No Comfort For the Afflicted?

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.

Continue reading “No Comfort For the Afflicted?”

Depression as Political Resistance

Dr. Bruce Rogers-Vaughn speaks at Mental Health Counseling Conference at Belmont University campus in Nashville, Tennessee, September 21, 2018.

By Dr. Bruce Rogers-Vaughn, an excerpt from his article “Blessed are those Who Mourn: Depression as Political Resistance” (2013). You can find more of Bruce’s work here.

What can it mean to proclaim “those who mourn,” the gathering of the depressed, to be “blessed” (Matt. 5:4)? In normative New Testament scholarship, and certainly within Christian popular piety, this text is usually employed to address the private sufferings of individuals. According to Carter (2005), such an emphasis “says much about . . . contemporary individualism that conceives of religion as a private matter isolated from sociopolitical matters” (p. 150). Postcolonial readings, however, take a different turn. This approach focuses on “retrieving silenced voices” and “foregrounding the political” in biblical texts. Particular attention is given to “challenging dominant scholarship by foregrounding empire and related issues in texts and interpretations” (Segovia 2009, p. 207). In this spirit, Carter contends that Roman imperialism provides the context for interpreting the gospel of Matthew. According to Carter (2005), Matthew’s audience suffered under the conditions of imperial Rome, a world marked by: (a) “vast societal inequalities, economic exploitation, and political oppression,” (b) “tensions between the rich . . . and poor,” (c) “pervasive displays of Roman power and control, including military presence,” (d) “no separation of religious institutions and personnel from socioeconomic and political commitments,” (e) “imperial theology or propaganda,” and (f) “obvious signs, sounds and smells of the destructive impact of the imperial sociopolitical order structured for the elite’s benefit: poverty, poor sanitation, disease, malnutrition, overwork . . . and social instability” (pp. 150–151).

Continue reading “Depression as Political Resistance”

Soul Talk in a Neoliberal Age, Part V

On Fridays, we are posing questions to Dr. Bruce Rogers-Vaughn (right), an ordained Baptist minister, pastoral psychotherapist and Associate Professor of the Practice of Pastoral Theology and Counseling at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and the author of Caring for Souls in a Neoliberal Age (Palgrave, 2019).

*This is our fifth Friday with Bruce. See this for Part I, this for Part IIthis for Part III and this for Part IV.

Continue reading “Soul Talk in a Neoliberal Age, Part V”

Soul Talk in a Neoliberal Age, Part IV

On Fridays, we are posing questions to Dr. Bruce Rogers-Vaughn (right), an ordained Baptist minister, pastoral psychotherapist and Associate Professor of the Practice of Pastoral Theology and Counseling at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and the author of Caring for Souls in a Neoliberal Age (Palgrave, 2019).

*This is our fourth Friday with Bruce. See this for Part I, this for Part II and this for Part III.

Tommy Airey: Last week, you described neoliberalism as a “neo-coloniality”—that it is about class, but about race and gender too. In your book, you write that “progressive narratives concerning inclusivity and diversity that separate gender and race from class are vulnerable to being co-opted by neoliberal agendas.” Please explain! 

Continue reading “Soul Talk in a Neoliberal Age, Part IV”

Soul Talk in a Neoliberal Age, Part III

Mental Health Counseling Conference

On Fridays, we are posing questions to Dr. Bruce Rogers-Vaughn (right), an ordained Baptist minister, pastoral psychotherapist and Associate Professor of the Practice of Pastoral Theology and Counseling at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and the author of Caring for Souls in a Neoliberal Age (Palgrave, 2019). Bruce presses for a “post-capitalist pastoral theology” that empowers people to resist the system (instead of adapt to it), to embrace communion and wholeness in relation to others and the earth (instead of functioning in accord with the values of production and consumption) and to pursue interdependent reliance within the web of human relationships (instead of accepting shame-based personal responsibility narratives).

*This is our third Friday with Bruce. See this for Part I and this for Part II.

RD.net: You say that neoliberalism is not only about economics. That it is a full-fledged religion that encompasses everything! How does neoliberalism affect politics and culture too?

BRV: The political is implicated in the economic. When I say “political,” I’m not simply talking about that media-driven horse race we call “politics.” Under neoliberal governance, politics has become a house of mirrors. Again, George Carlin: “Politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners.” When I use the word “political,” I’m talking about the way power flows through society. In neoliberal times, the dramatic increase in economic inequality is matched by an increase in political inequality. Right-wing neoliberal intellectuals and politicians pontificate about wanting “smaller government.” This is another lie. It actually takes a monstrously large and intrusive government for economic elites to maintain control over the masses. Thus, both political parties, in the USA, support large government. Growing inequality is not due to technology or globalization, as even progressives often claim, but to the seizure of state power by class elites. Monopoly corporations, and individuals whose wealth is equal to the GDP of small countries, are able and willing to impose their will on legislation, as well as the courts and penal systems. Continue reading “Soul Talk in a Neoliberal Age, Part III”

Soul Talk in a Neoliberal Age, Part II

Mental Health Counseling Conference
 PC: Sam Simpkins

On Fridays, we are posing questions to Dr. Bruce Rogers-Vaughn (right), an ordained Baptist minister, pastoral psychotherapist and Associate Professor of the Practice of Pastoral Theology and Counseling at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and the author of Caring for Souls in a Neoliberal Age (Palgrave, 2019). Bruce presses for a “post-capitalist pastoral theology” that empowers people to resist the system (instead of adapt to it), to embrace communion and wholeness in relation to others and the earth (instead of functioning in accord with the values of production and consumption) and to pursue interdependent reliance within the web of human relationships (instead of accepting shame-based personal responsibility narratives).

*This is our second Friday with Bruce. See this for Part 1.

Tommy Airey: You described how neoliberalism is a system that “turns control of the economy over to a handful of wealthy rentiers.” What is a rentier? Continue reading “Soul Talk in a Neoliberal Age, Part II”

Soul Talk in a Neoliberal Age, Part 1

Mental Health Counseling Conference
PC: Sam Simpkins

For the next five Fridays, we will pose questions to Dr. Bruce Rogers-Vaughn (right), an ordained Baptist minister, pastoral psychotherapist and Associate Professor of the Practice of Pastoral Theology and Counseling at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and the author of Caring for Souls in a Neoliberal Age (Palgrave, 2019). “Neoliberalism,” he writes, “has become so encompassing and powerful that it is now the most significant factor in shaping how, why, and to what degree human beings suffer.”

This is why Bruce presses for a “post-capitalist pastoral theology” that empowers people to resist the system (instead of adapt to it), to embrace communion and wholeness in relation to others and the earth (instead of functioning in accord with the values of production and consumption) and to pursue interdependent reliance within the web of human relationships (instead of accepting shame-based personal responsibility narratives). Continue reading “Soul Talk in a Neoliberal Age, Part 1”

Strengthening Community, Nurturing Souls, Amplifying Hope

Caring for Souls, ImageBy Tommy Airey, a review of Bruce Rogers-Vaughn’s Caring For Souls in a Neoliberal Age (2016)

It’s the economy stupid. This was the pundit-driven explanation for Bill Clinton’s victory almost three decades ago. It is also the root of our present crises. What we’ve been hearing is true. Times have changed. Not so much in the past two years. More like the past thirty. Yet as depression, addiction, panic attacks, suicide and debt have all skyrocketed, pastoral attempts to get at the roots of the pain and suffering can tend towards family dynamics, relational patterns and trauma.

These factors are real and important. However, in his recent Caring For Souls in a Neoliberal Age, Bruce Rogers-Vaughn implores readers that there are interweaving socio-political powers that shape us in destructive ways too. We must dismantle racism and hetero-patriarchy. But Rogers-Vaughn writes, “Any form of identity politics that ignores class, therefore, will be fated to support the ongoing domination of neoliberal interests” (216). It’s the profit-driven, wage-reducing, deregulating, free trading economy stupid. Continue reading “Strengthening Community, Nurturing Souls, Amplifying Hope”