Another semester complete!
As a pastor, I try to always be learning something. That’s one reason I decided to enroll in the Doctor of Ministry program at Union Presbyterian Seminary. After each semester, I like to share with you a bit about my classes and what I’ve learned.
This semester I took two courses:
Pastoral Care In Conflicted Relationships
Let’s face it— we all have conflict in our lives. It is unavoidable. The question is: do we have the resources to lead through the conflict? Many of us have not learned how to lead through conflict so we avoid conflict, lash out during it, or respond in another unhealthy way. This course was designed to help pastors lead their congregations through periods of conflict. (I’m thankful that Unity has been a very low-conflict church, by the way!).
I’d like to recommend one book for you to read: The Angry Christian: A Theology for Care and Counseling by Andrew Lester. This book explores how Christians have often been encouraged to suppress their anger in fear that anger is sinful. Yet it makes the case that anger is not a part of our fallen creation. Instead, anger is a part of the way God designed us. And if this is true, then anger can be used in a positive way.
The book studies many of the positive ways anger can be used.
Anger can be a diagnostic tool to tell you something is wrong. When you feel angry, go beyond just the feeling and ask what it is trying to tell you.
Anger can alert us to injustices in the world. When I see oppression or poverty, I should become angry, and this feeling of anger should lead me to action.
Anger is usually the result of a perceived threat. Think of the last time you were angry. What were you feeling threatened by? Was it the threat of losing something? (One’s status, a relationship, a way of life). Or was it the threat of the unknown? (“What will happen if…” “What will happen when…”)
What story were you telling yourself about the situation that made you angry? Once you do some digging into the perceived threat, you’ll be better able to understand your feeling of anger.
Anger is different than aggression. Anger is the feeling, aggression is an outward action that is usually unhealthy. The goal is to use one’s feelings of anger to lead us to a healthy, non-aggressive action.
“Because we can normally choose which narratives threaten us and which do not, we have a significant amount of freedom to decide not only what we do with our anger, but also what we allow to trigger our anger in the first place. With that freedom comes the recognition that although the capacity for anger is a physiological given, every experience of anger is not.”
In the 1970s Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian Catholic priest, noticed that most of the Catholics he ministered to in Latin America were extremely poor, whereas the Catholic Church in Europe was extremely wealthy. As a result of this experience, he formed a theology that said faith can never be separate from the suffering and poverty of other people. At its very core, faith must seek the liberation of people from sinful systems and structures that create poverty and oppression.
His work became known as Liberation Theology. “Liberate” means to be set free from something— in this case, to be set free from poverty and marginalization. His work revolutionized the church and has continued in its influence today. Gustavo wrote, “The Kingdom and social injustice are incompatible.” He believed that a Christian’s central work must be about creating a just world, in partnership with God.
My class explored how Gustavo’s work led to liberation movements all around the world. For example, we studied liberation movements within Native American populations pushing back against colonialism and within Black theology during the civil rights.
“Wherever lives are threatened with poverty and oppression, the divine is present, standing in solidarity with those oppressed.”
—Miguel De La Torre
Thank you for your support throughout my studies. I am halfway through! In the spring I will enroll in two more courses. The following year will be dedicated to my doctoral research project, which you’ll be hearing more about later.
This Sunday will be the third Sunday in the season of Advent! Can you believe Christmas is only 19 days away?!
See you on Sunday!