Questioning the wisdom of afflicting the (assumed) comfortable

It has been said, in various ways, that the job of a minister is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

What strikes me about the “afflict the comfortable” sentiment is that it was originally meant to be comical (and in reference to something entirely nonreligious), yet somehow has become a religious creed of sorts, and most often used in faith traditions when they wish to discount or suppress (and oppress) a person or group of people who may appear privileged and so deemed as not worthy of ministerial attention.

When I think of what motivates people to attend a church, no matter how “comfortable” they may appear to the onlooker, my guess is that they are there for comfort of some kind. Perhaps hope for a future they cannot see, companionship they do not get anywhere else, or an hour of peace and inspiration in an otherwise stressful and busy life.

I wonder if there is wisdom in keeping this phrase in the humor category, and have our congregations go about the business of comforting everyone who carries their joys and sorrows through our doors.

History: The phrase was first coined in a 1902 by Chicago humorist Finley Peter Dunne’s syndicated column entitled: “Mr. Dooley on Newspaper Publicity”:

“The newspaper does everything for us. It runs the police force and the banks, commands the militia, controls the legislature, baptizes the young, marries the foolish, comforts the afflicted, afflicts the comfortable, buries the dead and roasts them afterward.” (modern English version)

Over time others modified the phrase and used it for different purposes. The first time it was used in regards to church and ministry was in 1944.

Summertime Writing, August 1st, 2019 Rev. “Twinkle” Marie Porter-Manning