Should we ask social workers to ignore their religious beliefs? : Community Care

Following debates over the role of faith in social work, Ryan Wise analyses whether insisting beliefs are put to one side is the right approach

Photo: Kieferpix/Fotolia







by Ryan Wise

In recent weeks there has been plenty of discussion in the social work community about the role of religion, and what part it can play in practice.

This was prompted by a social work student losing an appeal case against his university’s decision to expel him after he shared support for an American registrar who refused to give marriage licenses to gay couples on grounds of faith and said homosexuality was a ‘sin’. His appeal was on the basis that the university had unlawfully interfered with his rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

piece written in Community Care on 6 November inspired me to reflect on my own perspective of being a social worker, a practice educator and a gay male. I think it is important to look at the relationship between social work and religion with an emphasis on when religious belief leads one to hold views possibly at odds with ideas of equality; namely same-sex marriage.

I am personally fascinated by religion and faith, I completed my undergraduate in religious studies where I was curious to explore the complexities of religion and the influence it has on society and people’s thoughts, views and behaviours.

I respect faith and belief and recognise how religion can be a drive to do well in the world. However, when it comes to views against same-sex marriage, I then struggle. Theologically, I must admit I am not au fait with the intricacies of teaching in monotheistic faith which indicates same-sex marriage as wrong.

Quite the contrary, my understanding is that most of the teachings focused on equality.

Right way forward

When confronted with these views, I do wonder if questioning why they are held is the right way forward. I don’t know for sure, but for me it is about understanding how one has come to this view.

It is key to explore such views and explore faith-based viewpoints more generally. I don’t propose questioning theologically, but adopting a curious approach to ethics and values which our profession holds at its foundations.

When I started as a practice educator I was informed on my first day that a high number of students on the University course held the view that same-sex marriage was at odds with their faith and thus possibly wrong. I struggled with this and, truthfully, I still am struggling. I was perhaps surprised as a view which opposed same-sex marriage was one I considered to be held by few rather than the many, like it was in this context.

I believe it is my role to encourage different thinking and curiosity. The example of referring to homosexuality as a sin is perhaps a clear red flag but what about the grey areas? The grey areas indicate that we can only consider each case in its own individual context.

Beliefs in social work

Perhaps it is about the individual person’s ability to consider their beliefs and values concerning same-sex marriage and reflect on difference. It can be argued that not agreeing with same-sex marriage is not the same as a homophobic stance, but again we have the issue of equality.

People have different beliefs, and often the question is how they can be put to one side to effectively practice in social work. I feel this is the wrong position to take and wonder why this is suggested. I do not think we can put our values and beliefs to one side.

We engage with difference all the time and we must engage with ourselves reflexively.

There is a difficulty when beliefs and values are at odds with equality, although this can be explored through the Social Graces. Devised by Roper Hall and Burnham, Social Graces represents aspects of difference in beliefs, power and lifestyle, visible and invisible, voiced and unvoiced, to which we might pay attention too.

The Social Graces have grown since their original development and currently represent: Gender, Geography, Race, Religion, Age, Ability, Appearance, Class, Culture, Ethnicity, Education, Employment, Sexuality, Sexual Orientation, and Spirituality.

An important part of self-reflexivity is engaging with the Social Graces. Religion is only one of the graces, do you have specific ideas about people’s ages, or people’s class or race? Are we always acutely aware of what we think or believe? With so many Graces in play at any one time, should differences over religion and faith play such a prominent role in deeming what makes a person fit or unfit to be a social worker?

My point is that we all hold different views, ideas and beliefs and we must engage with ourselves in the reflexive process to question those.

Critical reflection

For me it is no coincidence that in my colleagues’ article they mentioned the student in the case central to this renewed debate did not ‘demonstrate critical reflection or regret about his comments, showing little insight into how LGBTQ+ service users might experience such an attitude’.

Critical reflection is a process, a process supported and encouraged by good quality supervision.

I have learned that it is my role as a practice educator to engage with beliefs and values concerning same-sex marriage which are at odds to my own and develop curious thinking.

I am coming from a standpoint that one can hold views that are different, or be seen by the majority as ‘unethical’, and if they are willing to engage with their beliefs then they can practice as a social worker.

I am not saying this is a right or wrong view, merely pointing out there is a plurality of beliefs and values.

If someone is sharing beliefs or values that are outwardly discriminatory or oppressive then it is different to being opposed to same-sex marriage because you believe it to be at odds with your faith. If same-sex marriage is not compatible with your religious beliefs, what counts as ‘good enough’ engagement or reflection and do we have a standard to work towards to allow practitioners to start working with vulnerable children and families?

Fostering curiosity

I think there must be a standard; it is for the practice educator or manager to consider that individual’s capacity to reflect and engage with the Social Graces; if there is evidence of little-to-no reflexive willingness or skill I would question how that person would be able to effectively encourage and empower children and families to change.

I have spoken a lot about what is expected of someone else, but there’s also a question around how I address my own views and my own responsibilities. I must be open and foster curiosity, creating a space for students to explore their thinking. I need to engage with my own approach. I respect religion, but I am not a religious person myself; do I think about this enough when working with those who hold strong beliefs and values?

Reflexivity is not just for those who have faith, or who may hold views we deem controversial, its for every member of the profession.

I recently attended a talk on Witchcraft and Spirit possession. Here I saw a particularly inspirational speaker who spoke openly about how, as a pastor’s wife and a social worker, she skilfully articulated how she negotiated challenges of faith and practice.

The reflexive skill showed was outstanding and left me feeling enthused.

We need to identify our own areas of development and realise that this is not an easy area to articulate or navigate. It is important to consider the culture of organisations and the profession, and how they can work together to bring out these conversations.

This is necessary, not only to ensure that practice is anti-discriminatory but also support practitioners to feel that they should not have to hide their faith.

Ryan Wise is an advanced social work practitioner in children’s services. He tweets @ryanwise18.


Source : Should we ask social workers to ignore their religious beliefs? : Community Care

A primer on executive power: Trump can’t end same-sex marriages, but he could speed up deportations – LA Times

Abortion, same-sex marriage, deportations, global warming, Obamacare: On what topics could President Trump make big changes on his own? What are the limts?

Source: A primer on executive power: Trump can’t end same-sex marriages, but he could speed up deportations – LA Times

Why The Vatican Is Being So Weird About The Pope’s Meeting With Kim Davis, According To An Expert

Original post from Think Progress



UPDATE: A day after this post was published, the Vatican announced that the meeting between Kim Davis and Pope Francis “should not be considered a form of support of her position.” Their statement did not clarify the original impetus for the meeting, but their explanation lends credence to some of the theories posited below.

News broke Tuesday evening that during Pope Francis’s recent visit to the United States, the pontiff briefly met with Kim Davis, a Kentucky clerk jailed for refusing to issue same-sex couples marriage licenses. Reports of the rendezvous, which most outlets agree occurred although the Vatican still refuses to formally confirm it, riled both progressive and conservative supporters of Francis.

Some — including Davis — saw the rendezvous as an implicit show of support for the clerk’s cause, a shocking move from a pope who maintains the Catholic Church’s opposition to homosexual relationships but has taken pains to avoid wading into culture wars. Writers such as Crux’s John Allen framed the incident as an example of how Francis doesn’t fit neatly into any of America’s tidy political categories. But many Catholic commentators were quick to warn against drawing any firm conclusions about the meeting, which was reportedly arranged by Vatican officials and not American bishops. In an essay for America magazine, a Jesuit publication, prominent Catholic writer James Martin noted that unless the Vatican explicitly frames the meeting as an endorsement of Davis, people shouldn’t overlay their own beliefs over the pope’s actions.

“Not to put too fine a point on it, but Pope Francis also met Mark Wahlberg, and that does not mean that he liked ‘Ted,’” Martin wrote, referencing the Boston-born actor’s widely-panned film featuring a talking bear.

Information about the exchange between the Holy Father and Davis has been sparse, provided almost entirely by Davis and her lawyers, who saw it as a formal approval of her actions. National Catholic Reporter columnist Michael Sean Winters called for the Vatican to reveal more information about the meeting on Thursday, arguing that the lack of details could taint of the pope’s otherwise successful trip to the United States.

“Someone needs to say something or we will only know what Ms. Davis and her lawyers want us to know,” he wrote. “The rest will be speculation, endless speculation … If the pope was badly served by his staff, let that be known. If the pope was badly served by himself, let that be known. But, neither the bishops nor the Vatican can afford to let this fester another minute.”

To get more insight about the possible reasons for the secret meeting, ThinkProgress spoke with Thomas Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Reese — who, like Pope Francis, is a Jesuit priest — helped break down the Vatican’s unusual caginess about the meet up, and offered some hints as to what it could mean.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why, exactly, is the Vatican being so weird about this meeting between Pope Francis and Kim Davis?

There are two possibilities. One is that somebody brought her to the Vatican embassy here in Washington and simply presented her to the pope without much internal discussion.

So basically, “Hello pope, here’s this lady who was a conscientious objector, isn’t that sad?” And the pope said “Oh, courage [to you], God bless you. Here’s a rosary!”

That view is supported to some extent by the very minimal — really, almost nothing — explanation of the visit by the Vatican. If the Vatican wanted to make a point, they know how to make a point. But this has been so downplayed: The Vatican’s response

On the other hand, the particular fights that the local bishops have with their government aren’t necessarily a high priority for the Vatican. For example, when [U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry met with his counterpart in the Vatican, they spent almost the hour and a half talking about international issues — the Middle East, refugees, peace, reconciliation, those kinds of things. At one point during the meeting, the Vatican’s Secretary of State says to Kerry, “We have to bring up the bishop’s concern of religious freedom.”

Kerry’s response was, “Yes, I know you do.” [laughter]

That was the extent of the discussion. It was about five minutes. But when the press release came out, it included a line about that … And that’s what everyone reported on, even though the Vatican is on the same page with the U.S. with all these other issues. The media didn’t know that only five minutes were devoted to the topic, and that it was with a wink and a nod.

[So this supports the first] hypothesis that the pope had no idea what was going on [when he met with Davis]. The USCCB is saying that they had nothing to do with it. But it could have been one or two bishops who thought this would have been a good thing to do … Since the pope leads through actions, then meeting with this pope could have been seen as support.

On the other hand, the particular fights that the local bishops have with their government aren’t necessarily a high priority for the Vatican. For example, when [U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry met with his counterpart in the Vatican, they spent almost the hour and a half talking about international issues — the Middle East, refugees, peace, reconciliation, those kinds of things. At one point during the meeting, the Vatican’s Secretary of State says to Kerry, “We have to bring up the bishop’s concern of religious freedom.”

Kerry’s response was, “Yes, I know you do.” [laughter]

That was the extent of the discussion. It was about five minutes. But when the press release came out, it included a line about that … And that’s what everyone reported on, even though the Vatican is on the same page with the U.S. with all these other issues. The media didn’t know that only five minutes were devoted to the topic, and that it was with a wink and a nod.

[So this supports the first] hypothesis that the pope had no idea what was going on [when he met with Davis]. The USCCB is saying that they had nothing to do with it. But it could have been one or two bishops who thought this would have been a good thing to do … Since the pope leads through actions, then meeting with this pope could have been seen as support.

So what’s the other theory?

The other hypothesis is that the pope could have known [the situation with Davis], but he doesn’t give it the same high priority as other things.

There’s no explanation, no, “this is what this meeting means,” from the Vatican. The Vatican may have seen this as supporting the U.S. Bishops in the lightest possible way, and I have no idea which one is really the truth — maybe, both are true!

It’s like reading tea-leaves when you’re dealing with the Vatican, because they don’t always explain what they’re doing, and it’s not like Washington … There are probably not more than a dozen people — maximum — who were involved in this meeting [between the pope and Davis], and none of them are talking.

And since the Vatican won’t talk about it, this story will end, probably in a week — except with activists on both sides.

In January, the Vatican also refused to confirm a meeting between the pope and a transgender man, even though it was widely covered in the press. Do you see parallels between that and the Vatican’s treatment of the Kim Davis meeting?

Yeah… You know, part of Pope Francis’ DNA is to be compassionate to whoever is in front of him in the moment. One moment it might be an LGBT person, the next it could be a prisoner.

That is simply who Pope Francis is: he relates to whoever is directly in front of him, without any policy implications.

Is there a difference between the Kim Davis meet up and the pope’s visit with the Little Sisters of the Poor, which is suing the Obama administration for allegedly violating their religious freedom by including the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act?

Absolutely a difference. The former, the Little Sisters of the Poor, was much more of a conscious decision [by the pope and the Vatican]. But again, it was done in a way that wasn’t “in your face” to the Obama administration. Pope Francis just went to see the Little Sisters of the Poor — these nice ladies who take care of old people.

It’s like when the pope was in Palestine and leaned his head against the wall and prayed — but he said absolutely nothing. [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu would cringe, but how can you attack a man for praying?

Kim Davis symbolizes the continual last-ditch fight against gay marriage [in the United States], one that people are simply not going to give up. And I think that’s why it was so hurtful to the LGBT community.

And I’m not sure the pope realized how that would have been interpreted. He just probably thought “This is someone persecuted for their religious beliefs, isn’t that sad?”

Any other differences you see?

The final thing I would say is that, for Pope Francis, [the same-sex marriage debate] is kind of “been there done that.” In Argentina, when this whole fight about gay marriage came up, he was one of the few voices among the [Argentinian] bishops who didn’t just want to fight gay marriage, but actually proposed an alternative. And he proposed some sort of domestic partnership [compromise] … but he lost among the bishops on that. It was the only vote he ever lost among the bishops in Argentina. This, of course, was all behind closed doors. (Editor’s note: This history has been discussed by journalists and biographers of Pope Francis)

So [after he was outvoted], he supported the bishop’s conference publicly, thinking let’s stick together on this. Now — they lost too, and gay marriage is now legal in Argentina! But he did not continue to fight gay marriage [in Argentina]. Unlike the bishops in the United States, it was “okay, we lost, let’s move on.”

He had other priorities, like the poor.

One final question: Is it normal for the Vatican to give out rosaries, like the pope did for Kim Davis and her husband?

Oh yeah. They must have thousands and thousands of rosaries that they give out. He did that at the prison … They give them to journalists. They’re just a nice thing the Vatican does.





Ireland Becomes the First Country to Legalize Marriage Equality at the Ballot

Original post from Care2


marriage equality

Ireland did it! In a landslide victory the Republic of Ireland has become the first country in the world to legalize marriage equality by a public vote. Here’s what you need to know and why this may even be important for the marriage equality fight in other countries.

The vote, which occurred on Friday, May 22, saw a large voter turn-out and, most notably, many Irish people returning home from England and other areas to ensure they could have a say in the vote as Ireland has no postal or absentee voting system.

The result, which was announced by late Saturday, saw more than 62 percent of the voting public say “yes” to same-sex marriage, with just under 38 percent against it. While that was largely in step with the polls, the fact that the Yes campaign managed to retain the strength of its support surprised many as the margin was expected to narrow considerably once people actually got to the ballot.

Indeed, many commentators were worried that the vote could be much closer due to rural communities failing to really take in the Yes campaign messages, however in the end voting data suggests that support was strong even among rural communities, and certainly much stronger than had been expected.

Senior Religious Figures Say the Vote Was a Wake-Up Call

In the final few days before the vote, several conservative Catholic bishops took to their pulpits to urge a “no” vote on the marriage equality question, relying on tactics such as suggesting that children would be harmed and that mothers in particular be devalued as a result of same-sex couples being able to wed.

In the wake of such a massive defeat for the No campaign, religious progressives and secularists alike have warned that gone are the days when the Irish people would take morality lessons solely from the Church, and especially not when those same religious figures used scaremongering tactics about harming children and damaging society as a whole rather than simply relying on their religious teachings.

Fr Brendan Hoban, co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), is quoted as saying: “It was clear from the beginning that the bishops’ decision in policy terms to campaign for a blunt No vote was alienating even the most conservative of Irish Catholics.”

In particular, reflections on the No campaign have said its chief mistake was to try to use the age of the Yes movement against them: after campaigning began in earnest at the start of the year it quickly became apparent that the younger generations were overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality. The Church therefore set itself against that movement, but in so doing it may have made a blunder that will have long-lasting consequences. As we know, religious influence is in decline in many places, and particularly in Ireland where prosperity has led to a rise in secularism. The Church needs young people on its side if it is to survive as even a shadow of the former power it once was, but by being so uncompromising during its backing of the No campaign–which also received heavy support from American religious groups–there is the fear that it has alienated Ireland’s younger generations, something that can not be easily undone.

 A Call for Action in Northern Ireland

Critically, the vote in the Republic has been seen as a chance to push the Northern Ireland government to act on this issue. Northern Ireland is now the only place in mainland UK that does not recognize same-sex marriage despite the fact that public polls show that there is significant support for marriage equality.

Unfortunately, Northern Ireland lawmakers appear to be unmoved by the strength of support that was seen across the border. DUP MLA Peter Weir is quoted by the BBC as saying that, essentially, it doesn’t matter what public appetite wants, it’s lawmakers that have the final say:

“We are defending the role of traditional marriage,” he said.

“This is an issue that has been debated on four occasions in the assembly and, on each occasion, it has been rejected by the majority of assembly members.

“We believe that the traditional marriage definition is correct one. We would be concerned about the impact on Churches.

“We don’t really run social policy in this country by way of referendum.”

What’s interesting is the disconnect there between the public and Northern Ireland’s lawmakers, and that never makes for a good time for presiding governments. What seems certain now, more than ever, is that Northern Ireland’s ban on marriage equality cannot last for much longer and now it’s a question of whether Northern Ireland’s lawmakers will finally act, or whether the courts will need to be involved.

What is very encouraging though is that this vote has also emboldened same-sex marriage advocates in Australia, Germany (which has equivalent partnership rights but technically not marriage) and in Italy, where activists have vowed to demonstrate that the religious hold on this issue has slipped and that the public is ready for marriage equality.

So congratulations to the Republic of Ireland whose vote in favor of marriage equality was incredibly meaningful not just within its borders, but for same-sex marriage battles across Europe, too!



Same-sex marriage in Finland means standing up to Russia

Original post from The Conversation

‘………….AUTHOR    Nicholas Prindiville, PhD Graduate in Political History and East European Studies at UCL

Russia won’t like this. Cliff Gilmore, CC BY-NC-ND

Finland and Russia are next door neighbours and have a long shared history. But when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, the two countries are worlds apart.

Finland has often sought to placate Russia over the years by allowing it to influence internal politics, but it is now taking a bold step. Following a parliamentary vote in November 2014, it looks like same-sex marriage will soon be legal in Finland – whether its neighbour likes it or not.

The November vote overruled a decision made by the parliament’s legal affairs committee, which had rejected a citizen-backed drive to amend marriage legislation and make it more inclusive. An amended marriage act is now predicted to come into force in 2016. This would bring Finland up to date with its Nordic peers to the west.

Further east, Russia continues to take the opposite path. In June 2013, the Russian parliament voted unanimously (with one abstention) to approve a law that effectively criminalises any public presentation of homosexuality as normal or equal to heterosexuality that could conceivably be seen by minors.

The decision sparked international condemnation in the lead up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Paavo Arhinmäki, Finland’s minister for sport at the time, refused to attend the opening ceremony, citing concern over Russia’s human rights record. A few months earlier, he had made his feelings about Russia’s stance clear by waving a rainbow flag at the World Athletic Championships in Moscow.

The gap between these two countries on LGBT rights has implications not only for how Finland sees Russia, but also how it views itself. A veiled wariness of Russia persists in Finnish politics and society, and this now extends into concerns for Finland’s LGBT community.

Testing the boundaries

Lappeenranta, in south-eastern Finland, is one of Finland’s primary border towns with Russia. A significant part of the local economy is geared towards visitors from Russia, who cross the border looking for good deals on luxury items.

A Tom of Finland stamp. Itella Posti Oy/Tom of Finland Foundation

In September 2014, a local newspaper, Lappeenrannan Uutiset, interviewed a handful of Russian visitors on what they thought of a new series of Finnish postal stamps honouring the iconic gay artist Touko Laaksonen, better known as Tom of Finland. The stamps featured his famous drawings of muscular men in various states of undress. The reaction, it appeared, was uniformly negative.

Lappeenrannan Uutiset followed their report up with an experiment. Two male journalists were sent walking around the streets of Lappeenranta hand-in-hand, in full view of Russian tourists. They reported some rubbernecking, stares and snickers, but no outright intimidation or hostility. The local police assured gay couples they should have nothing to fear.

Yet, the Lappeenranta articles showed how divided Finns and Russians are on this issue – many Russians see LGBT rights as a symbol of western moral decay, while Finns see the changes taking place as a symbol of modern Nordic social progress.

Playing nice

The trouble is, Finland has a history of pragmatism in its relations with Russia. It is a small country with a much larger, powerful neighbour which has an extensive history of expanding its “sphere of influence”. Finland was a part of the Russian Empirefor more than a century, from 1809 to 1917, and fought two wars with the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1944 to narrowly maintain its young independence.

During the Cold War, Finland’s long-serving president, Urho Kekkonen, decided that for his country to maintain a degree of freedom from Russia, it would have to make some voluntary concessions.

So Finland has not joined NATO, and resisted efforts to forge closer defence ties with other Nordic states – which would have been unpalatable for the Soviet Union. Western observers described this phenomenon as “Finlandisation”. In order to maintain its titular independence, Finland willingly allowed its larger neighbour to meddle in its internal affairs.

Parts of the Finnish media have also preferred to tread carefully when it comes to discussing Russia and LGBT rights. In a recent article about Finnish couples planning to adopt children from Russia, the Finnish national broadcaster YLE (which has historically been accused of promoting the government line on Finlandisation) notes that Russian law forbids adoptions to countries that permit same-sex marriage. It suggests that changing Finland’s marriage laws could prevent Finnish heterosexual couples from adopting Russian children. No judgement is passed on Russia’s anti-LGBT policies, but the implication is that Finland should still consider how Moscow might react to changes in its internal laws.

The need to avoid Russian expansionism is ever more pressing, given recent events in Ukraine. The predicament for modern Ukraine has been compared to Finland during the Cold War. Andrej Illarionov, Putin’s chief economic adviser from 2000 to 2005, caused some alarm in March 2014 when he told a Swedish newspaper that Putin hoped to “reclaim” Finland and restore the former borders of the Russian Empire.

Drawing a line in the sand

And yet, it would be unfair to characterise the tone in Finland as returning to Finlandisation. There are no real indicators that the country will walk back its intended gay-marriage legislation for the sake of Russian sensibilities. Nor is it likely to allow Russian authorities to use adoption regulations to shape or influence Finnish policy on LGBT rights.

In the Cold War, under Finlandisation, the Soviet Union was able to prevent the deepening of Finnish cooperation with the other Nordic states. Now, however, Finland’s gay-marriage law will bring it into line with Nordic norms, and affirm a degree of commitment to the social values that have come to characterise the Nordic region.

LGBT-rights may serve as a decisive issue for Finland in presenting itself as a modern Nordic state, leaving its historical reputation as almost a Russian vassal-state in the past. ……’