Jennifer Finney Boylan argues that developing "moral imagination" — the ability to imagine the lives of those different from ourselves, and to empathize with those different from ourselves — is an essential human task. We become fully human precisely by developing this ability in ourselves. We are not fully human when we have not developed it.
Drawing on her experience as a transgender woman, she writes,
This [i.e., the attack on transgender people in the GOP platform] is not about marriage or bathrooms. It is about the fact that some Americans don't like the idea that there are gay or trans people in the first place, and cannot imagine our lives. They seem to think we have come up with the entirety of our existence primarily in order to hurt other people's feelings.
I have seen people open their hearts when some otherized soul is revealed to be a member of their own family, or a friend. Our culture is making progress as a result. But too many people are still met with hatred because whoever and whatever they are is something others have never been compelled to imagine.
These observations raise all over again and in a different context the importance of the question I just asked in my final posting about Robert P. Jones' book The End of Christian America: what good are churches, what useful purpose do they serve, when they not only thwart the development of the moral imagination as we deal with "otherized souls," but even militate against the development of such moral imagination? As a theologian, confronted with Boylan's insights and the rich smorgasbord of data offered by Jones about White Christian America, I am obliged to ask precisely why the people promoting the attack on transgender people and inserting a plank into the GOP platform to carry on that attack — in short, church people, good Christian people — appear to have developed so very little imaginative empathy for those other than themselves.
Robert Jones asks (see the link in the paragraph above), "Why can't white Christian America understand how African Americans feel about the black men who have died at the hands of white police officers?" Jennifer Finney Boylan's observations should cause us to ask, "Why can't white Christian America understand the feelings and lives of LGBTQ human beings and of people who love LGBTQ human beings?"
Both questions lead to another question: "Why do so many churches — our landscape is dotted with them in this nation with the soul of a church — fail so spectacularly at producing adherents who have the moral capability of placing themselves in the place of stigmatized others, if church is supposed to be all about inculcating moral insight and values?" (See: support of White Christian America for one Donald J. Trump.)
If we're honest, we'd have to say that the churches in the U.S., whether left, right, or center, are a huge part of the problem when it comes to inculcating moral imagination. The GOP platform's attack on LGBTQ human beings does not come out of nowhere: it comes quite precisely from church folks, from the heart of U.S. churches.
What does it say, I wonder, about the claim of churches to represent God to the rest of us, even down to the level of endorsing political candidates in God's name, when the churches have, on the whole, been so highly unsuccessful in inculcating the most basic moral sensitivity in their adherents? When the churches have, in fact, done precisely the opposite and are driving ugly attacks on human beings perceived as different today, and telling people that these attacks are God's will and the political party welcoming the attacks is God's own party?
Just asking — because these questions need to be asked. And they're certainly not going to be asked by the "liberal" Catholic intellectuals who dominate the Catholic academy and journalistic sector in the U.S. Not by the "liberal" Catholics running the show at "liberal" Catholic journal sites, when the testimony of LGBTQ folks or people of color is not even invited into the Catholic conversation as something worth hearing, but is dismissed as "identity politics" or "political correctness" . . . .