Article Content

Spiritual care raises an important question for nurses: How does appropriate spiritual care differ from proselytizing vulnerable people? Some nurses believe that saying anything about personal beliefs-especially Christian ones-is unprofessional at best and coercive at worst.

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

A nurse educator who teaches at a state university recently e-mailed, "Hostile is not a strong enough word to describe my experiences at [university][horizontal ellipsis] I did not come out as a Christian until after I was tenured." Another nursing instructor at a religiously affiliated school shared, "I have to be very careful [her emphasis] talking about anything Christian. Other spiritualities are accepted and even encouraged: but taking ideas from Christianity is politically incorrect."


In a recently published spiritual care nursing textbook, an author addressed ethics in spiritual care, explaining that when Christian nurses try to save [emphasis hers] dying patients by converting them to Christianity, they proselytize. In so doing, she added, they meet their own personal religious desires rather than respect the client's right to religious freedom.


Nurses from any faith tradition can inappropriately influence clients in the area of spirituality. Inappropriate interventions include imposing beliefs or performing religious practices without client consent. For example, some alternative treatments include a spiritual element. If a nurse neglects to disclose the spiritual roots or practices involved, the client cannot provide informed consent. Performing an energy-based healing treatment without explaining the underlying Eastern religious perspective would be coercive.


What if a dying client asked what you believe about life after death? Should you respond by sharing your personal beliefs? If you share about Jesus Christ, would you violate the client's religious freedom?


Sharing faith with those who want to hear about it differs greatly from imposing beliefs on others. The Bible provides three clear guidelines to help us appropriately share Christian faith. First, Jesus said that drawing people into a personal relationship with himself is God's job (Jn 6:44, 65). The responsibility for converting people to Christianity belongs to the Holy Spirit, not to me.


Second, Jesus told the first Christians that power for witnessing would come from the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). He taught that the Spirit would indwell, teach and lead them (Jn 14:15-17, 26; 16:13). To continually tap into the power of the Holy Spirit, Scripture tells Christians to pray diligently (Eph 6:18; 1 Thess 5:17) and study the Bible (2 Tim 2:15). Therefore, I must actively seek God and follow his lead.


Third, Christians also witness through their behavior. Scripture says to get rid of things like anger, slander, lying, jealousy and selfish ambition, replacing them with love, joy, compassion, humility, patience and forgiveness (Col 3-4; Gal 5:13-23). When people see the results of the Holy Spirit in your life, they will want to know more about your faith.


The Bible tells Christ's followers to make the most of every opportunity to proclaim the message about Jesus, even in difficult situations. We are told to ask God to provide opportunities to share our faith, and when he does, graciously do so, while remaining sensitive to others (Col 4:3-6; 2 Tim 4:2). We should never mislead or manipulate. Nurses must fully support a client's right to choose other faith options (see"A Code of Ethics for Christian Witness, " p. 17).


Jesus' disciple, Peter, described the difference between sharing faith and imposing it on others when he wrote, "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." (1 Pet 3:15, NIV).-KSS