Sympathy For The Obstinate

Sympathy For The Obstinate October 5, 2020

When someone is in active addiction, their loved ones are at a loss. How do you have sympathy for anyone who will not take care of themselves? It is hard to have sympathy for someone who won’t try to do better. It appears stupid to care for the uncaring. But you fear what the consequences for the other person will be. So, instead of feeling helpless you act and hope the other person will come to see the error of their ways

Sympathy For A Society

Sympathy and empathy are often used synonymously. Who does not think they are empathic? An empath believes they can feel what another person is suffering. A sympathetic person imagines what the suffering of another person will be. The problem is that most people are not empathic. Most people are sympathetic. We can imagine what someone must be suffering because we can imagine ourselves suffering. How would I feel if this tragedy befell me?

Clergy are sympathetic people. We mistakenly think ourselves empathic. Often other people imagine that we are empathic or should be. Pastoral care mistakes are made because of this confusion. We think we feel what another person is feeling. The fact is we only imagine what we would suffer in that person’s position.

Congregations are societies. They are miniature examples of a larger society. I used to make the mistake of trying to empathize with my congregations. False empathy tempts into a sense of identifying with someone else. We take on a false identity. Seminarians serving small parishes often make this mistake. “My people,” they say, “can’t understand all of this source document theory (or whatever topic).” It is a mistake too many clergy make

Sympathy Allows Warnings

Seminarians making the claim above forfeit the most important part of their job. They are to be different from their congregation. When we say lay people cannot relate, we decide their capabilities. I have served many congregations in rural areas made up of mainly older members. The majority of these members are capable of using computers and accessing the internet from their mobile phones. They can learn new things. Clergy make the mistake of saying they can’t learn when the truth is they will not learn. Empathizing with such people is out of place. It causes harm.

Clergy cause harm when we refuse to see what is happening. Congregations die because they choose to do so. The problem is that many do not know why. Explaining why is the job of the clergy. Addict refuse to see the problem for what it is. They blame circumstances, spouses, other family members, jobs, and eventually the substance for their problems. The last admission they will make is it is their own use of the substance.

Dying congregations want to blame everyone else for their issues. Denominational leaders, pastors, the larger culture, and the community for not taking part are often blamed. Some times these entities share the blame. However, it comes down to the sickness within the congregation. Dealing with the sickness is the hard part.

Enablers Do Not Help

Let’s be clear at the outset. Don’t be a jerk.

It is a mistake to enable. It is an even graver mistake to view needed help as enabling.

Giving food to an active addict is not enabling them to continue their addiction. Aiding another is not wrong. Helping another person destroy another person is wrong. Helping people destroy themselves is wrong. However, comforting the dying is not wrong.

We do not always know where the dividing line between helping and enabling is. Sympathy allows us to imagine the end result. We fear the imagined end. Clergy fear failing their congregations.  Who sets out to fail? Someone who does not care. But we do care. In order to show we do, we must save the other person. This is how enabling works.

Churches which intend to die will do so. Congregations that do not listen and take right actions will die. There is little difference between the two. But some churches will live at least for a time. That thought is encouraging.


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