I don’t often write in a way that is clearly party political because I know it puts people off and they stop reading as soon as they catch a whiff of ‘Church engaging in Politics’.
Of course, we are all entitled to our perspectives – that is the nature of democracy – but we seldom discuss them. Or talk about them from a faith perspective. Instead, we tend to stand behind the invisible walls of political preference and face the other way with our fingers in our ears.
And while I seriously believe in a full and clear separation between religion and state, I nonetheless believe that each has the right and indeed the obligation to comment on the other. From day 1 of the Christian story, even while it was still part of Judaism, Christianity has been making commentary on the politics of the day. Either through silence or speaking up. That’s what got Jesus executed. We ought not forget that. Some accuse him of having a bias to the poor. That’s probably correct. But what is more obvious is his bias toward compassion and empathy – it was at the heart of his message.
So, while for most of the time I ‘bite my tongue’ even when something is done and said in the media that deeply offends my sense of what it means to govern the land and all its people. Something was said this week that cuts right to the heart of why the church needs to speak up and challenge the politics of the day. Sadly, the church tends to remain silent lest it impacts on funding or relationships with government. Or be perceived as having a bias.
On Tuesday Federal Minister Linda Reynolds said this, and I quote:
‘Linda Reynolds has argued the national disability insurance scheme is too reliant on individual public servants’ judgment and “their natural empathy”, as she defended the government’s controversial proposal to introduce independent assessments’.
Speaking personally, I think we have reached a new low in politics when public servants are being castigated for drawing upon ‘their natural empathy’ when assessing whether a person with a disability warrants any of the supports being made available through the NDIS.
There are many examples over recent years where I thought politics had reached a new low but this one may have made it to the bottom.
Empathy is the bedrock of our faith. It is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Put more richly, it is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place. Essentially, it is putting yourself in someone else’s position and feeling what they must be feeling.
Governance without empathy is cold and hard-hearted governance.
When Jesus castigated the leaders of the Temple in Jerusalem, again and again, it was because of their inability to understand and share the feelings of the lost sheep of the House of Israel – the left-behind, the left out, the last and the least. Those who for all sorts of reasons experience and live daily with disadvantage.
A government that does not respect and defend the basic principle of ‘natural empathy’ is in my eyes, a government that has lost the ability to govern on behalf of all its people.