I was raised Catholic. went through periods of time when I was angry with the Church, and wouldn’t go for a while, but I always found my way back.
It’s been a few years since that. I’m now pretty comfortable identifying as an atheist.
I try not to be an asshole about it. Let’s face it, a lot of people are. I hate constantly having to hear about how sunshine is actually the smile of Jesus upon us, but it’s equally annoying to have to listen to a diatribe about how the Pledge of Allegiance didn’t include “under God” until 1954 and our nation is being brainwashed.
Um, that’s nice, SocialJerk, but what does this have to do with social work?
Thank you for keeping me on topic.
Religion comes up a lot. It’s what The View would call a hot topic. Sometimes, it comes up more often than I think it should.
We always want to start where the client is. We want to work with what’s important to them, identify their natural support systems, and help them to help themselves.
For some people, religion is a big part of this. I worked with one woman whose church prevented her from being evicted by loaning her the money to pay off her rental arrears. Her son made a lot of friends in Sunday School after moving from Ghana. It gave them a community.
So we used that, as much as we could. I felt much better closing her case and stepping out of her children’s lives knowing that her religious community was there.
My director loved this. Because he loves him some Jesus.
There are bibles, theology books, crosses, and bible quotes decorating his office. It makes me a little uncomfortable, because it seems kind of strange for a secular agency. I know that it would throw me off if I went there for counseling.
But I don’t say anything, because 1.) He signs my paychecks and 2.) I try not to be an asshole.
My director isn’t all that uncommon. People go into this field to help people. A lot of people are inspired by their religion to help. It’s what got me into a lot of volunteering and assorted other do-gooder-ness (that is definitely a word) when I was younger.
But when it comes to being where our clients are, we have to check it at the door. For reasons of self-determination, and not losing that sweet sweet city funding. Your journey to accepting the Lord was beautiful, I’m sure, but how is that helping this woman to enroll in a GED program?
I usually try to hold my tongue. Recently, at our staff holiday party (note my position in the “War on Christmas”) I felt like things went a little too far. I was told that we were waiting to serve the food until our director came in to lead us in prayer and a blessing.
I’m sorry, am I back at Girl Scout camp?
I had to register my discomfort. A couple of my workers looked mystified. Why would anyone object to a nice Christian prayer before a meal?
Why indeed. Once I said something, another person mumbled that, he “doesn’t do that,” and a sane Christian colleague informed them that a lot of people don’t pray, so if you want to, why not just do it to yourself?
I was looked at like the Grinch Who Stole Baby Jesus’ Birthday Party, but we were able to move on.
As happens so often, My So-Called Life accurately sums up my feelings on the matter. Angela Chase once questioned cheerleaders, saying, “Can’t people just like, cheer quietly? To themselves?”
During group supervision, it became an issue again.
A coworker was sharing a particularly tricky case. We were all throwing out possibilities for helping this family. Finally, Helpy McGee piped in with, “Just tell her to go to church!”
expert passable social worker, I tried to reframe this.
“You mean, ask if she goes to church? If she can get some support there?”
“Yeah, and if she doesn’t go tell her to go. They’ll do a lot for them there.”
Holy government funding, Batman!
“Or you could tell her to become a lesbian. The LGBT community is so supportive!”
Even if this wasn’t against agency policy, and even if I didn’t find proselytizing to be distasteful, it’s bad social work practice. Nothing would make me run for the hills more than a suggestion that I “just go to church.” I don’t know if a worker who suggested that could ever do anything to make me feel that they understood me.
What works for you does not necessarily work for me. I am a social worker because I believe that people have a responsibility to care for one another, and that our government has a responsibility to its people. I believe in human dignity, and that no one (except maybe the cast of the Jersey Shore) is beyond help.
God doesn’t factor in for me. And I’m fine with that.
I hope that my colleagues are as well.