Hospital Chaplaincies – a Green Christian response

Green Christian is a blog run by Stephen Gray, a self-professed Evangelical Christian and member of Coventry Green Party. I have copied his post from earlier today below, after which I respond to his points.

Posted on February 11, 2013 at 11:18 am, One of the things about having this blog is that I seem to have become the go-to person when anybody is looking for Christians within the Green Party. The most recent example of this is somebody who was curious about a motion on hospital chaplains that is being submitted to the partys Spring Conference later this month. The motion is taken straight from the National Secular Societys position on the issue of hospital chaplains, and reads:

C31. Hospital Chaplaincy Services
Proposed by Andy Chyba (**), Anthony Young, John Evans, Owen Clarke, + 2 others
A National Secular Society survey has shown that over £30m of NHS money was spent on hospital chaplaincy services in 2009/10 in England and Wales; services with no clinical benefit. That such services are publicly funded, ahead of services such as Macmillan Cancer Support and Air Ambulances services, is indefensible.
Insert into the PSS new section HE 371 For some patients, hospital chaplaincy services offer an important source of comfort and spiritual support. NHS Health boards should facilitate a chaplaincy service. Chaplaincy funding should not come from a fixed health budget. Alternative funding streams should be used.

We will therefore:

I. Divert the expenditure being spent each year on the English and Welsh chaplaincy services into front-line health services.

II. Work with the leaders of all religious denominations in England and Wales to establish charitable trusts to fund hospital chaplaincy services.

The motion will make it Green Party policy that chaplaincy services must be privately funded, and so makes it less likely that they will be available. The last time I was an in-patient, I found the chaplaincy service an immense encouragement, even though I only saw them a couple of times. They may not have made a difference to my clinical condition, but they certainly made a difference to my overall well-being.

Sadly, I cant afford to go to Spring Conference this year. As I cant be there to argue and vote against the motion in person, I feel obliged to argue against it here. The motion should be voted down for the following reasons (listed in no particular order):

  • This motion makes it Green Party policy to privatise a part of our health service.
  • As a party we are opposed to the Governments austerity agenda, where government services are stopped for purely budgetary reasons, and it is left to charities (most often religious groups) to pick up the slack. The Green approach is to work out what government should be doing in principle and then making sure we find the money to pay for it. This motion assumes the austerity principle.
  • It goes against Green Party principles. Our health policy starts by saying Health is the condition in which individuals and communities achieve their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potential. This motion sends the message that clinical/physical health is the only part of our health that matters.
  • The supporting evidence is misleading. The call to privatise chaplaincy services is based on one study, which said that chaplaincy services provide no clinical benefit. But they arent there as a clinical service. Their role is to provide pastoral support for hospital patients. Its an important service that no other part of the NHS provides. Healthcare professionals rarely have the time to focus on the patient as a person, whilst chaplains do nothing but that.
  • It paints the Green Party as an anti-religion party. We already have some policies that come across that way (one of our equalities policies would make it illegal to require that vicar be a Christian, though that was probably not the intent of the people who wrote it). We are a party that believes human beings have a spiritual dimension. The last thing we need is policies written by an anti-religion pressure group to advance an anti-religious agenda.

As the main proposer of the motion, my response to these points is as follows:

  • It is a totally spurious point to argue that this amounts to privatising part of the health service. My main line of argument is that there are always competing demands for funding within the NHS budget and I would strongly argue that all NHS money should go to clinical services that have the potential to directly help everybody, rather than something of no clinical value and, at the very least, dubious value to anything but a small minority of NHS users.
  • It is even more absurd to suggest this motion is sympathetic to the Government’s austerity agenda. Stephen does however hit the nail on the head when he says “The Green approach is to work out what government should be doing in principle and then making sure we find the money to pay for it.” In the same way that the Green approach to education is essentially secular and non-denominational (ED176 No publicly-funded school shall be run by a religious organisation.) it is unacceptable for public money to be used to support denominational services in hospitals.
  • There is a world of difference between spirituality and religion. The sentence immediately following the one Stephen quotes from the start of our Health Policy is “Health for individuals is only possible in the context of a healthy environment and society” and one only needs to watch the news everyday to see how destructive religion is to a healthy society in the world today. I am a strong and passionate advocate of the need for greater funding of a more holistic approach to health. Mental health and preventative health care are most obviously seriously underfunded, and will hopefully benefit from the savings made on chaplaincy services.
  • Stephen calls the supporting evidence misleading and then goes on to substantiate the fact it is not a health care service but a ‘pastoral support service for patients’. If some sort of pastoral support could be provided to everyone, there might be some sort of argument. My local hospital has three chaplains – an Anglican, a Catholic and a Baptist (all men in dog collars) – and one Christian Chapel. I would suggest it would be a more equitable (and virtually free) to have a directory of ‘pastoral’/counselling services of all denominations (and none) that could be contacted to arrange a visit. In my experience, good priests visit their regular parishioners when they learn they are in hospital anyway.
  • Stephen says this motion paints the Green Party as an anti-religion party. I have not got a problem with that, although I do not think it is true. This motion is about priorities and equality. This demands the evenhandedness of being essentially secular and non-discriminatory. Our final core value states “The Green Party puts changes in both values and lifestyles at the heart of the radical green agenda”. This will assuredly respect spirituality, but will surely see the continuing marginalisation of organised religion that has been such a drag on societal progress for so long.

6 thoughts on “Hospital Chaplaincies – a Green Christian response

  1. Stephen Gray

    Hi Andy,

    I’ll address your points in order.

    1) Chaplaincy services are currently part of the NHS. The effect of the motion is to make it our policy that they should be privately funded. This is, by definition, privatisation. Calling a spade a spade is not spurious.

    2) The synopsis of the motion claims that there is a conflict between funding services such as air ambulances and funding chaplaincy services. The motion you wrote assumes that we cannot fund both. The argument your motion makes is that we can’t afford to fund everything, so we have to cut this particular thing. And that is an identical rationale to the one being given for the austerity agenda. Maybe the way I expressed this was overly strong, but it is broadly accurate, given the wording of the motion.

    3) I’m saddened to hear that you think that people like me are a pox on society, Yes, there are some forms of religion that are destructive to society. There are other forms of religion that are at odds with 21st Century Western social liberal ideals, but which are not inherently destructive. But to believe (as you seem to) that being socially destructive is an inherent property of religion is, to put it bluntly, a bigoted and highly offensive point of view. And none of your response actually answers my point that the motion will make it more difficult for inpatients to get spiritual care, which is something the party believes is essential to a holistic approach to healthcare.

    4) Your response again seems to be somewhat irrelevant to my point. Chaplaincy services generally reflect the mix of faiths in the surrounding community. My local hospital has representatives from, and facilities for, the Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh faiths. They provide pastoral support to every patient who wants it. There’s probably a good argument for adding some non-religious representatives to the team (perhaps a humanist?), but to say that they don’t cover everybody seems a better argument for increasing funding than for abolishing it. In fact, abandoning state funding will necessarily make provision patchier in areas like yours where provision is less comprehensive.

    5) Fair enough that you think it’s not a problem if we become an anti-religion party (even though us becoming so would drive away a lot of our natural supporters). This motion on its own won’t make it so, though taken together with some of our other policies, we are significantly more anti-religion than most political parties. I’m puzzled when you cite our principle that “The Green Party puts changes in both values and lifestyles at the heart of the radical green agenda.” Religion is often the most effective driver of changes in values and lifestyles. By alienating ourselves from the religious, we risk losing the very people who could do the most to drive our agenda.

    Finally, in your response to me, you repeatedly claim that religion is a drag on social progress. However, historically, religion has more often than not been at the forefront of that progress. Where would society be if William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect had not attempted to get their religious views about slavery made law? Where would we be if Reverend Martin Luther King Junior and other church leaders had not put their faith into action in the form of the Civil Rights Movement? Would the fight against apartheid have been so successful if Archbishop Desmond Tutu had stayed out of it? Also, religious groups provide a large, and increasing, proportion of our charitable services (for example, most of the foodbanks that have been popping up around the country in response to austerity are run by religious groups). Your claims that religion is destructive to society seem to me to be at odds with the actual evidence.


  2. swanseaandllanelligreenparty Post author

    First of all, thank you Stephen, for engaging in this debate. It is, of course unlikely that we will ever find agreement, but let me try to make a few things as clear as possible.

    The NHS states its core purpose ensuring the people of the country receive the highest quality and most effective specialist healthcare within the allocated resources. You can engage in whatever intellectual contortions you like, but chaplaincy services do not fit any credible definition of “effective specialist healthcare”. As such, it is not justifiable to allocate scarce financial resources to things of this nature.

    There is a massive list of more worthy claims to NHS funding ahaed of chaplaincy services. It would be nice to think we could fund them all – but this will be an ongoing challenge in times of prosperity, as well as austerity. Couching it in these terms is therfore irrelevant and disingenuous. It is simply a matter of deciding what the NHS is there to do, and priorities in working towards this.

    It is not there to provide pastoral care, spiritual guidance or religious services. This is not to say that these services should not be made available to all that feel the need for them. I fully accept that people can get comfort from such things and should not be denied them. Alongside priests and vicars, I have seen and heard of people being visited by shamens, white witches, astrologers, prostitutes and masonic almoners; all providing comfort at peoples bedsides. Are they all to be given financial subsidy from the NHS budget?

    If ever there were a case for charitable acts, providing comfort in people’s times of distress is surely it. There should be an open invitation to all churches and counselling services to make themselves available to in-patients in some way or form. Slicing off money from the NHS budget to subsidise services from a small number of purely religious (and relatively wealthy) organisations is not justifiable. Helping to set up and organise a charitable trust to fund such services is perfectly reasonable, and more likely to help the services provided to reflect the true diversity in the communities served. You are therfore right to point out how well religious groups do charitable work. I can therfore see no reason why the Charitable Chaplaincy we propse should not be successful.

    You do me a dis-service by suggesting that I see people of religious faith as a ‘pox on society’. Unlike most religions, I see every human being as an equal. Although I am an evangelical atheist, I do recognise that we all have a spiritual dimension. To question the validity of religious institutions to have and to hold so much influence on our societies, and to reckon on this influence having significantly more negatives than positives in the modern world (while conceding its important contributions in less enlightened times) does not, I hope make me a bigot. I would politely suggest that you somewhat more likely to encounter bigots in religious communities than in the atheist community.

    In conclusion, there is no need for the religious to feel that they are not welcomed by me or the Green Party as a whole. People are free to put their faith in whatever they choose to believe in, just as your and my sexual preferences are nobody’s business and irrelevant to the Party (beyond upholding your personal freedom to identify yourself as you yourself see fit). It is a question of respecting diversity, while upholding the principles of equality. I would assert that most religions innate and irreconcilaible problem is that they always see themselves as more equal than everybody else. Discuss!


    1. Stephen Gray

      Hi Andy,

      I would have responded to you sooner, except that I’ve been quite busy with offline life recently.

      I’m sure we aren’t going to agree on this any time soon. I would like to come back at you with a couple of things though.

      Firstly, you’re being a little bit inconsistent with your arguments for the motion. You say that it’s disingenuous and irrelevant to couch the argument in terms of which things we can afford to fund, and yet that’s exactly what the wording of the motion does. If you want to be consistent, you should take out the final sentence in the synopsis.

      As for your views on religious people, you may not have been aware of just how your comments come across. You claim that “one only needs to watch the news everyday to see how destructive religion is to a healthy society in the world today.” and that “organised religion” “has been such a drag on societal progress for so long.” Comments like this differ only in tone from saying that religion is a pox on society. And that sentiment carries the very strong implication that religious people are a pox on society.

      I would, of course, dispute your claims that religion in the world today is more a negative force than a positive one. Your perception of the impact of religion on the world today is probably driven by the fact that the media are far more likely to report a negative story about religion than a positive one. They are also far more likely to highlight the views of fringe extremists (such as Christian Voice or Islamic Jihadist groups) than those of more mainstream religious people. And when they do report something that would give a positive view of religion, they may not point out the religious angle. For example, when talking about food banks the media rarely, if ever, mention that most of them are run by faith-based groups.

      The fact is that religious groups are doing more than their fair share of filling the gap left by the government’s austerity agenda and the rolling back of the welfare state. Whilst charities in general are finding it more difficult to raise money, a recent survey of churches found that they were spending 19% more on social action projects than they were two years ago.

      As for your comments that “I would assert that most religions innate and irreconcilaible problem is that they always see themselves as more equal than everybody else.” I don’t think it’s even close to accurate when it comes to me, or to anybody else that I know with strong religious views. And it’s certainly not something I find in Christian theology.



      1. swanseaandllanelligreenparty Post author

        I will try and keep this fairly short.

        I accept what you say about wording – it is the problem of committees! In actual fact none of it is my words. I am just taking it to Green Party Conference.

        Your pox analogy amuses me. I wouldn’t choose it. It depend waht definition you use I guess. In trems of a skin disease oozing pus – it seems inappropriate as it usually heals up and disappears eventually. As a synonym for syphilis, it would only seem appropriate to a few senior figures such as Popes. As an archaic term for calamity and misfortune, I guess if may be appropriate enough – given the impact of religion on many lives.

        Perception is so often a matter of perspective or viewpoint. I was brought up in a cosy local congregation that was full of lovely kind-hearted and generous people. However, they were unquestioning and had very patchy knowledege (let alone understanding) of the scriptures thety held as sacred. They would pick and mix the bits they held sacrosanct and the bits they were comfortable in discarding. Overall, however they were utterly harmless individuals.

        Extremists, on the other hand, are a lot more uncompromising and consistent – and on this basis some would say truer adherents than the wishy washy majority. It is also a fact that extremities cannot survive once detached from the main body. Destroy the main body and the extremities wither and die too. Keep attacking just the extermities, and they all too often can regenerate from the the main body.

        As for religious charities I acknowledge that they do a lot of good work – often without strings attached even – but in a comepetition with secular charities, who do you think wins? The big question is why don’t the hugely wealthy big religions put more of their money where their mouth is?

        I also wonder if you really want to imply that all those lovely people in religious charities are only doing it because of their religion? Why do you think people like me are involved in charitable works?

        As for the final point, I guess I am hinting at the conceit inherent in most religions (but nowhere near as often in the average religious person) that the only way to divine redemption is through the one true God (who just so happens to be their God, luckily enough). Theologians are pretty adept at dancing around this and most of the other tricky bits of scripture.


  3. Alan Rogers

    I hope no one will be offended by my joining this conversation since I am not a member of the Green Party. While I agree with many of the Party’s aims there are some with which I disagree – invevitably since all nationwide polititical parties must be coalitions to some degree.
    I founded a campaign to move the funding of hospital chaplaincy in Wales from the NHS budget to a charitable trust. All the evidence shows (I can supply this if you email me at ) that hospitial chaplaincy is provide for adherents of organised religion. Providing religious care is not a statutory obligation of the NHS. We argue that while citizens have the right to religious freedom the state does not have an obligation to fund religious care. Again I will send our detailed argument to you if you email me.


    1. Lynton J North

      Hi Alan. I think Andy’s motion to conference has started a very interesting discussion here. On first reflection I am inclined to vote against it. I would be very interested to consider your evidence, and share with other members of GPEW & christian socialist friends in Green Left, and beyond. lyntonnorth [at] gmail [dot] com



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