Academic journal article Social Work

Letters

Academic journal article Social Work

Letters

Article excerpt

Social Work, Evangelical Christians, and Values

In his recent articles "Does Social Work Oppress Evangelical Christians? A 'New Class' Analysis of Society and Social Work" (October 2002) and "Value Differences between Social Workers and Members of the Working and Middle Classes" (January 2003), David Hodge raised a number of thought-provoking points about the social work profession's relationship with "groups who hold values that differ substantially from those affirmed by social workers" (Hodge, 2003, p. 117), "religious populations," and, in particular, "Evangelical Christians" (Hodge, 2002, pp. 401, 402). Hodge maintained that, as a group, social workers have become part of the "new class" or "knowledge class," which is involved in the production and distribution of knowledge, and tend to embrace values that diverge from those of the working and middle classes and, especially, Evangelical Christians. Hodge's (2002) key assertions and conclusions include:

How did the profession shift from a position of acceptance toward diverse populations to a stance of antagonism toward one of its principle [sic] founders? The answer lies in the profession's failure to deconstruct the "new class" ideology that increasingly pervades the profession. ... Accordingly, when an area of disagreement occurs between religious values and "new class" values (for example, sexual orientation), the profession's guiding ethical principles are superseded by its ideologically inspired drive to control the parameters of the debate by excluding divergent voices. (p. 406)

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A deeper problem is the metaphysical imbalance between the profession and the populations it is called to serve. Given the hostility frequently expressed against them in social work, Evangelicals and other people of faith have been discouraged from choosing social work as a career (Ressler, 1998). Consequently, the profession is no longer representative of the general population or of many ethnic or cultural minority groups. Although many social workers continue to self-identify as Christian, their heterodox beliefs, such as rejecting belief in a personal God of transcendent existence and power (Sheridan et al., 1992; Sheridan et al., 1994), indicate that they identify with value systems radically different from those affirmed by mainstream Christianity and other theistic traditions (Lauer, 1967; Ludwig, 1987). (p. 410)

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In general, graduate-level social workers affirmed positions to the left of bachelor's-level social workers who, in turn, held positions that were to the left of the working and middle classes. In accordance with those theorists that have singled out social work as an exemplar of the knowledge class, the results suggest that social workers affirm a distinct value framework that differs from that of most consumers of their services.... Consequently, social workers may inadvertently discriminate against clients who hold conservative values in practice settings, unconsciously assigning them out-group status and evaluating their narratives less favorably (Dor-Shav, Friedman, & Tcherbonogura, 1978). For example, school social workers may be reluctant to support students of faith who experience discrimination for articulating a faith-based perspective on what they perceive to be the moral inappropriateness of homosexual behavior, regardless of the profession's ethical injunctions prohibiting religious discriminatio n (NASW, 2000). (2003, pp. 114,115-116)

To support his claims, Hodge (2002) cited studies and presented data that suggest that significant numbers of social workers affirm value positions that are significantly more liberal than those of the working and middle classes, no long participate in the religious traditions of their childhood, have moved away from Christianity, feel negatively about their past religious experiences, do not believe in a personal God, and have limited or no involvement in organized religion or a spiritual group. …

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