Day: September 1, 2009

liberating and pastoral care

People who feel trapped need liberating. Although, in situations of conflict both sides tend to claim the experience of oppression and set themselves the task of liberation (which usually translates into a kind of see-saw scenario — the once-oppressed now become the oppressors and vice versa).

Reflecting on the Balkan conflict, Miroslav Volf observes: ‘Categories of oppression and liberation provide combat gear, not a pin-striped suit or a dinner dress; they are good for fighting not for negotiating or celebrating’ (‘Exclusion and Embrace: Theological Reflection in the Wake of “Ethnic Cleansing”‘ in A Spacious Heart: Essays on Identity and Belonging, p 39).

Nevertheless, even in the midst of such a conflict, where something like reconciliation — a theology of embrace — should be the goal, it’s still worthwhile speaking about oppression and liberation. As Volf admits (p 40):

A theology of embrace would … amount to a betrayal both of God and oppressed people if it were pursued in such a way as to marginalize the problems of oppression and liberation.


Of course, sometimes people can be oppressed not by other people, nor even by the ‘transpersonal’ institutions or systems — like governments — that individuals can represent or embody. Sometimes they need to be freed from illness (and the institutionalisation it’s resulted in). Or from their sense of confusion and lostness. The longing for liberation can be welded to a need for healing or guidance.

Assuming therefore that you’re dealing with a situation you have the potential to change (an important point to establish no doubt), I suspect this plays out in the way suggested by solutions-focussed counselling — e.g., trading in the attempt to apportion blame for a more productive focus on ‘mapping’ contribution so that we can begin to figure out how things can be different in future.

But this is more than a matter of pragmatics. The grace of God in Jesus offers precisely this sort of liberation, doesn’t it? God meets us in our entanglement in various oppressions, frees us, and sends us off in new, God-honouring direction: ‘Go, and sin no more’ (John 8.11)…