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Spiritual direction, social justice, and the United Church of Christ.

How may spiritual formation, with its emphasis upon the individual, spiritual direction, and its shaping of spiritual life, and the ministry of social justice, with its stress upon the community, be balanced in a religious tradition? This study examines the United Church of Christ as an example of a social justice tradition within Protestant Christianity, with special interest in how it combines spiritual formation, spiritual direction, and social justice. Although during the first decades of its existence, the United Church of Christ seemed more interested in social justice, ostensibly to the diminishing of more spiritual concerns, during the 1990s the church began to develop greater interest in spirituality. At present, the denomination is starting to try to link spirituality, spiritual formation, and spiritual direction with social justice ministries.


How may spiritual formation, with emphasis upon the individual, spiritual direction, and the shaping of the spiritual life, and the ministry of social justice, with its stress upon the community, be balanced in a religious tradition?

The United Church of Christ, one of the major denominations in the United States that embodies a strong social justice tradition, provides a test case. This denomination, with approximately 12 million members in over 6,000 churches, is the result of the 1957 merger of the Congregational Christian and the Evangelical and Reformed Churches. These two bodies, in 1931 and 1934, respectively, had merged from the Congregational Church, the Christian Church, the Reformed Church in the United States, and the Evangelical Synod (Lutheran) Church. Each faith community brought with it into the new denomination a "hidden" history (Zikmund, 1984), wherein was preserved the seeds of social justice and piety. Representing a bold alternative to the divisions in modern Protestant life, the United Church of Christ has attempted to model the ecumenical healing of the scandalous ruptures in the Christian fabric. Through its four antecedent bodies, the United Church of Christ embraces elements of the whole Protestant expression of Christian faith.

To sharpen the denomination's focus on social justice, the United Church of Christ statement of faith, adopted in 1959 and partially cited here in its doxological form, calls for "resist[ing] the powers of evil," which are understood in political as well as spiritual form. The statement continues in the Book of Worship (1986, p. 514):
You [God] promise to all who trust you
forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace,
courage in the struggle for justice and peace [italics added]
your presence in trial and rejoicing...

While it accepts the Bible "as the authoritative witness to the Word of God," the ecumenical creeds, and the confessions of the Reformation, the United Church of Christ does not impose any doctrine or form of worship upon its members. It receives the historic creeds and confessions as testimonies, but not tests of the faith (United Church of Christ, 2001a). Thus, while this statement of faith is not regarded as binding on congregations or individuals, it does accurately represent the faith, concern, and focus of the uniting groups (Meade, 1995). Social service and justice have deep roots in the United Church of Christ, and form a large piece of the fabric of its contemporary life. A brief examination of a recent United Church News (September, 2001), the denomination's national newsletter, and the church's web site, will show something of this emphasis.

The lead article in the Church News portrays a teen project in New York designed to bring together minorities and majorities by learning scuba diving. By learning together, the teens come to develop trust in others of a different culture, and thus experience harmony (Comrie, 2001). Representing political social justice action, the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ presented a resolution, subsequently voted by the United Church of Christ General Synod in Kansas City, Missouri, July 2001, calling for a boycott of Taco Bell because the restaurant purchases tomatoes from the Florida-based SixL company, a company that pays immigrant pickers a substandard wage (Golder, 2001). The Southeast Conference, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, continued fund-raising efforts toward what it calls the "Adopt-A-Minefield" program, an endeavor to rid third world nations of minefields (Kershner, 2001).

These are not issues in which one finds many other Protestant churches involved. Spearheading such social justice activities is the denomination's Justice and Witness Ministries, one of the formally recognized "Ministries" in the United Church of Christ. This ministry seeks to empower individuals and congregations to advocate justice in the communities and in the world. A survey of their web site listing on November 29, 2001 (United Church of Christ, 2001c), yields thirty "weekly alerts" (i.e., calls to action around issues of social justice, essentially political in nature). The United Church of Christ aggressively speaks out on public policy, even when it is unpopular.

Norman Jackson, former conference minister of the Hawaii Conference, links the gospel with serving the "hungry, the sick, and victims of wars, disasters, and the globalized economy." The church's mission aims at "undermining the demonic dominant cultural status quo; challenging unjust structures; combating classism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, and governmental policies designed to serve the wealthy and the powerful" (Jackson, 2000, p. 31).

As admirable as this emphasis is, what place in denominational life is there for spiritual formation and direction, disciplines that stress individual spirituality and fellowship with God? How does the United Church of Christ address the balance between spiritual formation, with its emphasis upon the individual, spiritual direction, and its shaping of spiritual life, and the ministry of social justice, with its accentuation upon the community?


Definition of Spiritual Direction

Spirituality is rooted in the word "spirit," which in Hebrew (ruah), Greek (pneuma), and Latin (spiritus) refers to the "breath" or spiritual life force. Spirituality embraces the passion and inspiration that come from within and connect one with the world. It embodies the fundamental forces of life, that which motivates love, concern, and passion. It does nor constitute a separate category, as May (2001) points out, but rather is a part of all emotions, connections, work, and everything existentially meaningful to human beings. Nor is spirituality something ethereal. Rather, it is quite ordinary and natural. Everyone has spiritual needs, in the opinion of this writer, whether acknowledged or not. Spirituality, as Otto (1923) observed in his classic analysis, is a non-reducible experience somehow inherent in the human psyche in every culture.

Spirituality, moreover, constitutes the living core of every great religion. One could even say that religion is really about the cultivation, in some way, of this living core. Traditionally, spirituality has been expressed in three principal ways: knowing, acting, and feeling. Accordingly, God is conceived as ultimate Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Analogous to the Hindu idea of the three ways as yogas, disciplines or margas, and paths (Weightman, 1984), these might be thought of as the Way of the True, the Way of the Good, and the Way of the Beautiful (May, 2001). The Way of the True appeals to those whose interest lies in philosophy, theology, and psychology, all ways of knowing. For those whose interest takes them in the direction of helping the poor, the sick, and creating a more just society, there is the Way of the Good. Passion, empathy, and intimacy, or the affective experience, forms the Way of the Beautiful (May, 2001).

Spiritual formation, in this understanding, builds upon this interest in the spiritual. It has to do with cultivation of the spiritual, usually in intentional disciplines, such as prayer, meditation, and loving service.

Spiritual direction, furthermore, guides spiritual formation, and is grounded in two basic assumptions: (a) One's relationship with God is primary [the vertical dimension]; and (b) one's relationship with God is bound up inextricably with one's relationship with others and the entire created order [the horizontal dimension] (Jones, 1999). This interpretation of spiritual direction and spiritual formation, widely accepted in the United Church of Christ, understands social justice as a way in which the horizontal dimension of spiritual formation may be realized.

History of the Practice of Spiritual Direction in the United Church of Christ

Given that religion must inevitably have redemptive social consequences, and that, in turn, spiritual development is a necessary prerequisite for these social consequences to emerge in a religious context, how has the United Church of Christ historically brought them together?

The United Church of Christ champions social justice, identifying with the rights of the marginalized, women, homosexuals, victims of AIDS, and racial minorities. It refuses to make homosexuality a barrier to ordination, and it seeks to bring racial minorities "into the mainstream of life both in the church and in society." For the United Church of Christ, to profess the gospel inevitably means the liberation of human beings from both spiritual and physical bondage (Rosten, 1975). The gospel and social justice, "justice and shalom in all human relationships and social structures" (Foster, 1998), are inextricably linked.

As of this writing, the United Church of Christ has no formally institutionalized program of spiritual direction. In large part, this is attributable to the nature of United Church of Christ polity which, because of its congregational character, precludes the fostering of universal programs superimposed upon individual parishes. Programming in the United Church of Christ tends to develop at the grassroots level. When it is developed at a national, or synodal level, it may only be recommended to other organizations within the denomination.

Throughout the first three decades of the denomination's history (1960-1990), little formal attention was given to spiritual formation. The emphasis during this period largely fell upon social justice issues. Throughout the struggle for civil rights, women's rights, and the inclusion of marginalized populations into mainstream American life, and in its own struggle to carve out an identity, the United Church of Christ literally has had its hands full. With the late 1980s and 1990s, interest in spirituality has moved into greater prominence, in part, as a counterbalance to the denomination's strong emphasis on social justice, but also as a response to cultural thirst for spirituality. Signs of this interest are everywhere.

The Evangelism Ministry Team, a component of the Local Church Ministries, a Ministry of the United Church of Christ, has adopted as its mission the development of resources and training for local church members and leaders in "evangelism, increased worship attendance, membership growth, and spiritual development [italics added]" (United Church of Christ, 2001d). The Twenty-Second General Synod (1999), adopted a resolution that directly links spiritual formation and social justice, calling for spiritual formation to help men "discover the movement of God in their lives through prayer, bible [sic] study, spiritual friendships," to assist men in being "in solidarity with one another as crucial issues are addressed such as ending patterns of emotional and spiritual isolation, confronting racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence," and in service to the church and its ministries of social justice (United Church of Christ, 2001e).

Representing pastoral interest, in response to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001, Rev. James Todhunter, of the Silver Spring Christ Congregational United Church of Christ, Silver Spring, Maryland, linked spiritual formation and social justice: The "only true and lasting way to combat evil is through spiritual means through prayer and love," he pointed out. Spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, lead one toward peacemaking and a rejection of vengeance, even for one's enemies. He urged his congregation to do something tangible for the victims of the Trade Center disaster, one of whom was a member of Christ Congregational (Todhunter, 2001).

More controversial, this same connection appears in the church's ministry for homosexuals. The United Church of Christ has long taken the lead among Protestants in the full acceptance of all gender orientations within its membership. Instead of focusing exclusively on homosexuality, however, it seeks to encompass sexuality as a whole, both in its heterosexual as well as homosexual varieties. To further this end, the denomination has developed resources for persons of all gender orientations intended to provide "avenues for spiritual growth, prophetic visions and action for justice" (United Church of Christ, 2001b). Melanie Morrison (2000), realizing how far short the church falls in these efforts, calls on the denomination to welcome all wounded by shame, homophobia, and fear-based images of God, and points to the deep remediation found in God's grace, faith, and justice.

These are representative examples in the contemporary United Church of Christ where church leaders presently see a strong connection between matters of social justice and the need to develop a spirituality capable of sustaining ministries of social justice.

At the local level, interest in both spirituality and social justice is now burgeoning. First Community Church, United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), in Columbus, Ohio, operates a Spiritual Guidance Center, directed by Richard Wood, Sr., who is a graduate of the Shalem Institute and the Harvard University Spirit/Mind/Body Institute. In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Prodigals Community utilizes spiritual formation as a key component in its program for recovery from drug addiction (Starling-Melvin, 2001).

First Congregation Church, United Church of Christ, in Berkeley, California, directs the Durant House and the Lloyd Center for Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction, with Kathy Kunst as director, and is affiliated with San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Anselmo, California. "Spiritual direction," the Lloyd Center indicates, "is the art of Christian listening carried out in the context of a trusting one-to-one relationship" (Durant House, 2001). Insights from pastoral counseling, theology, psychology, and Yoga are integrated in this approach at the Center by representatives of a specific religious tradition, with the goal of "health and wholeness."

After nearly fifty years of existence, the United Church of Christ is showing a number of signs of fostering the relationship between its historic interest in social justice and the rapidly developing practice of the disciplines of spirituality. "The church requires spiritual discipline rooted in scripture and prayer," observes Frederick Trost, a United Church of Christ administrator. "Prayer and deed are related" (Trost, 2000, p. 80).

Description of the "Process" of Authentic Transformation

In keeping with the major Reformation tradition, the United Church of Christ does not see spiritual "perfection" arising in the present state. Sanctification is regarded as the first indication of the goal of redemption. "Never perfected, always harassed by the sin it represents, it nevertheless is a hint of the final Things to Come" (Fackre & Fackre, 1991, p. 138). What happens in the present life, according to Shinn (1990), is the experience of divine forgiveness, empowerment in the struggle for justice, peace, an abiding sense of the divine Presence, and, in the end, eternal life. These elements appear in the denomination's Statement of Faith:
You promise to all who trust you
forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace,
courage in the struggle for justice and peace,
your presence in trial and rejoicing,
and eternal life in your realm which has no end.
(Book of Worship, 1986, p. 514)

Coming to humanity in Christ, God offers grace. "We are saved by grace, by God's amazing grace," writes Shinn (1990, p. 100). This forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel and remains with humanity even in the struggle for justice.

Furthermore, God offers "courage" in this struggle, a divine empowerment to live out the command of Jesus to serve humanity. In this service, God grants spiritual peace. "Our prayers for peace will not be for some divine intervention that will end war apart from our acts; they will include prayers for courage and wisdom in the struggle for peace" (Shinn, 1990, p. 103).

Through it all, and here is where formal spiritual formation may provide a foundation, there is a sense of the divine Presence. The precariousness of human existence makes all of life a risk. "When we ask God's presence, whether in trial or rejoicing, God will be there," affirms Shinn (1990, p. 107). "Indeed, God will be there, whether or not we ask."

Finally, there is eternal life. The God of Creation is the God at humanity's final destination. Although conceptions of what this mean vary in the United Church of Christ, the church believes that "destiny is in the care of the eternal God, whose steadfast love is not defeated by our sin and our death" (Shinn, 1990, p. 109).

Role of the Spiritual Director

Spiritual direction, which thus helps shape spiritual formation, requires someone to lead, or give direction. This is the spiritual director, or "spiritual friend," who, according to Alan Jones, is "someone who listens to us lovingly and accurately and, by the gift of caring attention, reveals to us God's open heart" (Jones, 1999, p. ix). It involves presence and attentiveness, a "holy listening," to individuals who seek the wholeness of God (Guenther, 1992, pp. 1-2). Similar to good teaching, it is a kind of midwifery to the soul (Guenther, 1992). Spiritual direction, or spiritual "mentoring," as Anderson and Reese (1999, p. 36) prefer, is a mutual relationship entered into with another in obedience to the revelation of God in Christ. Such a relationship can exist both formally and informally. The formal variety manifests itself in an agreement between a mentor and a mentee/mentoree, directee, or protege (Anderson & Reese, 1999), to confer on a regular basis, and to be guided by a mutual pact of consent. In formally, spiritual direction may be obtained whenever spiritually prudent people offer guidance to those who seek it. It may even take place through the writing of spiritually discerning authors (Jones, 1999). Whatever the type, "the true director . . . [is] the Holy Spirit" (Jones, 1999, p. 10). "The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, that one will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I have said to you" (John 14:26, author's translation). For Jones, the overweening desire in spiritual direction is for "simple companionship" or spiritual "friendship" (Jones, 1999, p. 11). What is important in the relationship is not simply self-affirmation, but the need for honesty about oneself and a willingness to be scrutinized because one knows he or she is loved (Jones, 1999).

Thomas Merton captures the essence of spiritual direction in these words:

The whole purpose of spiritual direction is to penetrate beneath the surface of a man's life, to get behind the facade of conventional gestures and attitudes which he presents to the world, and to bring out his inner spiritual freedom, his inmost truth, which is what we call the likeness of Christ in his soul. (Merton, 1966, p. 16)

Because it draws upon the imaginative powers of the mind, spiritual direction offers a new perspective. It offers a sensitivity to what is, to the actual conditions of life viewed in the light of God, and thus naturally leads to the contemplative disciplines. And finally, if one is willing to pay the price of brokenness, it leads to spiritual growth (Jones, 1999). Even though Jones and other writers mentioned here write from other traditions, there is nothing to suggest the understanding of spiritual direction would be different in the United Church of Christ.

Indirect Indicators of Mature Spirituality

No one individual speaks for the entire United Church of Christ. So it is impossible to identify precisely how mature spirituality might be interpreted through the entire denomination. An example of one United Church of Christ theologian's interpretation of mature spirituality may be seen in Howard Clinebell (1965), who works in the field of pastoral counseling. Clinebell suggests these tests of a mentally healthy religion:

1. Does it build bridges or barriers between people?

2. Does it foster healthy or unhealthy dependency relationships?

3. Does it move from a sense of guilt to forgiveness?

4. Does it increase or lessen enjoyment of life?

5. Does it handle sexuality in constructive or repressive ways?

6. Does it lead to an acceptance or denial of reality?

7. Does it emphasize love or fear?

8. Does it strengthen or weaken self-esteem?

In an ideal healthy religious community individuation, community, and concern for the larger world are in balance, and thus spiritual formation, even if informally pursued, and social justice are congruent. There is a healthy, life-affirming interaction among them. When any one of these three--individuation, community, and concern for the other--is neglected, suppressed, or becomes pathological, the religious system becomes unhealthy.

Contrast to Traditional Psychotherapy

Although it is not psychotherapy or pastoral counseling (Bakke, 2000; Guenther, 1992), the dividing line between traditional psychotherapy and spiritual direction appears to be somewhat fluid. From the side of psychology there is a greater awareness of the significance of spirituality and its role in personal well-being and meaningfulness, and from the side of spiritual direction, a greater sense of the insights into the human psyche offered by psychological analysis. Jones is tempted to speak of some kind of convergence, "the possibilities for a marriage between the best of the insights of depth psychology and those of the Christian spiritual tradition" (Jones, 1999, p. 38).

The doctrine of justification by faith alone, for example, has taken on a healing dynamism for me. The more I know about the workings of my labyrinthine psyche, the more I am convinced of my need of a savior! And my need for the Savior brings me into a fellowship of pilgrims who offer companionship along the way. (Jones, 1999, p.44)

Jones thinks both worlds, the psychotherapeutic and the spiritual, are subsumed in the spiritual, since the greater, the spiritual, contains the lesser, the psychological (Jones, 1999).

Another psychotherapist, also trained as a religious scholar, who has seen this unity is Thomas Moore. His book, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, explores the integral connection between humanity, the spiritual, and the created world. Referring to the lessons to be learned by considering the created world, Moore notes that contemplation shows "our lives would not be divided from the nature that is our substance and our guide" (Moore, 1996, p. 33).

Comparison of Psychotherapy and Spiritual Direction in the United Church of Christ

There are, of course, distinctions between spiritual direction and traditional psychotherapy, as Table I indicates, but much more common ground is developing between these disciplines than has previously been the case. Indeed, religious experience itself is now recognized "as a phenomenon that exceeds all possibility of complete understanding" (Burns, 2001, p. 91), and thus a fruitful field of study on the part of both religion and psychology. Spiritual development offers an appropriate place where this mutual coming together can prove effective.

When a Spiritual Director Makes Referrals

Since the United Church of Christ utilizes cultural resources, including scientific ideas and research, theological scholarship, and medical knowledge, a spiritual director within the denomination would have no trouble referring a mentee to a professional psychologist or counselor where necessary. The United Church spiritual director recognizes the complex factors shaping personality, attitudes, and behavior. He or she would not think that spiritual resources alone could resolve issues that may need more in-depth therapy and medication. When the fine line between spiritual issues and mental or personality problems is crossed, the United Church spiritual director would make a referral.

Helpful Literature on Spiritual Direction and the United Church of Christ

Current publications in the United Church of Christ provide one indicator of the strong interest in spirituality in the denomination. No single volume, to this author's knowledge, fully embraces the number of approaches to spirituality by United Church authors. The church's publications tend to be more ecumenical than those of other denominations. The United Church of Christ, ecumenical to the core, seeks to define Christian faith in such a way that does not preclude the authenticity of other religious traditions, and thus welcomes them into dialogue on spirituality.

Drawing on the global interest in spirituality (May, 2001), the denomination accepts insights regarding spiritual formation and direction from all the major religious traditions, as emphasis on yoga in the above programs at the Lloyd Center demonstrates. Pilgrim Press, the denominational publishing house, has recently issued several volumes containing daily spiritual readings drawn from the Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Taoist, and Confucian traditions, as well as Christianity (Borton, 2001). And given the denomination s openness to gay, lesbian, and bisexual life, it is not surprising to see also a book of meditations from these perspectives (Boisvert, 2001). Perhaps in the future someone may write a definitive assessment of the approaches to spirituality, spiritual formation, and spiritual direction in the denomination, but that has yet to happen. We must therefore be content at present with the random literature available.


Considered theologically, there is no real conflict between spiritual direction and social justice. Contemplative spirituality, according to May (2001), should not he associated exclusively with silence and stillness. The simplest definition of contemplation, he insists, is "presence to what is." The Christian lives and moves in God (Acts 17:28). In the words of Brother Lawrence, it is "the loving gaze which finds God everywhere" (May, 2001, p. 3). If this definition is accepted, contemplation takes cognizance of all reality, not only one s own inner experience, but the external needs of the world as well. This does not lead the contemplative person merely to try to balance contemplation and action, but rather to understand contemplation "in action, undergirding and embracing everything" (May, 2001, p. 4). Contemplation grounds spirituality in the real world. It opens the person to the divine movements that penetrate the whole of life, and actually becomes true contemplation when God "takes over and carries u s beyond ourselves" (May, 2001, p. 4). May summarizes this concept of spirituality:

The Christian contemplative approach always winds up putting primary emphasis on Cod's initiative and action in life ... we must receive the truth that will set us free, be guided in the good actions that truly serve our neighbors and world, and be given an appreciation of the beauty within and around us. Only as this happens, only as we let Cod lead the divine dance, can we more fully participate in Cod's loving presence in and for the world. (2001, p. 5)

Alan Jones similarly finds a core relationship between social justice and spiritual direction. Spiritual direction fosters acceptance of "God's wild generosity," that God loves everyone "without exception." Such generosity enrages many religious people because they find such incredible love intolerable. By emphasizing the participation in the inclusivity of divine love, spiritual direction leads to "inner disarmament," the "dismantling of the arsenal of destruction we amass inside ourselves" (Jones, 1999, p. ix). When these destructive tendencies are dismantled, the tendency to act out the violence implicit within them is also diffused. Spiritual direction leads to a less violent world, and thus to greater justice among all peoples.

Thus spiritual direction and social justice are linked. Service, often recognized as a spiritual discipline, becomes a "sacrament" of the divine presence, and thus conveys spiritual development. Through deeds of loving service, God is expressed or proclaimed. Henri Nouwen (1994) tells of a contemplative monk, Father Bruno, who came to L'Arche Daybreak community in Toronto, where Nouwen served as pastor, to spend a few months. He was asked to live in one of the homes and take care of Adam, a man almost totally handicapped. Adam could not speak, or recognize individual people, but could only communicate by hand signs. He needed total care. Over three months Bruno came to love Adam. When he left L'Arche, he described his experience:

Here, the ministry of "presence," so often noted in the literature of pastoral psychology, becomes not only the channel of spiritual grace toward others, but also to the one serving. Service becomes a two-way mediation of grace, an incarnational event. Nouwen observes ministry is first a receiving of God's blessing from those whom one serves, so that in service to the poor and disabled one "can see the face of Jesus" (Nouwen, 1994, p. 83).

As abbot I have given many talks about the spiritual life and tried to live it myself ... I always knew that I had to become empty for God, gradually letting go of thoughts, emotions, feelings, and passions that prevented that deep communion I desired. When I met Adam, I met a man wh o, while considered by the world as profoundly disabled, was chosen by Cod to be the bearer of a profound grace of God's presence. (Nouwen, 1994, p. 84)

Spirituality includes social concern because there can be no "total" gospel without it. The Incarnation represents an enfleshing of the divine, so the Christian cannot rightfully ignore the material order. "The Word became flesh and lived among us" (John 1:14, NRSV). God's love for humanity encompasses what humanity considers the deserving as well as the undeserving. Trueblood, speaking from the Quaker tradition, which has consistently sought to link spiritual development and social service, decries any form of spirituality that has "no redemptive social consequences" (Trueblood, 1970, p. 85). Linking the community, the individual, spiritual development, and social action, John Donne puts it this way: "I am involved in mankind" (1959, p. 109). Thomas Merton considers social action to be peculiarly Christian because it "discovers religion in politics, religion in work, religion in social programs for better wages. It is especially Christocentric, "because God became man, because every man is potentially Christ , because Christ is our brother, and because we have no right to let our brother live in want, or in degradation, or in any form of squalor whether physical or spiritual" (Merton, 1966, p. 69). An inner religion, without an outward expression in service, is a truncated religion.

By seeing the unity between spiritual formation, the function of spiritual guidance in directing that formation, and the love of God it fosters within the individual soul that is to be directed in loving service toward the world, it is easy to grasp why the United Church of Christ, with its strong, persistent interest in social justice, would be interested in this connection.


The United Church of Christ is one of the leading voices of social justice in Christianity. Its pulpits, newsletters, and publications continually prick the conscience about applying the love of Christ to social challenges. During the first two or three decades of its existence, interest in social justice, in the view of observers, seemed to eclipse the more spiritual and pietistic aspects of Christian life, which seemed for the most part to lie hidden in the legacies of the merging denominations that formed the United Church of Christ in 1957. Evelyn Underhill's warning, that when a "purely social interpretation of religion be allowed to continue unchecked, the result can only be an impoverishment of our spiritual life" (Underhill, 1962, p. 69) seemed in danger of being realized.

With a new-found, burgeoning interest in spirituality in society during the 1990s, however, the United Church of Christ found itself compelled to tap into its latent traditions of spirituality and to reflect more carefully on the relationship between spirituality and social justice. Its ecumenical interests meant it would seek to incorporate insights from religious traditions other than Christianity, a kind of "deep" ecumenism.

Thus today, the denomination, both at its national level, and at the local level through individual programs, is now starting to link spirituality, spiritual formation, and spiritual direction with social justice ministry. The outcome of this nascent connection is yet to be realized, but there are signs of a more holistic emphasis with respect to social justice and spirituality throughout the denomination. This cannot but be welcomed by all. The United Church of Christ, long a leader in social justice, may yet provide a notable model of the coalescence of spiritual formation and social conscience.
Table 1

Dimension Spiritual Direction Psychotherapy

Presenting Problem: Spiritual issues. Relational or personal

Goals Experience of the Divine. Personal wholeness or
 Presence leading to homeostasis and social
 justice and well-being in harmony.
 all human relationships
 and social structures.

Procedure: Individual counseling and Individual counseling.

Resources: Prayer, confession, Therapy, medication.
 spiritual disciplines,
 worship, faith.


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GLADSON, JERRY, A. Address: First Christian Church, 569 Fraiser Street, Marietta, Georgia 30060. Title: Senior Minister at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Adjunct professor of religion at the Psychological Studies Institute and adjunct professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. Degrees: PhD, Vanderbilt University. Specialization: Pastorate.

Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Jerry A. Gladson, First Christian Church, 569 Fraiser Street, Marietta, Georgia 30060. E-mail at
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Author:Gladson, Jerry A.
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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