Figuring our 'Compassion Quotient'

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
April 20, 2008

Although you may have heard of an IQ or an EQ, it's likely you've not heard of a CQ (“compassion quotient”)? The idea of a CQ came to mind when I read about last Sunday's Compassion Forum that was sponsored by Faith in Public Life and other religious organizations. The event planners invited the three remaining major party presidential candidates to participate. Although John McCain chose not to attend, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced questions from the two moderators and a number of religious leaders - with a focus on important moral issues of the day. That the media focused on the latest “gaffe,” isn't surprising, but the event as planned was geared toward limiting confrontation and emphasizing deeply thought out convictions. The questions were geared toward helping voters understand how faith impacts governance.

If you're interested in the candidates' answers, I'm sure they are readily available and completely dissected and analyzed. I will leave that task to those who are interested in their answers. As important as their answers might be, the more important question has to do with how we might answer the questions raised at the event. What is our nation's reservoir of compassion? That is, what is our compassion quotient? What are my moral convictions about such issues raised at the forum as “domestic and international poverty, global AIDS, climate change, genocide in Darfur, and human rights and torture”?

The other part of the question raised at the forum had to do with the role faith plays in forming our moral convictions? In recent years the phrase “moral value” has had a limited definition. The Compassion Forum sought to broaden the definition. As we try to answer that question, there is another one to be answered - to what degree am I willing to reach across faith lines to engage others in compassionate conversation and action?
These questions are important to our survival as a species, but they're not new. Indeed, these questions go back millenniums to the one asked of God by Cain. When God asks about his brother's whereabouts, Cain asks: “Am I my brother's keeper”? (Genesis 4:9-10). How we answer the question - Am I my brother's or my sister's keeper? - is the key to determining our CQ.

After we answer that question, we must move from word to deed. It's easier to say that we're compassionate than it is to act compassionately. When it comes to allocating tax dollars for things like health care, education, even police protection, am I willing to share with those who aren't part of my family or who aren't like me? Is it right that many hard-working Americans must choose between health care and eating? Is it right that some students have the best texts and equipment and others deal with left-overs and remnants? Is it right that the gap between top executives and ordinary workers has increased exponentially in recent years? What is the compassionate response to such questions?
Although I'm interested in how the candidates answered, I'm more concerned about how we as fellow citizens answer them. I think it's fair to say that even if we agree that compassion is important, we're not of one mind about what compassion involves. Indeed, it's likely we don't agree about the government's role in this process.
There are those who believe that the government is the best equipped entity to deliver help to those in need. Proponents believe that the government has more access to funds and resources. That's because it has the ability to spread compassion's cost to all of us through assessing taxes. There are others who believe that the government isn't a very efficient provider of help, and that nonprofits and religious organizations should be the ones to do this work. The question is: If we leave it to the “charities” to do the work, will there be enough resources; but more importantly, can “charities” deal with the systemic issues that lead to these problems? In other words, can this approach change the underlying problems that face our world?
I haven't yet figured out a formula to determine one's CQ. That said, I think that just by wrestling with this issue of compassion we will raise our CQ.

Dr. Bob Cornwall is Pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc ( He blogs at and may be contacted at or c/o First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA 93438.
April 20, 2008


ron fuller said…
Sometimes it is more efficient to express our compassion corporately, whether by worship community, by civic organization, or through the legislative process. However this in no way replaces our individual expressions of compassion.

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