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Cutting Edges: We Marched in the Streets This Week

By Dr. David Hogue, Professor of Pastoral Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary


December 2014. We marched in the streets this week. That does not sound unusual since hundreds of thousands of Christians and persons of other faiths publicly gave material witness to their protest against the pattern of violence against unarmed Black citizens by White police officers. The tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island; Cleveland, and elsewhere in our country in recent months have pulled back the curtains that blocked the view for many—a view of the all-too-common systemic structures in our society that not only marginalize, but do open violence to, African-American persons. And public lament and protest are critical threads in the fabric of Christian theology and the history of the church.

What was different, however, was the presence of previously silent voices, including those of us who benefit from White privilege, calling out the injustices in the very structures that have blinded us to the suffering of others and rewarded us for not noticing. It was also a time for me to reflect on the profound changes that have taken placein pastoral care and counseling over the several decades I have served in ministry and in theological education.

“Coming of age” professionally in the early 1970s immersed me in a theological and ecclesiasticalsystem that sharply distinguished between pastoral, priestly, and prophetic roles. While the lines between our pastoral and priestly roles could, on occasion, be crossed, our public witness was to be avoided or at least muted. Both explicitly and implicitly, we were taught to maintain low public profiles to avoid giving offense to some who might otherwise come to us for care and counsel. In a misapplication of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, we were to “become all things to all people, so that we might by all means win some.” Theology and politics were separate domains.

In hindsight, this theological and political anonymity was probably driven by at least three forces. First, the field of pastoral psychotherapy was heavily indebted to psychoanalytic thought that insisted that the therapist serve as a “blank slate.” This enabled the client to view the therapist in whatever ways they needed in order to work through early life relationships. It was also driven by a cultural emphasis on a private religion, disconnecting faith from the lived experience of real people. It was

OK to believe as long as one did not force that belief on others. Third, pastoral psychotherapy focused on the interior life of suffering persons, paying less attention to the social and cultural forces at work.

I am incredibly grateful that I have now lived long enough to see significant changes in my professional discipline and the shape of ministry. In the middle of the last century, family systems theories enhanced our vision of human suffering and opportunities for healing. More recently the concrete realities of culture and race, of gender and sexual orientation, were recognized for the ways they privilege and oppress. We have broadened our vision from the individual to the family, to the culture, and to the world. Pastoral caregivers and counselors increasingly recognize our call to participate in confronting the “principalities and powers” of this world. The isolated pastor’s study, hospital room, or clinical office is no longer an option.

In 2010, one of my professional associations, the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC) developed and approved an Anti-Racist Multicultural Competencies document. My colleague, Dr. Pamela Holliman, serves as president of AAPC, and reminded us very recently of the critical nature of multi-cultural awareness for pastoral counselors, now focused specifically on the anti-Black racism that has become all too apparent. One sentence in that document is particularly poignant: “Anti-racist multiculturally competent pastoral counselors are committed to seeking justice ‘now’ because they see the urgency of the individual, organizational, and societal changes that must take place, and thus ask, ‘If not now, when?’”

We marched in the streets this week. It was a way to voice our lament and protest alongside our Black sisters and brothers. It was a way to proclaim that God’s intent for our world is different from all this. It was also a way to embody the deep connections between the church, the hospital room, the counseling office, and the world.