“I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.” Maya Angelou
Dr. Joe Rigney began serving as the President of Bethlehem Seminary and College on June 1, 2021. His education raised a few eyebrows. Trusty TWW readers will probably pick out the subject of interest.
- B.A., Texas A&M (Communication)
- M.A., Bethlehem College & Seminary (Biblical and Pastoral Studies)
- M.St., New Saint Andrews (Classical Christian Studies)
- Ph.D., University of Chester
New St. Andrews is the invention of the erstwhile Doug Wilson. I wonder if the new President ran around Moscow, Idaho, wearing a bowler hat and carrying a cane like the rest of the unusual folks who attend there.
I have been writing about Doug Wilson since early on in my blogging. I hold myself up as one person who “inspired” Wilson to remove one of his posts. I am quite curious if Rigney, a supposed academic, also denies HIV.
The following is a post I wrote in 2016. Wilson makes for interesting blogging.
Begin TWW excerpt
Doug Wilson is an unusual man link
I believe that Wilson thinks that most of us who do not agree with him are slanderers and are out to get him because he is *getting in our way.* Let me try to explain this in a way that some people hiding out in the kirk might understand. Doug Wilson is not a threat to the sexual revolution. Most people outside of Moscow, Idaho, certain homeschool cliques, and The Gospel™Coalition know nothing about him.
Wilson is a bit of a character. He appears to fancy himself an Oxford Don. He set up a church, which he calls a kirk, that he fashions after the church of Scotland in Moscow, Idaho. His web address is http://www.christkirk.com
The Kirk is an informal name for the Church of Scotland, the country’s national church. The Kirk of Scotland was in official use as the name of the Church of Scotland until the 17th century, and still today the term is frequently used in the press and everyday speech, though seldom in the Church’s own literature. However, Kirk Session is still the standard term in church law for the court of elders in the local congregation, both in the Church of Scotland and in any of the other Scottish Presbyterian denominations.
It was observed by a commenter from Moscow that a number of Wilson’s students in his college called New St Andrews (of course) are often seen wandering around Moscow wearing bowler hats, black robes, and sporting canes apparently channeling their leader’s Oxford don obsession. Do you all remember Doug Phillips who also used to play dress-up? Remember the *Indiana Jones in the Amazon* get up? Remember all Mahaney’s followers who shaved their heads in solidarity. (We called them mini-Mahaneys.)
Here is a list of issues that Doug Wilson has had to deal with. He appears to get frustrated when people do not see things his way and spends lots of time claiming that we can’t read.
- He has a disturbing view of slavery.
- He is an HIV/AIDS conspiracy theorist.
- He has offensive views on the role of men in the sexual act:
A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.
- His views on classical school education are concerning.
- He blamed the victim in the Doug Phillips scandal.
- He encouraged and presided over the marriage of a pedophile who later had *issues* with his own baby son.
- Plagiarism which wasn’t his fault.
- I am adding(07/23/21) this post: What Doug Wilson Should Have Learned From Thabiti Anyabwile About Racism
Over the past few years, we have seen a number of people express concerns over Wilson’s views on various issues. His views on slavery are particularly concerning.
End TWW excerpt
In 2009, Christianity Today post this about Wilson: The Controversialist
f Doug Wilson most likely knew him in his other roles: pastor provocateur in a liberal university town; polarizing leader in the classical Christian education movement; nonconforming Calvinist who has made so many enemies in Reformed circles that no denomination will have him.
…Wilson’s congregation, Christ Church, was growing so rapidly that he didn’t have time to escape to seminary (save for one summer at Regent College in Vancouver), and did his best to study independently. His studies covered Scripture and the church fathers, but also led him further off the beaten track, to Christian Reconstructionism.
…Christian Reconstructionists are controversial, to put it mildly. The brainchild of Rousas John Rushdoony, an Armenian-American pastor and disciple of Presbyterian theologian Cornelius Van Til, Christian Reconstructionism’s core is the application of every jot and tittle of Mosaic Law to modern Christian life, and a postmillennialism that borders on a call for outright theocracy.
Wilson says he rejects the Reconstructionists’ political tactics and distances himself from the label, claiming that his view of Old Testament law is more subtle than theirs. But when I asked what he thought of the death penalty for homosexual acts suggested in Leviticus 20:13, he did not shy away from the theonomic hard line that disturbs many Christians. “You can’t apply Scripture woodenly,” he says. “You might exile some homosexuals, depending on the circumstances and the age of the victim. There are circumstances where I’d be in favor of execution for adultery. … I’m not proposing legislation. All I’m doing is refusing to apologize for certain parts of the Bible.”
What did John Piper say about his appointment?
You can see the entire 9-minute video of his lengthy discussion of how much he loves the guy but I will spare you.
Chancellor John Piper responded to the announcement saying, “I have known Tim Tomlinson and Joe Rigney longer than Bethlehem College & Seminary has existed. But since it has existed, both of their lives have been interwoven with mine and with the school. For the 11 years of this school’s existence, the grace of God in their lives has come cascading over the little waterfall of my life, becoming an ever increasing part of the reservoir of my thankfulness.”
“Year by year I looked upon their futures with glad trust that God would use them mightily for his glory through Bethlehem College & Seminary. That trust has been warranted—in the remarkable presidency of Dr. Tomlinson and the remarkable professorship of Dr. Rigney. As their trusted future has become a proven past, I am increasingly thankful,” he added.
Joe Rigney gets himself into a pile of trouble by agreeing with Doug Wilson that empathy is a sin.
Hooooo boy! This is a pile of silliness. As a nurse and the mother of a very sick child, I learned the difference. Sympathy is feeling bad when someone has a gravely ill child. It might involve sending a get-well card with a teddy bear and even delivering a meal to the family. It’s kind, thoughtful, and appreciated. Empathy, on the other hand, is sitting with your friends during the 12-hour surgery, bringing sandwiches and raspberry muffins along with my favorite Charles Chips. It is laughing and then crying when the chaplain came in to speak with us with red lipstick all over her teeth. She was so kind but she kept smiling and the lipstick was everywhere. We didn’t laugh until she was gone and then cried that I needed the chaplain. They understood my nervous laughter and they wrapped their arms around me.
Empathy is far deeper and broader than sympathy and it seems like they have nothing better to do than attempt to say that empathy is actually a sin. If you want to watch the entire 1-hour love fest between these two men, I have embedded the video called “The Sin of Empathy.”
What did they say that caused the controversy (sparing you a lost hour of your life?)
Warren Throckmorton helps us out by quoting them in his well-written Empathy is Not a 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.
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.
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.
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.
Your darn right, Rigney. Empathy means you get into the waiting room with them. You cry and laugh with them. You bring food. Sometimes, you even have to go into the bathroom so you can cry for your friend alone. It’s a beautiful and hard thing. Yes, getting in there with them really helps.
Let’s talk about sin, a favorite topic of Wilson.
You have a friend who overdoses on Oxycontin and lands in the hospital. You had no idea she was addicted. You wrap your arms around her and tell her how glad you are that she is here with you. You bring her some flowers and maybe a milkshake if allowed. You help straighten her pillows and blanket and just sit for a while if she is up to it. Obviously, she has a problem with addiction. Is this time to speak with your friend? No! If I were a nurse, I would throw such a *friend* out of the room. This is not the time. She must get well first. Are you the right person to speak with her about this? Maybe not. Maybe she has a counselor? Maybe she’s not ready. But empathy means you come into her life and feel for her and her struggles.
A family member was in a horrific car accident years ago. He was on strong painkillers during his lengthy hospital stay and then rehab. Back then, no one counseled him about weaning off the meds. He went home, addicted. He then sought out drug dealers who kept him supplied until he ran out of money. Thankfully, there were those around him who cared enough for him to encourage him to seek help which he did. He deserved empathy as well as the tough talk that those who loved him eventually had.
I knew about his addiction but we weren’t close. I felt bad for him. I sent him cards but I was not able to empathize with him. He finally met others who had overcome their addictions and understood him. He had a friend to walk with him. That friend was always available to him, 24/7. Yes, that’s empathy. My cards were sympathy. Pounding him over the head with his *sin* would not have been effective in motivating him to seek help. That help brought him to a point in which he owned his addiction.
A Twitter discussion involving Dr. Rigney
I watched a Twitter debate with Rigney on the matter. Throckmorton kindly put a link to it. I loved this assessment of the discussion by Dr. Throckmorton. It made me laugh because it was so true. It is always about authority with these guys.
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.
Doug Wilson was none too pleased about this discussion and wrote The Empathy Wars.
Here are the concluding words to his post.
Suppose someone has accused some powerful figure of serious sexual misconduct. No matter who we are, we must process the accusation. We will either do it on the basis of whether the claims can be objectively verified, or we will do it on the basis of whether the claims are being made against Brett Kavanaugh or Andrew Cuomo.
So if we are actually debating Empathy (B), and we are, then our ultimate choice is between courts or mobs, facts or feelings, justice or injustice, salvation or damnation. It is a debate of great moment. These things really matter.
I began with the observation that this debate was an odd one. It is particularly odd when it comes to the debate among Christians, given how the life of our Lord Jesus is described for us in Scripture.
“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Heb. 4:15 (NKJV)
The word translated by the NKJV here as sympathize is, as it turns out, the Greek word sympathesai. I think that is more than sufficient, and if it isn’t, it ought to be.
An absence of empathy is associated with antisocial behaviors.
Dr. Throckmorton, a psychologist, had this important observation.
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
Could a lack of empathy point to Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Dr. Throckmorton left a link to this paper from the NIH. Empathy in Narcissistic Personality Disorder: From Clinical and Empirical Perspectives; It’s a fascinating read but I think this sums it up.
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is associated with an assortment of characteristics that undermine interpersonal functioning. A lack of empathy is often cited as the primary distinguishing feature of NPD. However, clinical presentations of NPD suggest that empathy is not simply deficient in these individuals, but dysfunctional and subject to a diverse set of motivational and situational factors.
However, we have to be careful. The conclusion to the paper states the following.
The variability in empathic capability among narcissistic individuals highlights the inaccuracy in stating that narcissism is simply related to a lack of empathy. Foremost, it points to the need for informed exploratory and flexible therapeutic interventions as well as awareness of possible functional changes or adjustments. By adjusting the framework of the narcissism–empathy relationship, therapists may be better able to understand narcissistic patients’ negative reactions to a therapist’s well-intended efforts (Glasser, 1992; Kohut, 1972), and their difficultly accepting therapeutic interventions, as an indication of compromised empathic functioning. Similarly, acknowledging empathic fluctuations in terms of motivational disengagement or difficulty regulating an affective experience can also encourage therapists to recognize conditions that enable and motivate the patient’s empathic engagement in order to encourage more flexible ways of interacting across interpersonal and social contexts. A shift to more proactive therapeutic understanding and interventions can ultimately replace the strong aura of condemnation that has been associated to prior views of narcissistic empathic functioning.
So, who knows? But I do know and have experienced empathy which was most definitely not a sin.