As you may have read in my first blog, I graduated last June with my Bachelors in Social Work (BSW) and will be starting next month in my Masters in Social Work at Arizona State University. Also I am a Bible-believing Christ-follower.
So how do those two facets work? Don’t they inherently contradict with logic being a brick wall between them? Isn’t one an obsolete, archaic, patriarchal, white privilege system and the other always relevant, far more empowering and defining of true liberation?
Since I have the BSW and have been a Christ-follower for over thirty years I hope to unpack these and then describe where I want to go after school.
Structurally social work is like psychology and sociology had a baby and blessed her to go into the world and reform society and the person into the best potential of wholeness and cooperation. The areas that the social worker is trained for in the individual is in various needs from basic to self-actualization (see Maselow’s Hierarchy). The social worker would work with the individual on their internal conversation according to their individual beliefs. How could religion, especially Christianity, compare with this?
Since I used the term Christ-follower with purpose and Jesus is the founder of the Christian faith, we should start with Jesus as the answer as it were. In his inaugural message in Luke 4 he said ““The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The advocacy of a social worker is epitomized in starting with those that are poor. They are the first category to look for internationally who are marginalized, out of the loop in being able to self-advocate and disempowered. Jesus starts with them. He said later in his ministry that “The poor you will always have with you” not because he did not care but because he wanted to enlighten his followers that they were in the context.
And this carried on to when St. Paul connected with the first apostles and had different missions that they would remember the poor first.
The next three characteristics can be done by Christianity and a social worker who is not a Christ-follower if interpreted figuratively: freedom from prison, educating the ignorant and setting people from being bullied.
But the first and last points are inherently spiritual and would be antithetical to modern social work interpretation. Preaching the gospel means you are preaching the agenda of a coming kingdom. When the Roman empire would expand into a territory it would make a difference that would saturate the culture with change. Agents of Rome would proclaim ahead to get ready for a new atmosphere for the person and the masses. They would so to speak proclaim the evangelion, which is translated as gospel.
Aha! And there is the point of mean Christianity forcing its ways on the world with intimidation and “might makes right”. But you would be missing out on the context entirely in that last part of proclaiming “the year of the Lord’s favor.” That was prefigured in the Old Testament with the year of Jubilee. Every fifty years slaves were set free, debts were forgiven. The restart button was pushed and people could start again.
The evangelion of Christ is forgiveness. To walk in that is to forgive those who have set you free which and makes really two types of slavery. Social work commonly as a profession will at best hold a perpetrator accountable. Though paying restitution for your crime is by all means universally a right principle, the root of bitterness that can eat one up like a cancer does not get addressed like the example of Jesus. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” ….”Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Where I hope to go with this as a social worker is to perceive the needs of the whole person but start with myself. “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:9-10).
I hope to be self-aware that I am a tall, white guy and be humble of that advantage but in a hope of unity and empowerment for the client. I also want to be aware that Christ-followers have not always followed the example of Jesus. Therefore I hope that while working in a pluralistic society that I will be able to be an example of what a Christian is and not one that Christ-followers have to apologize for. Overt preaching would thus not be my objective.
But do I still “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”? In some way yes. I still see in some social work discourse blaming, race-baiting, gender-baiting and class warfare. Those are for division for division’s sake. There is something better: the way of love. Not a complex theological concept but the breath of life at its best.