At Whidbey General, a volunteer corps of local ministers, ordained and not ordained, cover the spiritual waterfront, spending one day or more per month visiting the patients in the hospital. The volunteer coordinator supervises this corps of well-meaning pastors, which is primarily made up of male pastors of nondenominational congregations. There are three women who volunteer as well: me, S, and M. S and I are UUs; M is Catholic but is locally affiliated with a Baptist church.
It's interesting that only the three women have any Clinical Pastoral Education hours among our transcripts. I would guess, from my observations at our quarterly meetings, that none of the men have any CPE training. They rely on their evangelical training to help them offer comfort and care to patients. Unfortunately, some of them clearly think, as revealed in our most recent group discussion, that they are entitled to try to lead patients and their families to Jesus, as part of their care and comfort routine.
The volunteer coordinator has become aware of this, over the time she has supervised the group, and yesterday's meeting (after our scheduled speaker on "Best Practices" cancelled on us) was a battle, though politely waged on both sides.
Now, if I learned anything in CPE those many years ago, it is that bedside spiritual care is all about the patient, not the chaplain, that any agenda is strictly confined to the needs of the patient as s/he defines them. This is not a lesson that these guys have learned. The opinions I heard yesterday curled my hair.
The most unethical I heard was probably "I go into that room to deliver the love of Jesus and by gum I'm going to do it. If that person objects, s/he is probably "under conviction" by the Holy Spirit and just ready to give him/herself to Jesus. And no, I won't put away the cross after I finish using the Quiet Room even though it might offend a Jewish person who enters the room after me. Those people need to recognize their need for Jesus."
Obviously I'm clumping statements and putting my own spin on them. But when I objected to the last statement by reminding the speaker that Jews have a very good reason to be offended by the cross, he countered by telling me that there were Messianic Jews who have seen the light and that no Jew should be offended. Excuse me? I was thunderstruck and couldn't conjure up a good response.
Fortunately, one of the hospital nurses, a young man who works in the ER, was there because of his interest in spiritual care, and his contributions were invaluable, as he took the issue out of the theological realm and put it in the power realm by saying "when a patient is in the hospital, s/he is in the least powerful position s/he may have ever been and you, as a chaplain or a nurse or doctor, have incredible power over what happens to him/her. There is a power differential here that must not be exploited. When you proselytize in the hospital room, you are wielding unfair power."
Nothing daunted, the pastor in question (who is doubtless a good and loving man but passionate about his relationship to Jesus) reiterated that he was going to pray for people anyway, even if they asked him not to. He would go outside the room and pray for this lost soul. And he wasn't going to put the cross and Bible away when he was leaving the Quiet Room; another volunteer would have to do that because for him it would be a slap in Jesus' face. And if the hospital didn't like it, he wouldn't serve as a chaplain anymore.
The blood pressure was pretty high in the room, as you can imagine. Afterwards, the VC, the nurse, and S & I talked about what we'd been part of and brainstormed some next steps. She's going to see about getting a CPE supervisor to come talk about the philosophy of chaplaincy at our next meeting.
What gets me is that most pastors trained evangelically have Christian Privilege so deeply engrained in their psyches that they can't see that any other religion has any credibility at all. They don't see that this kind of behavior is arrogant and disrespectful and actually causes more anxiety than it dispels.
Well, that's off my chest. Guess I'd better go back to the sermon now.