Thursday, April 12, 2007

Don't tell me . . . Jack Chick, right?

This story just went up over on Detention Ministry News and I am still shaking my head over it. It seems that Teresa Darden-Clapp has been the chaplain to the Rockland County Jail in New York since 1994. It also seems like she might not hold that office much longer -- she has been suspended while the jail investigates whether she was distributing tracts offensive to Muslim prisoners. Oh dear, here we go again.

If you want, hit the link and see just what kind of drivel was being handed out -- these sound a bit more moderate than Jack Chick, but they may have left the worst out. (It would not be unusual.) I have basically two reactions to this, one general, and one specific.

In general, this only points out once more the colossal ignorance in America of Islam, and the many cultures that make up the Islamic world. We have had leaders making decisions about war and reconstruction in Iraq that apparently did not know the difference between Sunni and Shia -- and that is the simplest (well simple may not be the best word . . .) and basic distinction one could make. For example, some conflate Shia groups in Iraq with the government or other groups in Iran. The difference between the two is much greater than just a shift in the last letter of the name.

Specifically, it indicates the difficulties some people have in distinguishing the role of chaplain from that of minister or evangelist. In chaplaincy, especially in prisons, you are often a government employee, and if a volunteer, given institutional access, status, and resources. Your primary job is to see to the spiritual care of the members of your faith community in that facility, but you also have a responsiblility to all the inmates, and for that matter, all working in that detention facility. If the members of some other faith come to you for assistance, especially if there is no chaplain from that faith, you are expected to help not only that person, but that faith community to get what they need, within the limitations of that facility and its rules.

In the facility that I visit, I have often met in the Catholic chapel (one of my favorite places on Earth -- heaven with concrete block walls) with a group of Catholic inmates, only to discover that it was time for the Native American, or Latter Day Saints community to use that space for a meeting. We picked ourselves up with a smile, moved our stuff somewhere else, and willingly helped that other group set up. That's part of the deal -- we get to have a space designed and decorated for our needs (which is rather rare in prison) but in turn, we have to be cooperative and hospitable. After all, we don't own the space, the state does.

This kind of cooperation is not some kind of high minded, fluffy, ecumenical idealism. It is a hard ecumenical reality. The only religious groups that can persist inside a secure government owned environment like a prison are groups that can retain their own identity, while supporting the other groups. It's hard enough to be religious inside a prison or jail. You don't need to add sheep-stealing and junior-high school squabbling to the mix. Maybe this chaplain will learn that. I hope so, both for her, and for those inside Rockland County Jail.

(Spelling note: I have added the hyphen to her name, as the only other cite that I could find for her on Google is the agenda for a local government meeting where she supplied the invocation. Apparently either the newspaper or the jail left it off. O maybe the agenda has it wrong. Who knows . . .)

1 comment:

Yoel Natan said...

A blog entry on the chaplain and the Chick tract: