We have covered personal faith integration and academic integration in the previous parts of this series. In this last part we will explain the third type of integration which is related to ethics. Ethical systems exist both in religious and secular institutions. Because these systems overlap for the professional practitioner, there is a need to consider the relationship between one’s faith tradition and the ethical requirements of one’s profession.
PROFESSIONAL ETHICS INTEGRATION
Professional practitioners of various academic disciplines such as medicine, counseling, social work and ministry are usually credentialed by the state or Ecclesiastical entity. In most cases, they are given a license which defines the scope of practice and ethics for that practice. In addition, many professional organizations have published ethical guidelines that govern the practice of their respective discipline. It is here that religious and professional ethical integration becomes an important consideration. There may be areas of concern that arise from one’s personal faith and faith community, which are problematic or in direct conflict with the ethical standards of one’s profession. This has long been an issue in medicine as practiced by physicians of faith and in regard to religiously affiliated hospitals. For example, Catholic hospitals do not provide birth control or abortion procedures because this conflicts with Catholic tradition regarding the sanctity of life. And Catholic doctors in private practice have been able to maintain, in most contexts, the same limit to their scope of practice based on conscience and religious liberty.
In mental health counseling, social work and in some cases of institutional chaplains (military, police or sports teams) and others engaged in counseling ministry, these issues are more often related to sexuality, abortion, adoption and other areas where knowledge and practice intersects religious values, professional ethics, and institutional mission.
At the present time, the culture war in America is bringing faith and learning, academic integration and professional ethical integration into the forefront of many conversations. How do we protect religious freedom, professional integrity and personal autonomy in a vastly diverse population without compromising deeply held convictions and concerns by individuals, institutions and the academy?
Historically, many of these issues have been solved through the compartmentalization of faith and professional ethics as illustrated above by the situation of Catholic medical doctors regarding birth control and abortion. But the overlap of the secular Behavioral Sciences with medicine and the emergence of issues of sexuality and gender identity as categories independent of traditional religious moral codes had made many of these situations difficult to clarify in regard to ethics. This is, in part because behavioral science categories, such as mental illness, sexual orientation and transgender identity are not the same as historic medical concepts of disease and pathology. The more fluid and phenomenological nature of these categories make the lines between religious-theological and medical- psychological definitions difficult if not impossible to establish. As a result, many of the issues that show up in the courts are about government vs religious authority which creates both a legal and theological conundrum. And this is being addressed and influenced by cases in the courts that involve baking and decorating of cakes, and photography during weddings.
The difficulties of these ethical issues for counselors, educators, social workers and ministers are far more complex and critical. Both care giver and client are affected by these concerns.
At present, there are organizations that operate as sub-groups or adjuncts to the national professional organizations such as the North American Association of Christians in Social Work (NACSW) and the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) that can provide helpful information for religious professionals in the Behavioral Sciences. In addition, several theologically based approaches are found in Jewish and Christian denominations that address the difficulties of navigation religious and professional ethical differences. Ultimately the integration of religious values and professional ethics comes down to figuring out how to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is His. This requires wisdom and deliberation rather than activism. Both religious organizations and professional organizations need to engage these issues calmly and carefully with each other. Zeal and activism leads to greater conflict as the present culture divide demonstrates.
As with academic integration, the ethical approach can be from the point of a disciple integrating their profession into their faith, or, as a professional who is integrating their faith into their career. This goes back to one’s self-identity as first a disciple or as first a practitioner. This will be seen most clearly in the assumptions one makes about the place of faith in one’s total life.
The individual who engages in the care and helping of people will at times have one foot in the area of faith and one foot in the area of secular knowledge. To maintain an appropriate relationship and balance between these, we must engage in knowledge Integration at the personal faith level, the academic discipline level and at the level of ethics. By understanding these differing but related types of faith integration, the religious practitioner can better navigate the intersection of one’s religious life and one’s career.