Pastoral Care Worthy of the Name


willie_earle_coverDuring February Abingdon Press will publish my, Who Lynched Earle?  Preaching to Confront Racism.  The book is a “labor of love,” a tragedy that has captured my imagination over a lifetime, a topic that has been one of my major concerns. 

Who Lynched Earle? opens with a lynching in my hometown when I was one year old.  After the lynching, a young Methodist preacher, Hawley Lynn, preached a courageous, historic sermon to his all white congregation in the South Carolina town where the lynching occurred.  I move from a narrative of that great sermon to an appeal to white preachers like me to preach to their mostly white congregations about the sin of racism. 

We are having a day-long conference with scholars, bishops, and students at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. on February 17 (seventieth anniversary of the lynching of Willie Earle) to talk about the book and its concerns. 

I was railing against pastors degrading pastoral ministry to care-giving—wasting hours at the hospital, engaging parishioners only when they were sick, and preoccupying themselves with psychological complaints within the congregation.

An African American student pastor spoke up and said that the day before she had done pastoral care in her inner-city congregation. “Two people whose  lights had been cut off by the electric company, a woman whose nephew had been shot the week before, a person who had been passed over for promotion at work, and a young man who was desperate for fifty dollars to get a coat in order to apply for a job.”

Pastoral care needs something biblically significant to care for.

If we pastors of predominately white, relatively affluent congregations are not looking for ways to tell people the truth they’ve been avoiding, to worry about someone else’s more pressing economic needs rather than obsess over our own aches and pains, to find something more interesting to do with our lives than be sick—exorcizing demons, liberating people from captivity to America’s original sin—then we haven’t been engaged in pastoral care in Jesus’s name.

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