During my time as a professor in a Christian social work program, it was not uncommon to hear students ask, “Where does this social work program integrate Christianity and social work or Adventism and social work?” For me, the terms are so nearly synonymous that I don’t know where one begins and the other leaves off. The question that plagues me is not how we integrate Christianity and social work, but, “How is it possible that anyone could separate the two?
Perhaps the most important Biblical text delineating Christian social workers’ passion for our faith and profession centers in Matthew 25. This passage offers a command, a bottom line of expectation, if one is to be considered fit for Heaven:
When the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All of the nations will be gathered before Him and He will separate them one from another as the shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on the right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me… Insomuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:31-36, 40)
Doing “unto the least” fit perfectly with the purpose of the social work. “The purpose of the social work profession is to promote human well-being by strengthening opportunities, resources, and capacities of people and to create policies and provide services to prevent and address conditions that limit human rights and the quality of life. Embracing a global perspective, the social work profession strives to eliminate poverty, discrimination, and oppression” (CSWE, 2008). Social work embodies the commission of Matthew 25 (doing unto the least of these) through organized, professional services that use social work policies, ethics, practices, and expertise to accomplish their purposes.
Authentic Christians, those following the Biblical mandate of service to a hurting world, are social workers; perhaps not professionally trained, degree bearing, licensable social workers, but they do engage in social work because they are active in serving humanity.
Christian social workers are undoubtedly the luckiest professionals alive—we are able to make a living while attending to the work of the Kingdom, making a difference in this world and preparing for the world to come.
Now that I am teaching in a social work program in another context, one that often shies away from anything explicitly Christian, I am even more convinced of the impossibility of separating Christianity and social work. I find my students crave kind words, need tangible resources, and desire agape love that I can offer. Doing unto the least of these; that is the integration of Christianity and social work.
Dr. Rene Drumm is the associate dean for the College of Health at the University of Southern Mississippi. She has served in higher education for over 20 years and has published research on small social work programs, substance abuse, social capital, sexual orientation, and domestic violence. Rene is a member of NACSW’s Board of Directors, and has been a member of NACSW since 2001.