By Jim Letourneau
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. – Martin Luther King Jr., from “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
This challenging quote from Dr. King served as an introduction to Dr. James Mason’s presentation, “Chaplains in the 21st Century: Implication for Leadership in the Face of Difference.” Given the theme for this year’s conference with the Association of Professional Chaplains, “Partners in Shaping the Future,” the message was particularly fitting. Sadly, the need for cultural competency and embracing a spirit of inclusion still exists, and perhaps that need is deeper than ever before.
Mason, the chief diversity officer for Providence Health & Services in Oregon, shared several pieces of data, including that women continue to earn 25 percent less than men for the same work and training. Echoing King’s quote from his introduction, the plenary speaker inspired a call to action, saying, “I’m sorry is not enough.” We must be agents of change.
Effective change demands personal investment and a wide perspective to include people on the margins. We must be willing to let our world views be challenged and transformed. As professional chaplains and Roman Catholics, of course we abhor humor and language that is detrimental to minority populations. But those obvious examples of prejudice might be the easiest to change.
What is more challenging is confronting our own unconscious bias because we are unaware how thought processes lead to discrimination. Any time we unconsciously think of another person as “other than me” and not “my sibling in God’s family,” we risk objectifying and treating another person as “different from,” “other than,” or God forbid, “less than” myself. Uncovering unconscious bias requires brutal honesty and humility.
Mason cited an organization’s mission and core values as part of the rationale for addressing diversity and inclusion. As professional chaplains, we are held accountable to the Common Competencies shared by our strategic partners. Our Code of Ethics calls us to “respect the cultural, ethnic, gender, racial, sexual orientation, and religious diversity of other professionals and those served, and strive to eliminate discrimination” (102.44). Our competencies remind us that board-certified chaplains “provide spiritual care that respects diversity and differences including, but not limited to culture, gender, sexual orientation, and spiritual/religious practices” (PPS3).
Mason referenced the importance of establishing relationships with “natural networks of support” such faith-based institutions — a natural connection for spiritual care providers. He also challenged us to attend community events and celebrations that are important for diverse communities. He suggested we identify community leaders and discover the trusted voices in minority populations. We typically look for those voices in family networks. Mason now advocates that we also do that on a macro level by finding those voices in our communities.
“Connecting with clergy” is one of many action areas the plenary speaker promoted. This is a natural and expected connection that chaplains might be expected to foster. But if we are to seriously commit to concerns of diversity and inclusion, we also need to consider informal leaders and service providers in the community. To neglect these critical components would paint an incomplete picture of the populations we serve.
Culturally competent leadership, Mason said, is “an active, developmental, and ongoing process” requiring self-knowledge, knowledge of those served, and the resources that can “empower and enrich the lives” of communities. Culturally competent leadership is not a destination but a journey of humble self-reflection and relationship-building in the context of a mosaic community.
Jim Letourneau, BCC, is director of promoting Catholic identity and mission initiatives at Trinity Health System in Livonia, MI.