Empathy Isn’t Sin, Counseling Professors Confirm: Jesus Showed Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion

Columbia International University Professors
Columbia International University (CIU) Professors Steve Johnson and Seth Scott challenge the notion that empathy is sin in a video released by CIU. (Photo: screengrab)

Contrary to what controversial pastor Doug Wilson and his protégé Joe Rigney espouse, empathy is not a sin. It’s a virtue Jesus displayed. And failing to show empathy makes someone “come across as hardened, narcissistic, emotionally detached.”

So says Dr. Seth Scott, professor of counseling at Columbia International University (CIU), in a video released today on CIU’s YouTube channel. Also appearing in the video are Dr. Steve Johnson, CIU professor of counseling and president of the prestigious Albert Ellis Institute, and Dr. David Croteau, CIU professor of Greek and New Testament, who acts as moderator.

The video is a response to a Man Rampant podcast released in 2019, which recently became one of several flashpoints dividing members, staff, and elders at Bethlehem Baptist Church (BBC). In the podcast, Doug Wilson and Joe Rigney, president of BBC’s associated school Bethlehem College and Seminary (BCS), argue that empathy is a sin. The podcast upset some members of BBC and prompted a motion that BBC separate its views from those of Rigney. The motion ultimately failed.

Wilson and Rigney say sympathy, defined as “to suffer with” someone, is synonymous with compassion and is commanded by Scripture. Empathy, on the other hand, means “to suffer in” someone, or “to enter into their pain.” They say this leads to “siding unquestioningly with aggrieved parties,” which is unbiblical.

Not true say Drs. Scott and Johnson.

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