This excerpt is the conclusion of Bruce Rogers-Vaughn’s brilliant Bias Magazine essay “No Comfort for the Afflicted?,” a response to a piece published in The Christian Century written by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon
In effect, this dialogue between two white men sets a low bar for the pastoral care that is so badly needed today. Hauerwas concludes: “If in a hundred years Christians are identified as people who do not kill their children or the elderly, we will have done well in our pastoral care.” Really? I can only assume that such a statement is intended to shock rather than be taken seriously. And when he adds: “Words like care, love, and compassion can be self-deceptive when not disciplined and driven by our theological commitments,” I have to wonder if behind the theological commitments to which he alludes lurks the image of a muscular Jesus who kicks asses and takes names. As historian Kristin Du Mez has documented, we have had enough of that Jesus already.
Finally, I question the location and timeliness of this anti-empathy diatribe, appearing as it does in the middle of a global pandemic, in the context of political chaos, in the shadow of a rejuvenated white supremacy and emboldened patriarchy, record-breaking economic inequality, and a withering level of empathy in our society—especially toward those we perceive as different or foreign. What we need is more pastoral care, not less; more empathy, not less. To an overwhelming degree, pain in our world has little or nothing to do with narcissistic self-indulgence, or wallowing in victimhood. The outliers who appear masochistically attached to their pain are not typically catered to or coddled, as Hauerwas and Willimon insinuate. Rather, they are easy targets for discipline, punishment, blame, and shame. Pain is not primarily a plea for attention. It is a cry for connection in the midst of alienation, for justice where there is none, for love where apathy and hate prevail.
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