Pastors Are Healthcare Workers

Pastors, in so far as they are pastors, are not medical doctors.

Pastors, in so far as they are pastors, are not nurses.

Pastors, in so far as…you get the picture, are not lab technicians, breathing specialists, or any other kind of medical aid.

But they are, I think, healthcare workers. And before you write this off (and few other claims I’ve made on social media have attracted ire like this particular one) let me explain…

Well, first, let me share a memory.

By his green scrubs I knew that he was a breathing specialist. At Northwestern Memorial Hospital in downtown Chicago, the green scrubs were reserved for the breathing specialists, the blue for the M.D.’s, the grey for the surgeons, and the purple for the Chaplains.

There was a code blue. At a code blue the right people all get a page: the attending doctor, the floor nurses, the specialists (should there be one), and the Chaplain.

They all gathered around the body, doing what they could to revive the patient and the breathing specialist turned to the Chaplain and said, “Get in here! We need you. You’re part of the team.”

Now, being part of “the team” doesn’t make you a medical professional, but it does, I think, make you a healthcare worker.

Now, let me explain a little bit more…

President Biden asked “local docs, ministers, and priests” to encourage people to wear masks in this pandemic. He did so because he knows that, in America at least, clergy still hold a particular kind of sway with their congregants.

Yes, it’s waning, but it’s there.

And, especially in a health crisis, that kind of sway brings with it an inherent responsibility to do a few things, in my view.

First: they cannot shy away from speaking openly and honestly about public health and the public good. Many faith communities have come to believe that speaking about masks and vaccines is speaking partisan politics, and that is just a flat out pile of horse shit (insert ivermectin joke here).

Pastors are called upon, by nature of their office, to speak about things that concern the public, their parishioners, and the common good, which is precisely why they were asked to encourage their people to wear masks. The common good is not partisan, Beloved. Hence why it’s called “common.”

Secondly: pastors must follow the best science available. They must. They must hold hands with science, especially in a health crisis like this one.

It is their responsibility to encourage people to do what the best scientists and medical experts are encouraging humanity to do. In a pandemic there is no time or space for fringe medical ideas. In a pandemic there is no excuse for, “Well, 1 out of 10 doctors think differently…” There’s always one crap doctor out there, one quack scientist, and yes one crappy pastor (maybe more, now that I think about it). There’ll always be that one.

But that one little guy? I don’t think you need to worry about that one little guy. Focus on the other nine.

Finally: it is precisely because pastors don’t think that they have this kind of responsibility that they remain so silent on these kinds of public health issues that have a real impact on the common good. But, think with me now, how many healing stories are there in the scriptures? How many stories involve communal health and wellness?

Hundreds, from Genesis to Revelation.

Jesus provided free health care! We’re used to talking about health from the pulpit when it comes from the scriptures, so why are we so silent when it comes from the newspaper?

The key to all of the above, though, is for pastors to stay honest about their role as a healthcare worker, and this is very important (and, I think, the confusion over this piece caused so much backlash when I presented this idea on social media):

Pastors are not trained to diagnose physical ailments and, in most cases, mental illness, either.

Pastors are not experts in medicine, and should not offer some sort of personal opinion from the pulpit and claim it has medical authority backing it up.

Pastors cannot look at a major health crisis and give their own advice on the topic, prescribing a course of action for their parishioners that differs from the best science available (this has been a disaster in this pandemic, and caused serious harm to both parishioners and the church at large).

We have an issue in this pandemic, I think, with pastors parading themselves as things they are not.

They cannot, in their pastoral role, encourage their parishioners to burn their masks as if they have the medical knowledge to make such a prescription, choose “faith over fear” and tell people to skip the vaccine, or take some sort of cocktail of horse dewormer and prayer as some sort of prophylaxis. They are not medical professionals.

And, at the same time, they cannot claim to be agnostic on the subject, saying nothing at all when it comes to the health of their parishioners and the common good. They are not without responsibility and authority.

Pastors are, for better or for worse, healthcare workers in this society. And as such, they have a responsibility to speak openly about the best scientific advice available on the topic, not overstepping their role, but not sloughing it off, either.

Pastors are healthcare workers.

We need to make sure we’re taking on that role with humility, honesty, and the gravity it deserves.

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