The Intersection of Race and Faith: Having the Courage of Joshua – Overcoming Personal Barriers to Black Church Outreach

HardyK0313I was fortunate enough a couple of years ago to teach an elective course focused on religion at a prominent state university in Connecticut. One of the assignments for the course requires students to attend a worship service at three different churches throughout the semester and present about their experiences to the class. This week a student asked, in a typically roundabout manner, whether I thought she would be viewed suspiciously and would be unwelcome at any of the services. She said this because she is white and the congregations the students have to visit are predominantly Black. As the only non-Black student in the class, she worried that she would be uncomfortable. Her focus was on how she would feel in the space of the “other.” Her classmates shared that her concern is one they have to face every day except Sunday, even in their own university.


My student’s concern is not new to this class nor is it uncommon for many white people in general. However, as social workers and Christians, we are called on many levels to care for those who have so little, to assist those in their time of need, and to love those whom society has forsaken. We feed, clothe, shelter and heal in the name of God and in accordance with our professional Code of Ethics. These are noble aims and no other profession has these aims at its core in the same way as ours equipping us to render service across a diversity of populations wrestling with a variety of overwhelming challenges.

Yet some among us face trepidation and fear rejection when considering outreach to members of our own Christian family whose faces do not resemble our own. The Black Church, in particular, has had very little outreach from the social work profession despite the deep need for the services and support that professional social workers can provide. The Black Church continues to be the most important institution in the broader African-American community offering both spiritual and social support during times of crisis and they make a way out of no way by rendering service through the benevolence of well-intentioned congregants and providing resources drawn from the tithes and offerings of those who have just a little more to give. Black Churches in low-income communities have been de facto social service agencies for generations – doing the work of God on Sunday morning and the work of the social worker on Monday morning.

As Christian social workers, we can no longer cede this work solely to the Black Church because of the barriers we fear based on racial difference. We cannot allow struggling communities to scratch their way out of the financial, political, and social strife to which they have been relegated through institutional bigotry and prejudice because of individual bigotry and prejudice. We are called to lead like Joshua and to “fear not” whatever the unknown may be because we are walking in God’s purpose. We must act as ambassadors of our faith and our profession using our shared belief in helping those in need to make connections to Black Church clergy and congregations. We have resources that can be brought to bear in the ongoing fight for social and economic justice faced daily by those who are served by the Black Church. This will require, however, starting where these populations are and getting beyond our own personal barriers so that we can help the leaders and members of the Black Clergy lead their people to the promised land.

Kimberly Hardy, PhD, MSW is an assistant professor of Social Work at St. Joseph University in Hartford, Connecticut. She has been a frequent workshop presenter at NACSW conventions, and co-guest editor of an upcoming special issue of Social Work and Christianity focused on the Black Church and Social Reform. She has been a member of NACSW since 2010.

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A Sabbatical Assigned by God (Without the Guilt)

 

NugentK0914When the Fall semester started at Longwood University’s Department of Social Work, something – or should I say someone – was missing from the usual hustle and bustle of the starting of classes, meetings with students, and faculty meetings.  After 14 consecutive years of teaching a full load of practice classes, advising students, and fulfilling multiple obligations to my university, I am taking my first sabbatical this semester!

As social work educators, we do our best to weave into our curriculum whenever and wherever possible the importance of self-care.  Even my syllabi proudly reiterate the importance of self-care and include experiential exercises offered in the courses I teach focusing stress management,  play,  and even  “a life outside social work.” I am committed to teaching undergraduates about the need to recharge their batteries and avoid burnout in order to be more effective social workers.

On a deeper level, the word of God emphasizes the importance of harvesting/recharging/and resting as well.  Yet I struggle to live this out fully in my own life. Here I am at the beginning of a semester ready to beat myself up for not carrying a full time teaching load. I fall short of turning over thoughts like the following to the care of my loving God:

  • “What will my colleagues think of me since I am not carrying a full teaching load?”

  • “What if they like the adjunct instructor filling in for me better than they like me?”

  • “Do I really deserve to be on sabbatical?”

  • “What do I have to do to show my colleagues how hard I have worked this semester?”

Frankly, I am not sure what my life would be like if I were not able to  work on expanding my spiritual life on a daily basis.  I find it is essential to find my identity in Christ as opposed to finding my  identity simply in what I do for a living. When I surround myself with people who want what is in my highest good (people such as my husband, my son, and my mentor), I am constantly redirected to find my real purpose in God, who wants all of us to be rested and cared for in His divine mercy.

The “flesh” wants to torture me with thoughts of not deserving or being worthy of this sabbatical. However, this practice professor in social work is a child of God who is worthy of much more than just one brief sabbatical, which will come to an end at the end of the semester. My real sabbatical rest is eternal life, which was granted by my main Employer who is the savior of this world.  I rejoice and can count my blessings for this amazing gift of a guilt-free sabbatical which will never end.

Kris Nugent is an associate professor in Social Work at Longwood Unversity in Farmville, VA. She teaches undergraduate classes full-time  in the area of social work practice. In addition, she teaches online classes in the area of addiction and global social work.  Please e-mail her if you have any questions at nugentkm@longwood.edu.

A Christian Social Worker’s View of Sexuality

SedlacekD0814As a social work educator, I teach a courses on Human Sexuality and Marriage and Family at Andrews University.  In my years of teaching this course, I have found that only about 10% of the students received solid instruction about the topic of sexuality from their parents. The rest have learned about sex and sexuality from a class in school, from their peers or friends, from reading books, or by trial and error.  If we assume that these students represent a cross-section of the Christian community, we are failing our children miserably when it comes to this extremely important topic.

If parents are not comfortable embracing their own sexuality, it will be difficult for them to comfortably speak about it with their children.  Many Christians labor under the misconception that sex is dirty, something to done in the dark, and certainly not talked about openly.  When many parents finally get up the courage to give “the talk” to their children, they do so with great discomfort because they are burdened with their own sexual shame or embarrassment. While many in our society have swung to the opposite extreme of endorsing sexual permissiveness where “anything goes,” our enemy, Satan, is happy to lead us to either extreme as long as we do not see God’s beautiful plan for human sexuality.

As Christian social workers, we are in a unique position to present God’s perspective on human sexuality. First of all, God created humans as sexual beings.  That makes sex good in God’s eyes.  Sex is intimately connected with both marriage and the Sabbath, the twin institutions established at creation.  The marriage aspect of sexuality addresses first God’s command to “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28 NKJV).  The use of sex to join God as co-creators in His work of reproduction is one of the highest honors that God bestows on His children.  God also places sexual intimacy within the context of human relationships.  That implies that sexuality is essential to the maintenance of the relationship itself. Sexual expression is a potential source of intimate connection between two human beings, male and female, who long to know and be known by another.  This longing mirrors that of God Himself as expressed in Jesus’ final prayer before His passion and death “that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3 NKJV).

The Sabbath aspect of human sexuality recognizes that it was intended by God to be a form of worship.  While we in our fallen humanity tend to look at sex primarily from a pleasure perspective – and this was certainly one of God’s intentions – sexual expression recognizes the headship of God in the marital relationship.  This perspective challenges us to see sexual expression as a holy act where we can not only connect with one another as humans, but also connect with God.  Recognizing that God is with us during times of intimacy, and that He is rejoicing with us when we reach orgasmic pleasure, can be a great antidote to sexual shame.  Why should we be sexually intimate only with the lights out and with clothes on when our Creator delights in our pleasure?  When God created Adam and Eve, “they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25 NKJV).

As God invites us to rest on the Sabbath and to commune with Him in worship on the day He set apart as holy, God invites us to worship Him while having intercourse.  Have you thought about praying in worship before, during, and after sexual intimacy?  If God is truly head of your marriage, and this is an essential aspect of your marriage, giving Him praise during times of intimacy is not only appropriate but essential.  It is appropriate not only to praise God, but to ask Him to bless your sexual expression and to make it as enjoyable as possible.  And when you are done and enjoying a time of deep rest, it is appropriate to thank God for what He has blessed you to both give and receive.

While sex is an encounter between two bodies, God intends it to be a deep encounter between two persons.  It is easy to focus only on the physical pleasure of intercourse, but being totally open and vulnerable to another human being requires a going out of oneself and also focusing on the other.  True intimacy takes time.  One of the greatest arguments for faithful monogamy is that it takes years of encounter with another human being to really “know” them.  The glory of connecting with them and losing yourself in the encounter cannot be truly adequately described.

David Sedlacek has been a social worker for 40 years.  He has worked largely in the areas of addiction, abuse and relationships. He has been a member of NACSW for 8 years. For additional information on this topic, David recommends that you check out the Marriage & Family Health Center website.

A Fresh Start!

Isaiah 43: 19: See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (NIV)


Rhonda-HudsonI have the distinct honor and privilege to serve on the board of directors of a faith-based agency in my community. One of the agency’s programs is called Fresh Start.

The men who are clients at Fresh Start have the opportunity to  become part of a transitional landscaping work crew that maintains commercial and residential properties in the community. Working for Fresh Start allows the clients to earn a salary and gain valuable work experience, which often leads to further employment – and in some cases, to begin all over again!

What is most phenomenal about Fresh Start is that the clients it employs are part of “Open ARM,” which is the Day Center for homeless men in our community! Many of the clients have no job, no substantive job history, and often, few developed work skills. Yet, they have the God-given ability to hope and dream of a new beginning, and through this amazing program they are given the opportunity to pursue the dream of a meaningful job which provides a regular paycheck, as well as the “integrity found in a week’s work” (http://www.areareliefministries.org/services/homeless-and-housing/fresh-start/, 2014).

At this time of year, many of us also may need a “fresh start,” which may mean beginning a new day and/or life season, or finding balance in a very busy life. Just as God has provided a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland for our “Fresh Start” employees, He does the same for us as we pour our hearts into our clients and students. Although our “fresh starts” may not be as life changing as those for the “Fresh Start” employees, our beginnings, new seasons, and balance-finding can be as challenging – and sometimes, as scary. That is because in seeking our own fresh starts, we sometimes extend a great amount of energy, and often become over-extended, which further complicates our ability to be renewed!

The good news is that when we take the time to find times of rest and reflection, we realize that our energies, creativity, inspiration and dedication return! God gives new mercies every morning, for great is His faithfulness to us (Lamentations 3:23, NIV). In return, we become renewed, and our clients and students benefit, as well as our families and friends!

As we begin again in new days, seasons, and/or balance-finding, may we find strength, wisdom courage, and renewed dedication in the overflow to serve our clients and students well!

Rhonda is a professor and acting BSW Director in the School of Social Work at Union University, in Jackson, TN. She teaches several courses in the curriculum, including HBSE I & II, and Research & Statistical Methods. She formerly worked with HIV+ clients in Miami, FL before earning her PhD, and serving in academia. She is mom of three young men, Percy, Ronald and Ryan.

Do You See the Crowds?

SaundersE0814I have this ideal that social work, particularly Christian social work, should be about helping people, making a difference, and changing lives.  I found this profession after living through my own tough life experiences.  I’m the kind of person for whom being a Christian and going to church brings meaning to my life, but my faith is more real when it is lived out through action.  When I was doing direct practice, I found the experience of working with hurting people very rewarding and a direct extension of my faith.

I believe that being a Christian is, at its heart, being an imitator and follower of Christ.  How many times do we read in scripture that Jesus saw someone—or a crowd—and had compassion for them?  It’s what he did every day of his ministry.  He met them at their point of need, treated them with love, spoke truth, and went on to address their underlying needs.  He loved them for who they were, but called them to become more.  And he loves us and calls us to become more.  That’s what I call Christian social work!

But what do I spend much of my time doing?  I’m busy with fundraising, measuring outcomes, budgets, accreditation, personnel issues, board and committee meetings, and so on.  So what if my work at times seems mundane?  Does what I do still matter if I’m not meeting with clients every day?  There’s no question that it does.  When I am skillful and effective, I bring greater resources and new approaches to dealing with my community’s challenges.  Because the problems of hunger, poverty, and homelessness are much bigger than any agency or program, it takes even harder work, more prayer, and more partners to make a difference.

I’m finding a new calling in Matthew 9:36-38, which says:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”


My eyes may be more focused on crowds than individuals these days, and my work may be more focused on calling and equipping laborers, but at heart, it’s still about serving that scared, hungry, desperate person that Jesus looked at and loved, and realizing that’s how God still loves me.

Eric Saunders received his MSW from Indiana University, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a sometimes adjunct instructor of social work at Messiah College, and serves as executive director for New Hope Ministries in south-central Pennsylvania.  In 2014, Eric was honored to receive the Frank Grady Outstanding Professional Award for human service.