Monday, September 17, 2007

Praying as a Chaplain in a Changing World

This past week the case of Chaplain Danny Harvey was brought to my attention. The Rev. Danny Harvey was a chaplain at Leesburg Regional Medical Center in Leesburg, Florida. And “was” is the operant word because Chaplain Harvey was fired. Specifically, he was fired for praying in the name of Jesus.

Now, there have been a number of news reports on this. Many of them, from publications and web sites with a notable Evangelical Christian perspective (for example, here), emphasized that the dismissal was for a Christian chaplain praying as a Christian might (or, as they would say, must), in Jesus’ name. The firing was obviously a matter of religious discrimination – specifically, of anti-Christian discrimination.

However, there was other pertinent information. For example, this story, focused on the coincidental decision of the CEO of Leesburg Regional to leave his position, included this: “Also in August, LRMC fired chaplain Danny Harvey after he refused to stop praying "in the name of Jesus" to non-Christian patients.” There is more information in this story, also from the Orlando Sentinel, that discusses the case in greater detail. This story speaks of a ‘ "a long history of noncompliance" with doctrines of pastoral care.’ Specifically, “the hospital follows guidelines of the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education, which preaches respect for all religions.”

[The hospital spokesperson] said hospital officials had previously counseled Harvey about patient complaints

"But it seemed the complaints were escalating," she said.

Harvey said he never forced Jesus on anyone at the hospital.

He said he tried to help connect patients with their own faith, but when he was asked to pray, he refused to deny his own.

"I'd say, 'I'm a believer in Jesus Christ and I pray in Jesus' name,' " Harvey said. "I try to be clear. I'm not praying to you, the patient. . . . I'm praying to God."


Now, this is no small issue for us as chaplains. We are, after all, all coming from some faith tradition. There is really no “generic faith,” Christian or otherwise. We all come from within a specific tradition. Our professional organizations, including the ACPE, want assurance that we are rooted and competent in the pastoral care beliefs and practices of our particular traditions. That is the meaning of the requirement for “ecclesiastical endorsement.”

What, then, are meaningful expectations on our parts as individuals, on the parts of the institutions within which we work, and on the parts of the patients we serve of how much explicitness is to be expected of us in our work? To put it more personally, and in better parallel with the Rev. Harvey: how and how often must I express specifically my Christian faith and tradition to balance my own integrity as a Christian and the patient’s integrity in the patient’s (possibly different) faith tradition?

One dynamic in this concern is that some folks seem to feel that any variation from past practice is a challenge, that any accommodation is too much. They see their expression of faith as vulnerable, under attack in a culture that is hostile to their values. They are quick to note events they see as assaults, and to acknowledge their martyrs. In this case, local clergy and congregations collaborated in a protest march on the hospital in support of Mr. Harvey. (For a reflection on a corollary issue responding to this same sense of threat, you can read this article; and thanks to titusonenine for pointing to it.)

If a person with that concern is a hospital chaplain, I could well imagine that the concern might be focused, if not intensified. While there is more and more support for doctors and nurses to be aware of and sensitive to patients' spiritual resources and concerns, the history of tension lingers between "scientific medicine" and religious practice. Institutions are concerned about "cultural competency," attending especially to new religious and cultural minorities and their needs. Institutions are also conscious that patients are vulnerable and frightened themselves, and so are vigilant to protect them, including from any possibility of proselytizing. Requirements of accrediting bodies, like JCAHO, for diversity in the workplace can add to those concerns.

Working with chaplains trained in and/or certified by the major pastoral care organizations might not help. All those organizations have also embraced cultural competency and sensitivity. For example, the Common Standards embraced by six of the largest organizations include this language:

From Common Standards for Professional Chaplaincy:
"Function pastorally in a manner that respects the physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries of others."
And,
"Provide pastoral care that respects diversity and differences including, but not limited to culture, gender, sexual orientation and spiritual/religious practices."

From the Common Code of Ethics:
"Spiritual Care Professionals:
Demonstrate respect for the cultural and religious values of those they serve and refrain from imposing their our own values and beliefs on those served.

Are mindful of the imbalance of power in the professional/client relationship and refrain from exploitation of that imbalance."


While not all the major pastoral care organizations participate in these Common Standards, those who do not have comparable standards for members. Add to this the fact that some find a place in chaplaincy in some part because it is at the margin of faith traditions they love but find too rigid, and a chaplain feeling defensive about the integrity of his or her faith might see little support among colleagues in the institution.

I can appreciate the concerns. At the same time, I have not found this to be a problem for me. In my own practice, I regularly pray for mixed groups - folks of various faiths and of no faith at all. I find enough Biblical images of God to work with that I don’t feel it a betrayal of my Christian faith if in some circumstances I choose not to pray in the name of Jesus. I have enough trust in my own faith, and in God’s capacity to love and bless those not of my faith, that I don’t feel my integrity is on the line. I am sufficiently convicted of the vulnerability of patients and families, and of my responsibility to think first of their needs and not of my own, that I work for sensitivity, even to the point of restraining myself (which I do not interpret as denying myself or my faith).

That said, I certainly acknowledge that the world has changed. We celebrate diversity and plural cultures in our society (if not always pluralism), forgetting just now recent a development that is. Into the mid 1960’s conformity was the social norm, and those who were different – pretty much all, however they were different – were marginalized, closeted, invisible. We have gone, in religious terms, from seeing this as a Christian nation by default to realizing that, if a majority of our citizens say they believe something, a minority actual lives that out in regular practice and worship, and that includes all traditions. We have discovered that the world we once thought safely across the seas, with all its messy variety, wonderfully exotic in its (distant) place, is now living on our block and shopping in our stores and participating in our politics. There is hope and promise in these changes, I think; but I know there is also loss. And in that loss, while the grieving continues, there will be some who will see their world and themselves in it as fragile, brittle; and in their fear some will even project that on God.

6 comments:

racerx said...

I can assure you that the context of his reprimand has been taken way out of context. Did the administrator create some unbelievable bulletin board material? You bet, but the intention was to have Mr. Harvey respect other faiths in a group setting. I mean the guy gets paid to pray! But he refused and if the reprimand had been worded correctly, we wouldn't be having this discussion. No one is perfect but the administrator who wrote it has always been an advocate of the Employee, is a Christian, and ALWAYS thinks of others first. Life is ironic but situations like this make us think and that's a good thing.
I hope Mr. Harvey files an EEOC lawsuit so all of his improprieties will become public. And by the way, if Mr. Harvey (he's not much of a chaplain in my opinion and is not a pastor of a church) thinks he is furthering the spirit and the good news of Jesus Christ by "martyring" himself, he isn't. He's just confusing people and using this issue to get his job back. It's not until recently his statement has changed to include the demand of being able to pray in in the name of Jesus Christ. All of the letters that he has published online are all about him. He didn't mention Jesus Christ in any of them. However, I do feel sorry for him that his irrational behavior cost him his job but as you can guess the petition that he had everyone sign to try and get his job back had a request to send donations directly to his house.

This is just another emotional manipulation and in light of the recent religious manipulations on a grander scale, when are we going to wake up? Oh, and the T-Shirts the marchers wore with everything starting with "MY" tells volumes of the mentality we are dealing with. Jesus/God is not yours, mine, or your neighbors, we are His.
Words speak volumes but actions tell more, and I can't wait to see his dirty laundry in public. He might make Ted Haggard look straight. Well, he's probably not that bad ...

Oh, one more thing, a rhetorical question if I may; why haven't the employees at the hospital joined hands and demanded he come back?

Yes, the departure of Bremmer the CEO had absolutely nothing to do with Harvey.

Marshall said...

racerx, it appears you have some local knowledge of the case, and some strong feelings about it. Thanks very much for your comment.

My point was less to speak to (and certainly not for) Mr. Harvey than to raise the issue. I do know folks who struggle in good faith with the concern of change, however fragile their perspective may seem to me. I think we can appreciate their struggle, and appreciate the number who do act appropriately in the midst of it, even as we call to account those who do not act appropriately.

Anonymous said...

There is smoking gun proof Chaplain Harvey was INVOLUNTARILY TERMINATED AFTER BEING THREATENED TO STOP PRAYING IN JESUS NAME on the web-site: www.prayinjesusname.org

Over a thousand people showed up to march with him. His stand for Jesus inspired a revival.

racerx said...

Thank you for providing a forum for us to discuss this issue and a place to allow me to vent my frustrations and defend the Administrator in the middle of this.

She has always believed in protecting the fragile, including the outsider, and being fair. She loves everyone, as Jesus does, and will not frame a religious debate on a "conservative" or "liberal" premise.

Her hospital has been voted best place for working families and her policies protect employees giving them every chance to balance their work and family lives. She was forced into a situation where she had to balance everyone's religious views and intolerance has reared it's ugly head. I know from Mr. Harvey's point of view, the hospital could be said to be intolerant as well but there goes the debate.

When there are multiple religions a.k.a. a pluralistic society we are forced to respect others. Mr. Harvey would fall over dead if they hired a chaplain who was Jewish so it cuts both ways.

Mrs. Stone has changed more lives than Mr. Harvey could dream about and no one will be brought to Jesus Christ through intolerance. They might be brought to church, but not to Jesus.

Please pray for the world.

Anonymous said...

I just ran accross this blog while looking for the details of Chaplain Harvey's firing in 2007. I was looking after The Pentagon's recent statement confirming that soldiers could be prosecuted for promoting their faith. I am close to Chaplain Harvey and it seems you and racerx have some of the facts wrong about the case that I would like to clear up.

Chaplain Harvey had been "disciplined" 5 years prior to his firing because he was asked to pray at the dedication of the new maternity ward, but told he could not include Jesus' name. He worked with the person organizing the ribbon cutting so that they included volunteer chaplains from different faiths in the program and everyone seemed to be satisified with the solution until he was asked to go through
"sensitivity training". He completed that and worked with the hospital to have a specific "script" that all of the volunteer and paid chaplains would use to insure everyones faith was respected. It was approved and he worked within that system sucessfully for the next 5 years.

Chaplain Harvey asked how many complaints had been received by the hospital - not names - but how many and they refused to give him even a number. He had received stellar reviews over his entire tenure at LRMC. They had, over the years, provided him with numberous letters and comment cards that spoke of his love, caring and ministry to patients and their families during their stay at the hospital.

Chaplain Harvey oversaw a volunteer staff of chaplains who included ministers of all faith including Jewish. As a matter of fact, the son of the Jewish Rabbi was one of the 1200 people who met to pray in front of the hospital to protest Chaplain Harvey's dismissal. He continues to this day to be a dear friend of Chaplain Harvey and says that he has never felt pressured by him regarding the difference in their faith.

The prayer walk, the petitions and requests for money were not initiated by Chaplain Harvey but by the John Kimer, Youth pastor at the church he attended and by Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmidt.

Racerx indicates that he had insider information about Chaplain Harvey's character but the facts speak for themselves. 5 1/2 years later no scandal has been uncovered! Chaplain Harvey continues to live in the Leesburg area and is loved and respected by all. It should be known that Mrs. Stone - the administrator who fired Chaplain Harvey - was fired from LRMC also. Our local paper called Chaplain Harvey to ask his reaction to her firing. He said that he understands the pain that comes from losing your job and hopes the best for her. While that wasn't a newsworthy enough response to make the papers, that is Chaplain Harvey's typical, kind nature.

Marshall Scott said...

Anonymous, as I said to racerx, my intent was to highlight how this can be an issue in health care chaplaincy, and not so much to speak to Chaplain Harvey's circumstances. I certainly do not claim personal knowledge, and cite the sources I quoted.

If, as you say, Chaplain Harvey functioned for five years after being disciplined, it does seem unlikely that the cause of his discharge was the mode of prayer. That may well have been presented, and not be the actual reason. Hospitals are institutions that live with a corporate and at times industrial culture. It's not unheard of for a person to be discharged for reasons that are not made public, and that don't really reflect on the person's work. I can't speak to that one way or another in the specific case of Chaplain Harvey; but I, too, have seen it happen. No, it isn't just; but it does happen. As my father says, "There's just so much sin in the world!"