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Day 19: Unconditional Regard

Updated: Dec 24, 2023

A colleague-friend spoke a bemusing story into a pastoral care interview with faculty and students a while back, using the phrase "unconditional regard." He said he had asked his therapist whether she held their times together, him, with unconditional regard. She apparently said yes, she did. "Stop that," he scolded. "My life has serious challenges, and I have serious flaws. I don't need unconditional regard; I need accountability and transformation." His delightful Texan drawl, dry wit, led accordingly to laughter. Myself, I made a mental note of the energy in me that arose. Regard. Judgment. Conditional. Unconditional. Mercy. Grace. All these are tangled up in this vulnerable glimpse of a straight, white man willing to be seen by his colleagues going to a therapist, asking for what he needed. "What would a pastoral care professor teach, in this regard?" was his interest. My learning connects a bit closer to home, for me.

A quick Google search gives the following: "Unconditional positive regard, a concept initially developed by Stanley Standal in 1954, later expanded and popularized by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers in 1956, is the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does, especially in the context of client-centered therapy." Psychologists argue that unconditional positive regard helps the client know that whatever s/he/they may need to say or might have done will not be outright judged, condemned, etc. They would argue the phrase creates space for vulnerable truth-telling, which is necessary for redemptive healing. I'd agree, so far.

My friend is an Evangelical scriptural scholar with strong commitments to responsible Evangelical, historic Christian faith. (Not the Trumpist falsehoods being propagated as Christianity today, in other words). He and I disagree on many things, but I know his heart and trust his faith journey as a sacred unfolding, as he does mine. Intellectual virtue in us both demands this both/and, irresolvable-but-connected-in-belonging kind of communion, Covenant larger than us.

As such, I'm coming to see he has a point I may be needing today. Me being me, I'm exquisitely aware of how Christian doctrine and history have demonized 'the other' so to protect an Orthodox articulation of what Christianity is. Christian propensity to schism and violence "for righteousness's sake" is horrifying in our history & our present. Orthodoxy's capacity for any both/and is tiny. Even worse/more radical, I'd say that any Monotheism needs to face its shadow side, for which I have no resolution.

To have devotion to the One of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob seemed to demand and record in sacred scripture a violent demonization--even genocide or slaughter--of those that ascribed to a Many, including the Feminine/Goddess. It's not just Christianity's shadow, in other words. Christian capacity for judgment of this demonization-energy, this body-soul violence is also demonstrably small. wrestling leads me to...

And that, my friends, is 500 words. More tomorrow... :):):)

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