Fulwider 4-1-2013

My Word: Emotional closeness makes a difference

Fulwider, Bryan(Orlando Sentinel, April 1, 2013)

By Bryan Fulwider

Recently, I read several articles lamenting the slaughter of horses. I understand the concern.

A lot of people like horses. I do. We like dogs and cats, too. So, understandably, we want to ensure humane treatment for these creatures. The notion of killing them for human consumption is abhorrent to most of us.

However, what about cows, sheep and chickens? Why are certain species viewed so differently from others?

The same week I read the articles defending horses, I read that one of the architects of the Defense of Marriage Act, Sen. Robert Portman, had come out in support of gay marriage. Why? Because of the epiphany he experienced in dealing with a gay son.

He appraised the situation in the context of someone he loved dearly. Someone whose joy brought him joy, and whose pain brought him pain. Someone who was far more than a mere abstraction or statistic.

In more than 30 years of Christian ministry, I have seen many dogmatists’ views soften when their daughter, son or much-loved friend acquires a label that would once have elicited vociferous denunciation. Pregnancy outside of marriage, divorce, substance abuse — many behaviors that were viewed as a fast track to destruction — suddenly seem less deserving of blanket condemnation.

The difference? Our emotional closeness to the one involved. Race, religion, ethnicity — a long list of definers that separate us as humans — begin to melt away when we get to know the people behind the labels.

Now, back to where we started: The idea of killing and eating horses, dogs and cats is abhorrent to Americans because of our attachment to these animals. They’re like family. We know them. But what if we got to know cows, sheep and chickens?

And what if we got to know all the humans against whom we’re prejudiced? I think we’d discover they’re like us. They have strengths and weaknesses, insights and blind spots, good qualities and bad.

Moving beyond long-established prejudices is daunting. Over the centuries, various sages have advocated a simple, ingenious approach: “You know yourself, right? They are like you. So treat them the way you would want to be treated.”

It’s the Golden Rule. Maybe it should even apply to cows, sheep and chickens.

The Rev. Bryan Fulwider is co-founder of the nonprofit Building Us and president of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.