Thursday, September 27, 2007

Another Chaplain Fired; But....

Well, “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,” I suppose. It seems Chaplain Kay Myers has been fired from her position with Peninsula Regional Medical Center for not participating in a hospital’s program to allow members of the Gideons to provide copies of the New Testament and Psalms for patient rooms. It was reported on this blog, which has a helpful link to this news story.

Having noted the case of Chaplain Danny Harvey who lost his position because of complaints and concerns that he wasn’t sufficiently sensitive to non-Christians, I had to note the case of Chaplain Myers as well. Her experience is that she was fired for being too concerned about non-Christians. She was concerned that providing unrestricted access of Gideons to rooms to place these New Testaments represented favoring Christians. She also raised concerns about patient privacy under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and about infection control.

In the Episcopal hospital and health care system in which I function, we provide a Bible (both Testaments, but without Apocrypha) in each room. On the other hand, this is a religious hospital, a difference which would, for Chaplain Myers, make a difference. My infection control officer has never raised an issue with their placement.

However, our Bibles are purchased, and not provided by the Gideons. That is in part to have a version of Scripture that the Gideons to not provide. It is also in part to maintain control of access to patients. Gideons are not permitted unlimited access to patients (or, for that matter, to staff) any more than any other ministers, lay or ordained. Gideons, bless them, are explicitly focused on evangelism, if through the indirect, largely non-confrontational method of providing Bibles in places where people might have time on their hands. But even that indirect method expresses an intent that we can’t support here; so we purchase the Bibles we provide to patients.

Chaplain Myers’ suggestion that materials be retained in the Chaplain’s office, and only provided at request, has its merits, and especially in a non-religious community hospital setting. In our system we have some materials that are available by request, simply because they represent tiny constituencies within our patient population. We have the materials, and will get materials, because those patients are important, but don’t try to provide them house-wide.

The response to Chaplain Harvey’s firing was a protest march. Response to Chaplain Myers’ firing has been largely verbal, and as near as I can tell on blogs of non-Christians. They highlight the story because their concern is precisely the fear of being subject to proselytizing. For them, this is about the protection they want, the protection and privacy that Chaplain Myers wanted to insure.

This is, I suppose, an expression that there is some balance in our culture. At the same time, it’s disturbing to me that Chaplain Myers received no clear response to her HIPAA and infection concerns. I think the administration might have had reasonable responses; but they were never made. In the meantime, I wonder how often this happens: how often someone loses for not being evangelical Christian enough. The evangelical Christian press and bloggers insure that when an evangelical Christian minister is affected by our pluralist culture we hear about it. How often does it happen the other way? And how would we know?

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