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Do You Have to Agree with Everything?

The other day I was called to be with a family who just lost a loved one. It was intense, as some of these encounters can be. It soon became clear this family did not share my religious outlook or moral values. This brought up a question in my mind, as chaplains, do we have to agree with everyone and offer compassion to those with whose lifestyles we disagree?

Compassion is more than sympathy. It’s more than empathy. Some say compassion is empathy in action. We not only choose to feel what the other person is feeling, we step in and join them. But as a chaplain, as a person of faith, can you enter in to someone’s grief when the reason for that grief is something contrary to your faith?

As a government chaplain I work in a pluralistic environment where my co-workers, and the people I minister to, do not always share the same world view. And sometimes they suffer because of their personal choices or worldviews they hold. But I recognize that they are human and they are loved by God. And because of that, I am compelled to care. But I care for them as one created by God, not necessarily by the choices they have made.

Here are a few thoughts:

1. We are called to care.

As people of faith we don’t have to condone certain behaviors or worldviews, but we still care to the best of our abilities and as our faiths allow. This does not mean you compromise your faith based on the situation or person.

2. We hate to see people suffer for reasons of their lifestyle choosing.

In the short time we are with them in the emergency environment, we need to be realistic about what is possible (and what is legal in the context of our employment). The emergency scene is not a place to preach morality. That will turn people away faster than anything, and it may get you removed from your position as a chaplain. And ultimately that will serve nobody. Can you, as a chaplain, help the person without condoning their behavior, lifestyle choices, or worldview?

3. As chaplains, integrity to our faith is the highest calling.

When ministering brings about compromise then we lose our integrity and we are no better than a secular counselor. Still, our ethics as a chaplain state that we will try to get the person help. That help may need to come from someone else.

I cannot prevent people from suffering, but maybe through the caring touch of a chaplain I can gently help prevent them from suffering for the wrong reasons. I don’t have to agree with their choices to show compassion for them as human beings. I care that they are suffering. And it’s possible that my presence can offer them some new perspectives in the process.

Chris Wade

Vice President South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association

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