Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Reaction essay on religion and social work.

This is a reaction a student wrote about religion and social work.  I thought it a good example of what Christian students might write when they consider social work's religious roots and the tensions between secular and religious approaches to helping others. 
Social work has been rooted in religion since the very beginning. Specifically I am focusing on Christianity. However, other religions also address social welfare. Within the Old Testament, one finds a variety of practices and commandments to care for the poor; the textbook pointed out the practices such as hospitality, gleaning, education of orphans, and visiting the ill (Popple, 2011). Throughout the scriptures, one can find that God is forming His people to live as a countercultural example to the dominant society. The distinguished Old Testament exegete and renowned biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann eloquently addresses this in his book, The Prophetic Imagination. Brueggemann describes the reign of King Solomon in three elements of the dominant culture. The three elements were affluence, oppressive social policy, and static religion (Brueggemann, 2001). The Mosaic laws were countercultural to these elements because they were laws of equality, politics of justice, and the religion of God’s freedom (Brueggemann, 2001). There is not enough time to go into depth on each of those, but ultimately the point is that the way of life for the Israelites was not merely to do these ‘charitable acts’ because it was just the right thing to do, but rather it was to establish God’s kingdom. This pattern of living countercultural continues throughout scripture within the New and Old Testament, and always contains the purpose of establishing the Kingdom of God, and that comes through the commandments to love and serve people(Surprised by Hope by New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright discusses this quite well). 
As I was reading the chapter on religion and social work I felt there was a pattern in regards to the motivation of the church helping people, which I think correlated to the different movements of thought in society. As society became more secularized, social welfare programs began to detach themselves from the church. As the text book was explaining the secularization of society, it mentioned that in the early years of social work the charity organization societies believed that poverty was a result of, “… a lack of abstinence, diligence, and thrift among the poor- all moral failings” (Popple, 2011). The text book goes on to explain that because of the churches attributing poverty to moral failings, social work became more secularized because it became known that these were not the causes of poverty (Popple, 2011). 
Unfortunately, during this time, I believe that the church had misguided theological thought. Predominantly, I believe the misguided thought was that the point of Christianity was to get to heaven. Although I do believe heaven has a role, I do not believe it is the entire point/purpose of Christianity but rather the point is to build up the kingdom of God now, and to be a foreshadowing of what the new creation will look like. This all being said, I do believe that the church should be involved in social welfare because God has called us to be a people who serve and love the poor. As a Christian who is a social worker, at times it can feel like Christianity and Social Work are clashing because there seems to be a constant tension between the secularization of social work and its religious roots. However, I find reconciliation in the fact that I am called to love and accept people. Therefore, whether I am having to present the option of abortion or work with someone who is homosexual, I do not feel that I need to directly have to state my beliefs or force them on anyone (I would not want someone to do that to me, so why would I do that to someone else). Rather, if I can treat every client in a loving and accepting manner, then at least for the time I am with them, I have allowed them to experience the love of God. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”

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