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."
"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.