Increasing Trend to Secularize Chaplaincy -- by George Hull, Dip.Th., Th.M.

27 Jun 2016 1:17 PM | Perry Miller, Editor (Administrator)

There has been an increasing trend in the pastoral care movement to move away from chaplaincy and pastoral care in favor of promoting and providing "spiritual care." Many hospital departments have changed their names to reflect this shift in philosophy and practice.

Spirituality circumvents religion and promotes chaplaincy as a generic practice. Religions are messy. They have rules, doctrines, beliefs, ethics---some of which are flawed to be sure. But religions usually stand for something. Spirituality is an amorphous thing, an oblong blur, with implications of cosmic connection, but with no price tag---no demands no dogmas, and no ethics. Not even a dogma demanding justice and mercy. The only perceptible doctrine promoted by the spirituality movement is that people should feel good about themselves.

At its best the clinical pastoral movement teaches religious professionals to be available to everyone. It also teaches them to be critical of all religion---but dismissive of none. Religion has caused considerable mischief throughout history. But religion at its best calls forth some of the noblest behavior of which human beings are capable.

The clinical pastoral movement has been correct to be critical of each and every specific religious practice; within the limits of mutual respect and decorum. At the same time, however, it must take a permissive posture toward the various idiosyncratic manifestation of religion, giving them the benefit of the doubt. That is the basis on which the clinical pastoral movement began in the early 20th century. The movement did not attempt to create a new religion, particularly one that by implication would be superior to all the other "flawed religions" of the world. The promotion of spirituality results in diminishing the role of the hospital chaplain as a religious professional in favor of that of a generic approach which in the end a social worker or nurse can provide.

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George Hankins-Hull,  Dip.Th., Th.M​ 
Director of Pastoral Care and Clinical Pastoral Education
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
JHull@uams.edu