change anything. But at minimum, I think we’d gain a little more understanding for people that disagree with us, and take the edge off a lot of the things we say to each other. Many political issues don’t directly affect our kids right now. But they affect somebody, and if we’re going to vote or act against those peoples’ wishes, let’s make sure we’re doing it with forethought and empathy.
All quotes via Huffington Post: