Academic journal article Social Work

Learning to Hear Each Others' Voice: A Response to Melendez and LaSala

Academic journal article Social Work

Learning to Hear Each Others' Voice: A Response to Melendez and LaSala

Article excerpt

It is a pleasure to respond to Melendez and LaSala's (2006) critique of my article "Epistemological Frameworks, Homosexuality, and Religion: How People of Faith Understand the Intersection between Homosexuality and Religion" (Hodge, 2005a). Over the course of our profession's history, we have expanded our understanding of diversity to include characteristics such as race, gender, and sexual orientation Both writers have contributed to this evolving understanding. Melendez has added to the andragogy knowledge base (Garcia & Melendez, 1997), and LaSala (2001, 2004) has enhanced our ability to provide culturally competent services to gay and lesbian clients.

The evolutionary process, however, has not always been smooth (Guzzetta, 1996; Sue & Sue, 2003). With each iteration of diversity, misunderstandings occurred as existing groups struggled to deal with previously unheard voices. Given the often problematic task of interpreting text (Derrida, 1976), misunderstandings occurred when existing definitions and tools were applied in new ways. At present, the profession is beginning to grapple with the issue of spiritual diversity. Consequently, it is perhaps unsurprising that Melendez and LaSala seem to have misunderstood some of the content of my article, including its primary point.


As Melendez and LaSala underscore, social work has an ethical mandate to "serve all with respect and dignity" (p. 376). As a result of changing immigration patterns--stemming in part from the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act (P.L. 89-236) in 1965--spiritual diversity in the United States has increased dramatically (Smith, 2002; Smith & Seokho, 2005). The nation's existing spiritual diversity has been supplemented by growing numbers of Korean Presbyterians, Soviet Jews, Indian Hindus Latino Pentecostals, Punjabi Sikhs, Asian Muslims, and Hispanic Catholics. Many of these individuals affirm the historic, mainstream tenets of their respective faith traditions. Called "orthodox believers" by some, they often self-identify as "people of faith." The creation of this rich, colorful, spiritual mosaic has resulted in the United States becoming perhaps the most spiritually diverse nation on the planet (Eck, 2001).

In addition to providing services to all, the National Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics (NASW, 2000) calls on us to pay particular attention to the needs of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. As implied earlier, individuals have multiple identities (Wambach & Van Soest, 1997). Although spiritual identity plays a predominant role for many people of faith, other identities also shape their status in society. Orthodox believers are disproportionately likely to be African American, Latino, Native American, female, working class, or poor (Davis & Robinson, 1997; Hodge, 2002b; McAdams, 1987;Wilcox, 2004).

To fulfill our ethical mandates with people of faith (or any other group), we must understand how they tend to construct reality (Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992; Wambach & Van Soest, 1997). It is here, perhaps, that Melendez and LaSala's central misunderstanding occurred. The key point of my article was to expand our understanding of diverse reality constructions. Toward this end, I attempted to set aside my own beliefs, enter the worldview of people of faith using traditional Christians as a proxy, and tell a story that reflects how members of the group tend to view the world. As I argued (for example, p. 213), it is not a one-way street. Social workers also need to understand common reality constructions among gay and lesbian clients. As the NASW Standards for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice (NASW, 2001) states, we do not have to agree with the values of the groups that make up society. We do, however, need to understand how members of these groups tend to construct reality so that we can provide culturally competent services. …

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