What’s Wrong with the World

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Medical "professionalism" and religion

By now a number of my readers will have heard of the case in England of a Christian doctor censured for suggesting to an adult patient that Jesus might be of help to him. This in addition to rendering ordinary medical treatment. The patient's mom (!) reported the doctor to the Committee for Public Safety from Christianity. (Okay, that's not really what it's called.)

Wesley J. Smith makes a number of sensible comments on this. Smith includes an anecdote about a doctor who did not offend him by offering him a New Age DVD.

The case of Julea Ward shows that we have a new idea of "professional standards" taking hold in the helping professions, and that among other things, these "standards" would mean that by definition any sort of religious brand or flavor of counseling or medicine is unprofessional and prima facie harmful. The British reaction to this doctor's brief mention of Jesus is typical of this approach.

Now, what's interesting about this and perhaps even more dangerous than we conservatives might realize is this: Most of us assume that there can be such things as self-consciously Christian schools, self-consciously Christian counseling practices and associations, and even perhaps self-consciously Christian medical practice--the latter coming up most notably in the case of medical missions with an avowedly evangelistic purpose, such as were much lauded in my childhood. (See this bookabout Viggo Olsen, medical missionary to Bangladesh, who was much admired in the church in which I was raised. I seem to recall that Dr. Olsen personally visited our church. When I was a little girl my own ambition was to grow up and be a doctor and join this ministry.)

It might seem that the definitions of "professionalism" in the helping fields that require not bringing up Christianity and above all never "proselytizing" would apply only to secular practices. But why should this limitation hold? If it really is harmful, manipulative, and unprofessional to mix religion and counseling or medicine, then that's that.

It therefore occurs to me to wonder: As these concepts of the value-free and especially religion-free professions take hold, what will be the impact upon self-defined Christian practices and ministries? Will they try to neutralize their approach? Will medical missionaries, where "missionaries" includes the desire to spread the Gospel, be defined out of existence? (I note, here, that when several "medical missionaries" were murdered by the Taliban in Afghanistan, their families strenuously assured everyone that they did not "proselytize" but merely gave medical care.) What about Christian counseling?

It's bad enough that people like Julea Ward cannot get secular counseling degrees. It would be even worse if they couldn't get Christian ones, either, and worse still if Christians developed a false conscience about spreading the Gospel while helping people in need.

Comments (4)

Will medical missionaries, where "missionaries" includes the desire to spread the Gospel, be defined out of existence?

These people are practicing and living, almost by definition, beyond the reach of the licensing boards in their home countries. When was the last time your state medical board got---or had the capacity or jurisdiction to deal with---a complaint from a rural region of a third-world country?

True enough, Titus. That's part of the reason I'm not sure it is going to happen or has happened (I'm no longer in touch with that world, so I don't know what changes may have already occurred). On the other hand, consider the self-censorship of the Afghanistan medical missionaries. One mechanism I do think is entirely possible is simply medical school training and the influence that training could have on the self-definition of medical missionaries. Another is the infiltration of such ideas from the secular world into seminaries and missions schools--"We're there to help. It would be wrong for us to 'exploit' these people by trying to 'proselytize' them when we are there to help," etc.

There could be other mechanisms. For example, I would imagine that plenty of foreign medical missionaries would want to retain their licenses to practice in the U.S. for a time when they retire or simply decide to end their stint abroad. Would they plausibly at that point have to prove to some U.S. board's satisfaction or even just the satisfaction of a U.S. hospital or practice they might wish to join that they had not been involved in proselytizing during the previous, I dunno, twenty years of their lives which compose nearly their entire curriculum vitae?

Smith includes an anecdote about a doctor who did not offend him by offering him a New Age DVD.

Mentioning Chirst is forbidden, yet how many hospitals feature Reiki healing? It's not so much as professionalism vs. religion as professionalism vs. a certain religion.

I think you're right. Scott. I know a nursing student who tells me that Eastern meditation and that kind of stuff is being treated seriously in at least one nursing course. I saw an article some ten years ago already in my local hospital's newsletter that literally said that pregnancy nausea is caused by "negative chi" (sp?).

So we're allowed to teach Eastern pseudo-science with a grave, straight face, thereby undermining the actual medical rigor of our hospitals and medical training programs, but any actual suggestion of serious Christianity to a patient is verboten.

If I close my eyes and deliberately fuzz my brain, it makes a kind of upside-down, crazy "sense." Only I have trouble expressing the insight. Something related to "those who don't believe in God will believe in anything." It's somehow related to the fact that Christianity makes truth claims and refuses to be patronized. The Reiki healing junk makes postmoderns feel good, New Agey, and multicultural without actually challenging them in any way.

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