The Common Good
September-October 1998

Healing People for the Struggle

by Bill Wylie-Kellermann | September-October 1998

There is a key spiritual gift that the church may bring to labor struggle: pastoral
care.

There is a key spiritual gift that the church may bring to labor struggle: pastoral care. This may seem obvious on the face of it, but it is little applied (except perhaps by the likes of UAW chaplains!). I'm convinced that an astonishing array of pastoral issues are attributable to the powers. Just think how workplace demands yield various ailments. Cancers, allergies, and immune deficiencies, which are the result of toxins loosed upon our bodies and Earth. The heart-rupturing stress of overtime, downsizing, and layoff. The hurry-up indifference to hazards and safety risks. Yet all of these are compounded in protracted labor struggles.

In Detroit, we have made halting attempts to create a pastoral care network, especially for those involved in the three-year-long struggle with the Detroit newspapers. We are mindful of the toll this corporate economic assault takes upon families and children, on marriages strained and broken, on folks falling off the wagon or deadening things with the abuse of drugs. Those who have been called back to work suffer confusions of identity working for a scab paper (they're not locked-out workers—are they "locked in"?).

In such cases of pastoral care, the trick is how not to end up smoothing the rough edges of struggle. Genuine pastoral care must not be found accommodating people to an intolerable situation, hushing their legitimate anger. (Frankly, I fear that many pastoral efforts in this culture do precisely that.) Such care ends up greasing the way for the powers and bandaging up their wreckage. We must learn how to help workers find spiritual health and wholeness in the midst of struggle, freeing them not from the fight, but for the fight. As pastors, we've much to learn. —BW-K

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