On this continent, Canadian Roberta Clare of the Vancouver School of Theology analyzed the way in which Freirean methodology was intentionally attempted within a health care seminar hosted by Church Women United called “The Ethical Choices Workshop”.  The conference centered on helping its participants, who were women from various walks of life, to see the critical faith issues within the health care system and urge them to advocate for reform.  Clare did note that “there are fewer resources that enable the middle class to work alongside the poor, and no models that engage people of the middle class in reflection and action of the sort that might lead to structural changes within their own class.”[1]  The conference, therefore, is at the forefront of practical application for just such a model.

The qualitative results that Clare collected shows a dilemma that I find to be typical of the North American middle-class experience with reflections on social justice issues:

health care“Fifty-one percent of these respondents reported this was the first time they had talked about their faith values in the context of health care reform.  Furthermore, the data from participant feedback 12 to 18 months after the workshop confirmed that the majority of participants did not take action on their value commitments as expressed in or clarified through the workshop: 28 percent of respondents reported they had written, phoned, faxed, or visited an elected or appointed public policy maker; 10 percent reported they joined a group to reform the health care system since the workshop; 62 percent reported they had questioned how their faith affects their other political stances.”[2]

The question of why is still pivotal to this instance: why weren’t there more participants able to link their faith with their opinion on public policy and move from critical reflection to action?  Clare cites the work of Jack Mezirow: “According to Mezirow, transformative learning occurs when adults are faced with “disorienting dilemmas” or “manifest situational contradictions.”  By means of discussion and dialogue and reflection, awareness of “distorted perspectives” and false ideologies are slowly revealed.”[3]  I would add a further dynamic: the only time that I have witnessed a “disorienting dilemma” among my students is when they become involved in immersion experiences, such as Alternative Spring Break, that briefly unite their existence with that of the poor.  Reflection (critical dialogue) after such experiences always appear to be more fruitful and students involved in such programs are usually more willing to act for change in their own communities.

Clare cites theologian Douglas Hall in describing the importance of theological reflection in moving the faithful to social praxis.

“The predicament of the non-poor at its most rudimentary theological level of expression is their lack of caritas – not “charity,” but “suffering love” (agape).  The Christian educator must seek to move the non-poor from the state of anxious self-concern to that of concern for the “other.”  This is a tall order.  It is one thing to approach persons with the message that Christ wills to free them from their oppression and despair and give them freedom and hope; it is something else to approach with a gospel that aims to free them from their possessions and give them love.  All “rewards” of faith are rather obvious in the first instance – even from a Christian point of view.  History is not overflowing with the masses of Christian believers walking the Via Dolorosa gladly.”[4]

Next week I will wrap up with Part VI: Bringing it all together-Practical applications.

2013 © Steffano Montano. All Rights Reserved.
Featured image by @boetter, activists by aflcio

[1] Clare, Roberta C., “Putting Faith Into Action: A Model for the North American Middle Class”, Religious Education (2006), 371.

[2] Ibid, 378.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 386.