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What Should Chaplains Do About Bigotry and Hate?

Like many of us I trust, I have been wondering how to react to the recent events in our country which show hate and bigotry in a virulent way that many of us at least hoped had vanished permanently into some dark corner if not been extinguished altogether. I did my stint registering African- American voters in the rural south in the mid 60's and I guess I imagined that those days were gone in our country. In that sense, the words and actions (and inactions) of our President have done us a favor. Rationalizing that this kind of hatred is restricted to a small fringe group in our country that we really don't have to be concerned about just got much harder.

These events call on all of us to examine how we might be contributing to this state in our country and how we might grow in our contribution to its solution.   There are of course, the public stances we can take. For Christians, one I hope is easy for each of us is to say loudly and repeatedly that doing violence of any kind to others or justifying hatred or bigotry by proof texting Christian Scripture or using the name of Christ is simply wrong. It is not debatable or negotiable. It is simply wrong. What may be harder for some of us is to just as loudly and repeatedly support our Muslim friends and colleagues when they proclaim that those who carry out violence or hatred in the name of Allah or using citations from the Qu'ran are equally wrong and are not Muslims.

Then, how do we as chaplains who say we value respect and acceptance for everyone most aggressively live that out in our work lives?   Our professional lives as health care chaplain affords us some particular opportunities and particular challenges. We are fortunate I believe to work in a profession and generally in professional settings where the values, culture and regulatory mandates require us to treat all of those we serve with dignity and respect irrespective of their race, gender, culture or belief system. Thus, there is pretty much no question that we have to afford the bigot and unapologetic racist the same respect and treatment we offer those the racist abuses.

However, as usual, this policy is sometimes much hard to live out than it is to espouse. What happens in your institution when a client refuses treatment from a member of your staff because of that staff member's race, culture or faith system? Is there policy? Is that policy made clear to staff and clients? Do the chaplains have a voice in forming and administering that policy? Do the chaplains get involved when a staff member is disrespected or worse because of their race, religion or culture? How are the needs, values and beliefs of the client and the staff member reconciled when they clash? Not easy issues.

What distresses me is that I continue to hear stories from colleagues involving disrespect, bias and down right abuse from chaplain colleagues. Generally, these stories seem to emerge within the context of our certification or our educational processes but stories of disrespect or outright lack of acceptance clearly occur in other contexts as well. The normative story line seems to involve colleagues from the liberal Christian traditions which dominate our profession telling colleagues not of those traditions that their presumed values or faith systems make it impossible for them to be "good" chaplains simply on the basis of the faith group they claim membership in. For me this crosses the line from respectful dialogue and disagreement among colleagues that professional chaplaincy highly values to bias and disrespect based on a presumed characterization of a certain group and masquerading under the banner of "speaking our truth".

While it is entirely appropriate for our profession to express its total opposition to the hatred and bias we see in our country, that message is not complete unless we also communicate to our own colleagues that kind of behavior, even in much milder forms, constitutes a serious violation of our professional code of ethics and will be treated as such. We need to make it clearer than we have that we encourage reporting of this kind of behavior and will protect those who do so. We need to spend at least as much outrage on reforming ourselves as we do on reforming the world around us. To date, we have not done that.


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