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.