Silence stifles change and perpetuates damaging uses of power. Dialogue and discussion make change and healing possible. Leaders have an ethical obligation to hear the voices of the minorities among them -- not just in private, but in public forums so all among the majority and minorities can participate in a dialogue.
I am proud to be a member of the ACPE -- the Association for Clinical
Pastoral Education. We are the leaders in educating clergy and chaplains about how to provide spiritual care and comfort for the ill, suffering and dying. It’s holy work sustained by holy values. But we are not living up to those holy -- and ethical -- values when we exclude a minority among us from the table.
That is what the ACPE has done by scheduling its next annual conference on the holiday of Shavuot -- it has excluded Jews from the table by making it impossible for many of us to attend the conference.
And this exclusion is not some isolated error. It is a repeated event: Three out of the last seven conferences have conflicted with Jewish observance.
And -- perhaps most egregiously -- the ACPE proposes to deal with this violation without dialogue. They have sent out a statement that essentially says, we apologize and now let’s just move on. There is no invitation to dialogue about this, either with with the Jewish members of the ACPE or among the wider ACPE membership. Nobody came to talk to us -- us Jews -- before this statement apparently ending the matter was issued.
Nobody came to talk to us. Nobody came to talk to us about what it means to us to have a conference scheduled on one of our Holy Days. Nobody came to us to ask us what Shavuot is or how we observe it.
The statement (which I have included in full, below) seems to indicate that its writers think they know what Shavuot is about. They write:
For this particular time of Shavuot we are thankful for the revelation of the Torah and the Moses Sinai experience. We are also grateful for the rich lessons afforded to us at the readings about Ruth and the reciting of the Ten Commandments.
If somebody had come to talk to me -- a Jew, a rabbi ordained in the Conservative movement, a certified full ACPE supervisor and the designated convener of the Jewish Supervisors Network in the ACPE -- and asked me what it meant to have a conference scheduled on Shavuot, I doubt I would have mentioned Ruth or the Ten Commandments. It is, frankly, deeply insulting to see others reducing a holy part of my tradition to a few things one could have found out simply by doing a Wikipedia search.
If they had come to me, I probably would simply have expressed shock that the conference had been scheduled in a way that I could not attend. In no way is it a salve to my hurt to know that the majority religious culture knows I also have the Book of Ruth and the Ten Commandments somewhere in my tradition. Following ancient practice, I am one of the Jews who -- as a central part of my spiritual practice -- does not travel or perform work on Shabbat or biblically ordained holidays. When you schedule a four-day conference hundreds of miles from my home that conflicts with three days of holiday and Shabbat then there is no way I can be there. It only adds to my pain for you to say that my holy tradition provides some “rich lessons” related to Ruth and the Ten Commandments.
The Jewish Supervisors Network has written a letter to the ACPE leadership expressing outrage and asking for action. The letter asks for a meeting with the ACPE leadership, and, perhaps more importantly, that the leadership share the letter with the full ACPE membership. We need to have a discussion about where we want to be as an organization. Are we living up to our values? What do these repeated dynamics say about us? Do we really practice multicultural competency when we fail to ask the ‘other’ about his or her own experience, beliefs and practices? Are we following our founding doctrine of treating the ‘other’ as a living human theological document?
We Jews are a very small people. In the entire world, there are only maybe 13 million of us. We are small, but we share many ideas and texts with two very large religions, one of which -- Christianity -- is very much the majority religion in the United States. Our shared links with Islam and Christianity can be a source of pride for us, but can also a source of anxiety. There always lurks the possibility of supersessionism -- the possibility that the majority culture will take some elements of our tradition, make them their own and then claim there is no need for the Jews to remain as a distinct people and faith. My fear of being swallowed up by the majority was raised by the ACPE’s statements about valuing the lessons of Ruth and the Ten Commandments. I am not just a source of lessons for you. I am an individual. I come from a particular faith tradition. I am among those from my faith tradition who are committed to preserving it as a distinctive and particular religious expression and community -- even as I seek dialogue, engagement and fellowship with other people of faith.
I am sure that some who read this may think it was a stretch for me to mention the Penn State abuses in this blog post that is primarily about the experience of Jews in the ACPE. But I underscore again what the point of connection is -- silence is what allows oppressive power structures to continue. It -- whatever “it” is -- is just going to happen again and again if we do not have broad discussions about the uses of power and the role of minorities and the powerless. I certainly do not accuse any leader in the ACPE of intentionally oppressing the Jews -- but I do want to bring to the broader awareness of the full ACPE membership that this is indeed what the result of ACPE policy and practice is.
The leadership claims the meeting -- a full 10 months away -- cannot be rescheduled. Really? Isn’t making it possible for the Jews to attend worth it? Or are you just going to acknowledge the role of the absent Jews by reading the Ten Commandments at the beginning of the meeting?
Here is the full text of the ACPE statement, which went out to the membership by email on July 11:
Dear ACPE Community--particularly our Jewish ACPE Members,
The National Conference Committee of the ACPE has just been alerted to the fact that our annual meeting to be held in Indianapolis during May 15-18, 2013 has been regrettably scheduled during the Holy period of Shavuot. It is with great sadness that this has occurred.
Year in and year out we work with multiple dates and multiple schedules of hotel availability all the while doing our best to avoid sacred dates and other holidays. We then field bids from the hotels before deciding on a site. This particular conflict during the 2013 meeting slipped by us. The sincerest apology to our community is not enough. We hope to learn from this unintended mishap and be better persons and planners going forward.
While we cannot at this time change our mistake, we are hopeful that we can draw positive attention to this particular religious holy day and to accentuate other holy days when they come into close proximity to our meetings. Religious traditions are the roots of our movement. We enjoy the rich blessings of growth and support because of the courage of others to bring holy living into our cultures. For this particular time of Shavuot we are thankful for the revelation of the Torah and the Moses Sinai experience. We are also grateful for the rich lessons afforded to us at the readings about Ruth and the reciting of the Ten Commandments.
For this upcoming meeting and going forward the National Conference Committee will redouble our efforts to make religious traditions a critical center of our activity and where we can, we will become even more sensitive to the needs of our community in relationship to religious schedules.
Robin and George