By Michael Elmore
While working for a healthcare institution as a chaplain, I had a serious difference of opinion with management over their point of view regarding spirituality. They held to the idea that “there are many pathways to God”. This viewpoint is extremely popular today and reflects a majority opinion in healthcare at this present time.
The idea that “there are many pathways to God” was birthed out of the necessity to meet the spiritual needs of a plurality of patients who held views outside the scope of traditional Christianity. It is true that our country is becoming more diverse in its religious views. It is equally true that healthcare facilities have been confronted with this problem. However, their response has been to innovate by promoting religious tolerance.
This presents a problem. In order to meet this need, healthcare facilities have had to radically differentiate between religion and spirituality. Under this new definition, religion is seen as beliefs based on a set of sacred writings which offer a moral code that necessitates a change in behavior.
Spirituality, on the other hand, is that which gives meaning, hope and comfort to the patient outside the confines of traditional religious practices. Spirituality is primarily a response to a person’s felt needs and offers cognitive and emotional help to those in pain. The focus of spirituality can center on the comfort found in family life, relationships with friends and acquaintances, and may include reflecting upon hobbies as well as favorite pets. Spirituality is sometimes based on the transcendence found in nature, or personal theological views held outside accepted organized religion. These ideas are often very personal and have little rational basis.
As a result, separating religion and spirituality has nullified traditional religious practices in medicine. Now there exists a bias in favor of spirituality which has eliminated traditional religious practice. First of all, spirituality fails to recognize that Christianity is not about religion but is about relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Second, healthcare institutions continue to hire Christian ministers, by and large, and then prohibits them from practicing that which they have been trained for – presenting help through Christian values. I found that this attacked my integrity as a chaplain and left me in a quagmire of my commitment to Christ and prostituting myself to the facility which provided my paycheck. This is a difficulty quandary to be left in.
One answer is don’t hire Christian chaplains if they are prohibited from sharing their faith. Instead, hire social workers who are far better equipped to meet emotional needs.
One of the most visible examples of the idea of “there are many pathways that lead to God” was articulated by a national leader while appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He said that “getting to God is like climbing a mountain – there are many pathways to God”. I like the response made to this statement by Christian broadcaster Cal Thomas.
said that getting to God is more like what an airline pilot must do every day. The pilot must land straight on the runway to avoid a crash and burn. The Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of this is death.” Proverbs 16:25. Let us be aware then that while healthcare institutions promote a “spiritual viewpoint” it is not necessarily Christian. Cal