Wounded: The Church & Pastoral Care

By Stanley Hauerwas

Pastoral care has always been a characteristic of how Christians have understood their responsibility for one another. But that care has taken diverse forms throughout Christian history. Though I am not happy “pastoral care” is distinguished from what the church does when she baptizes and communes, I do not mean to deny that Christians have rightly cared, supported, and sustained one another when they have been beset with illness, betrayals, poverty, and the general slings and arrows that are inevitable given that we are fleshly beings. That Christians have so cared for one another, moreover, has a history worth a brief reminder.

Although the care Christians give one another is not limited to those that are designated as priests and ministers, it is nonetheless the case that those charged with priestly functions often find they have the responsibility to provide care for those who suffer. This has been true throughout Christian History as William Clebsch’s and Charles Jackle’s, Pastoral Care in Historical Perspective1 as well as G.R. Evans’, A History of Pastoral Care² make clear. If you can write a history of pastoral care this must surely mean that it exists.

But those histories also help us see that the meaning of pastoral care has differed across time. For example, Clebsch and Jackle identify at least eight different epochs of Christian pastoral care each with its own emphases. In the first era of Christian existence pastoral care was understood to be the sustaining of souls through the vicissitudes of life. The church under persecution meant the pastoral task became the reconciling of troubled persons to God and the church. The political and social establishment of the church meant the goal of pastoral care was now understood as the guidance necessary to have the laity behave according to the norms of what was now assumed to be constitutive of a Christian culture. This pastoral project was supplemented later around a sacramental system designed to heal all maladies. The Reformation and Enlightenment focused on that newly discovered character, namely the individual, who needed help if they were to pass through the pitfalls of a threatening world as the subject of pastoral care.³

Clebsch and Jackle are more than ready to acknowledge these generalizations about how pastoral care was understood across time as just that, namely, generalizations that oversimplify these different epochs. Yet I think their attempt to remind us that pastoral care, a relatively recent description, reflects different understandings of what it means to be wounded is important. In short any attempt to understand the work done in the name of pastoral care will often draw on what it means to be wounded in this particular time and place. Accordingly any attempt to develop a theological account of pastoral care will require some presuppositions drawn from the cultures in which the church finds itself. Such an account entails the difficult task of determining what narratives we are living out – narratives that are often unknown to us.

Clebsch and Jackle identify four basic functions that they believe constitute the pastoral ministry of the church. They are healing, sustaining, guiding and reconciling.⁴ Of course what each of these practices entailed would differ from one time and place to another time and place, but Clebsch and Jackle maintain some form of each of them has always been present in the church. For example, they observe in the early Middle Ages catechetical training for the moral life was dependant on the classification of sins with appropriate penalties enumerated in the penitential manuals. That the manuals are now thought of as “ethics” is but an indication that the distinction between pastoral care and moral formation could not be imagined.

there simply is no place in the […] congregation where a serious discussion of the state of one’s soul can be examined

I call attention to Clebsch’s and Jackle’s historical account of pastoral care to help us understand why the recent developments in pastoral care and pastoral theology are so significant. They observe that at the heart of pastoral care is an understanding of what it means to be a being that can hurt as well as how we should respond to being hurt. What it means to be hurt, to be a vulnerable human being, is a correlate of an understanding of human personhood they argue has assumed a particular character in this time called “modern.” According to Clebsch and Jackle, the conviction that any limit on our desires is problematic is in deep tension with traditional assumptions. Pastoral care now means helping people become self-fulfilled when it is not clear what that might mean.⁵

That transformation of what is meant by pastoral care Clebsch and Jackle suggest is obvious given the different reasons people now go to seek help from the pastor. They observe not that long ago people went to their pastor because they felt bad, but today people seek therapy not because they feel bad, but because they do not feel good. This has had the effect of putting extraordinary pressure on marriage and the family because often people focus on the family, and in particular their marriage, as the source of their unhappiness.

Clebsch and Jackle point out that there simply is no place in the structure of modern congregation where a serious discussion of the state of one’s soul can be examined. That absence reflects the presumption that what we do with our lives is our own business. Some form of counseling now becomes the paradigm of pastoral care. The character of such counseling is not easily identified because there are numerous psychological theories that inform those doing the counseling. As H. Richard Niebuhr observed in his The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry, a book well worth revisiting, the modern conception of human nature that has shaped the church’s pastoral care has underwritten a naturalistic anthropology and as a result the religious character of our lives has been lost.⁶

I think we get some idea of the character of contemporary understandings of pastoral care by attending to Macintyre’s account in After Virtue of the main characters that have authority in modernity, that is, the rich aesthete, the manager, and the therapist. Each in their own way, is an expression of a culture of emotivism which is based on the presumption that insofar as our lives make sense they do so only by the imposition of our arbitrary willfulness. Such willfulness is required because it is assumed that our lives have no end other than what we can create and impose by the sheer force of our arbitrary desires. As a consequence it becomes impossible to avoid the reality that all our interactions are unavoidably manipulative. In such a context the task of the therapist is to “transform neurotic symptoms into directed energy, mal-adjusted individuals into well-adjusted ones.”⁷ The therapist must do so, moreover, assuming that there is no normative framework other than respect for their clients’ autonomy that can shape their interactions.

To be a moral agent in such a culture entails that we can never be fully in actions because if we are to be free we must always be able to stand back from our actions as if someone other than ourselves did what was done. Such a perspective is our only way to avoid being determined by particularistic narratives that would constrain our choices. The therapist cannot avoid reflecting these conditions because the therapist cannot assume a narrative that can help us make sense of the moral incoherence of our lives. Thus Macintyre’s claim in Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity: An Essay on Desire, Practical Reasoning, and Narrative is that any challenge to these modern habits of thought faces the difficulty of only being able to think about our lives in terms that exclude those concepts needed for any radical critique.⁸

What Macintyre helps us see is how the eclectic character of the various psychological theories that so often inform pastoral care reflects liberal political theory and practice. That many people in advanced industrial societies suffer from a sense that they are alone because no one – including themselves – understands who they are is an expected result of living in a time when freedom is assumed to be found in having an unimpeded choice.

Adrian Pabst observes that such a view of life is the outworking of the basic logic of capitalist economy which destroys human attachment to, and affections for, relationships and institutions by embedding them in impersonal exchanges. As a result people are abstracted from concrete human relations because the economy treats everyone as a commodity with a market price. The result is seldom noted because the ideologies that are commensurate with capitalism are grounded in abstractions from any embodiments that constitute our humanity.⁹

Thus my oft made claim that modernity names the time when people came to believe they should have no story determining their lives except the story they chose when they had no story. In America that story we assume is the story called freedom. That story produces people who think they have been wounded by being born. To so understand the human condition reflects the double blind insight that what we thought we did in freedom turns out to be but another name for being fated by what can only appear retrospectively as our arbitrary choices.

That story grounds our presumption we have been mistreated, that we have been victimized, because we discover we cannot acknowledge we have been determined by the story we thought was our choice. Accordingly we resent the lives we have forged because somewhere along the line, if we are lucky – and luck is a Stoic category – we are forced to acknowledge we have been wounded by what we thought to be our free decisions. I take it to be one of the fundamental convictions of Christians that we have been given a way to live that frees us from this kind of endemic narcissism that would otherwise possess our lives.

That counseling is now central for how pastoral care is understood I think is a response to this general unease about our lives. Pastoral care became a necessary course to train clergy to help people, which include themselves, to come to terms with the incoherence of their lives. In the process those seeking therapy might also be able to acknowledge who they hurt along the way as well as who has hurt them. The language of reconciliation can cover a multitude of sins. I am aware that the training in the psychological disciplines that shape pastoral care may be more substantive than this characterization, but the general worry to avoid being judgmental makes it difficult to articulate a normative commitment other than avoiding being judgmental.

It is not surprising that the theology that shaped the development of pastoral theology was primarily various forms of Protestant liberalism. Liberal theology comes in many shapes and sizes, but in general, to use Barth’s characterization, liberal theology was the attempt to talk about God by talking about humanity in a very loud voice. Paul Tillich was the theologian who provided a theological method, that is, the method of correlation that was designed to show how interpretations of central theological concepts could illuminate aspects of human experience.10 Tillich’s “method” had the advantage of employing psychotherapeutic insights as well as other social sciences to illumine the human condition.11

liberal theology was the attempt to talk about God by talking about humanity in a very loud voice

But that “advantage” is also the problem if you think, as I do, that such a method risks isolating those who are in need of pastoral care from the church. That some people trained in pastoral care now become free standing therapists, free standing in the sense they have no authorization from any ecclesial body, is the inevitable outcome of the development of pastoral care as a separate discipline without theological warrant. Simply because such therapists are ordained does not mean their work is “pastoral.”

Perhaps even more troubling is Stephen Pattison’s suggestion that the psychological perspective threatens to subordinate the “historical concern of the church for morality and the goals and purpose of human life.”12 As a result Pattison argues that secular caring methods are unconsciously allowed to seep into Christian attempts at pastoral care. In the name of love the Christian care of one another is determined by a utilitarian logic that underwrites a morality that cannot help but result in judgments that make the Christian commitments, commitments such as our unwillingness to keep the promises we make, problematic.

I think it not accidental that the rise of pastoral care and pastoral theology was matched in ethics with the development of situation ethics. Joseph Fletcher’s “love is the only norm” seemed to express the fundamental judgment associated with pastoral responses to difficult human relations particularly having to do with marriage. Fletcher’s justification of cases such as Mrs. Bergmeier’s “sacrificial adultery” fit the commitment of those doing pastoral counseling to avoid being “moralistic.”13 Those influenced by Fletcher’s identification of agape with utilitarianism often failed to recognize that the justification of adultery in the name of love construed in utilitarian logic is the same logic that justified dropping the bombs on Japan.

The account of the development of pastoral care I have just given does not do justice to the complexity of much of the work done under the heading of pastoral care and pastoral theology. I am not apologizing because I think, as Stephen Pattison has argued, the pastoral care movement, particularly in America, has ignored the theological tradition that makes the care given through the church Christian.14 It is not at all clear that Christians are called to be mature or well adjusted, but it is surely the case that the care Christians give one another, and particularly the care that is thought to be the province of those that occupy the pastoral office, will and should depend on being an expression of the fundamental convictions that make Christians Christian. We are not without resources for such an endeavour. And one of those resources has the name Karl Barth.

Deborah Hunsinger begins her book, Theology and Pastoral Counseling: A New Interdisciplinary Approach by observing that pastoral care counselors have not been interested in the theology of Karl Barth. She notes, however, that Barth returned the compliment by paying little attention to the discipline of pastoral counseling and care.15 It is important, however, not to forget the significance that Barth was a pastor in Geneva and Safenweil. That engagement clearly left a lifetime mark on him. In one of his last interviews, which was primarily about his love of Mozart, Barth responded to a question about why he did not continue to be a pastor by observing, “my whole theology, you see, is fundamentally a theology for pastors. It grew out of my own situation when I had to teach and preach and counsel a little. And I found that what I had learned in the university was of little help in this. So I had to make a fresh start and I tried to do this.”16

Barth began his reflections on the care that the church is to provide by observing that the church had recently seemed to re-awaken to her political and social responsibilities. She thus has the task to face ever anew the questions and challenges raised by the modern developments in psychology and education. According to Barth the church will be asked, “What is pastoral care?” and “What is Christian education?” which means the church should not and cannot attempt to escape the necessity of remembering the challenges raised by her presence in a “world engulfed in a sea of misery.” Such a world is waiting – not for the church but – to become church itself. It is waiting to hear because God has spoken.17

Dr. Stanley Hauerwas has sought to recover the significance of the virtues for understanding the nature of the Christian life. His work cuts across disciplinary lines as he is in conversation with systematic theology, philosophical theology and ethics, political theory, as well as the philosophy of social science and medical ethics. He was named “America’s Best Theologian” by Time magazine in 2001. Dr. Hauerwas, who holds a joint appointment in Duke Law School, delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectureship at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland in 2001.

¹ William Clebsch and Charles Jackle, Pastoral Care in Historial Perspective
(New York: Jason Aronson, 1983)
² G. R. Evans, editor, A History of Pastoral Care (London: Cassell, 2000)
³ Clebsch and Jacklet, p. 13
⁴ Clebsch and Jacklet, pp. 8-10
⁵ Clebsch and Jacklet, p. viii
⁶ H. Richard Niebuhr, The Purpose of the Church and Its Minitry (New York: Harper and Row, 1945), p. 76
⁷ Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Third Edition)
(University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), p. 30
⁸ Alasdair MacIntyre, Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity: An Essay on Desire, Practical Reasoning, and Narrative (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), p. 123
⁹ Adrian Pabst, Ware of Position: Liberal Interregnum and the Emergent Ideologies, Telos, 183, (Summer, 2018), p. 192
10 For a critique of Tillich’s understanding of pastoral theology see Deborah Hunsinger, Theology and Pastoral Counselling: A New Interdisciplinary Approach (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 195), pp. 88-9511 Stephen Pattison, A Critique of Pastoral Care (London: SCM, 1988), pp. 40-41
12 Pattison, p. 38
13 Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics: The New Morality (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966), pp. 164-165
14 Pattison, pp. 30-31
15 Hunsinger, p. vii (Paginations in text)
16 Karl Barth, Final Testimonies (Eurgene, Oregon: Wipf@stock, 2003), p. 23
17 Barth, Final Testimonies, p. 24