As I contemplate the interaction between faith and social work, I recognize the multiple spheres involved in this dynamic relationship: professional definitions and standards within social work through my continuing education, my faith in Jesus Christ, and my personal experiences in the field. An initial assessment may deem each of these influences to be tenuous or even in conflict. However, with the intentional (and perpetually ongoing) development of humility and grace, I have discovered that these tenants are not only compatible, but often complementary as well.
As an undergraduate student at a faith-based university, ethical practice and values within a Christian framework are emphasized in both academics and field experience. Therefore, professional definitions and standards as outlined by organizations such as the National Association of Social Workers and National Association of Christian Social Workers are utilized in order to provide a concrete point of reference to determine an ethical course of action with social work clientele. For instance, according to the National Association of Social Workers, the profession of social work may be defined by its overall mission: “…to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs of those who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty” – NASW Code of Ethics . However, as a follower of Christ, I must expand upon the definition of social work.
Jesus Christ stated that the greatest commandment was to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31, New International Version). Therefore, my definition of social work is to love my neighbor as myself in order to demonstrate my love for the Lord; because of my relationship with God, I will work to better society and enhance the well-being of those which I interact, with particular attention to the needs of the vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. My prerogative will be to become the voice for those who have none: to treat each person with value and respect, to love them, and give them hope.
Furthermore, in the field, I have been exposed to numerous circumstances wherein there were many decisions made that I did not agree with. Individuals chose and had circumstances chosen for them that were harmful to themselves and others. However, I found myself remembering the numerous situations in which the same was true in my life. I had made decisions that fit the prior criteria as well; I also need reconciliation and forgiveness from God. Due our equal need for salvation and relationship with the Lord, I recognized that I had no right to judge my clients. Instead, I should follow the example of Christ in His interaction with individuals such as the Woman at the Well and Lazarus. He chose to value the individual: no matter their decisions or societal value in the past, present, or value. He chose to love. With the great need for others to receive the love of Christ, I have chosen to love as well. I have a responsibility to intentionally utilize my education, faith, and personal experience in order to promote the well-being of those I will meet in the future.
Breanne B. is an undergraduate candidate at Olivet Nazarene University, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work with a minor in Spanish. Breanne presented “The Collaboration of Faith and Social Work in Creating a Gateway of Helping” at NACSW’s 2012 Conference in tandem with her faculty mentor. She has been a member of NACSW since February of 2012.