Much Needed Prophetic Voices

Most faith leaders undergo what is called Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) — whether seminarians preparing to serve local congregations, or those training for special vocations, such as hospital, military or other chaplains.  A primary aim of CPE is to enable trainees to acquire psychological knowledge of themselves and of those they are preparing to serve – which knowledge is indispensable in providing competent spiritual care.  But most CPE programs suffer from a chronic problem:  they continue to prepare faith leaders to be chaplains of the status quo, but not also as prophets of the people.

Consider CPE’s traditional training model.  Its major focus is the interactions between a trainee and individual patients, encounters which are written up in verbatim form by the trainee and used by a clinically certified pastoral supervisor to facilitate the trainee’s self-reflection, clarity of motivation, and emotional and spiritual growth.  The goal is the development of integrated self-awareness and inner emotional security that prepare the trainee to experience and respond to a patient’s reality, rather than interpret and impose the trainee’s own beliefs and issues on that reality.  This traditional, one-to-one, training model provides comfort for countless patients and a certain kind of growth in interpersonal relations for chaplains-in-training or seminarians preparing to serve local congregations.

However, the emphasis on the pastoral/spiritual care of individuals lacks a prophetic focus, which is  essential in caring for persons whose illnesses are often created, or worsened, by political, economic and legal forces beyond hospital and other institutional walls.  In fact, those walls — and pre-occupation with the dynamics between individual trainees and patients — are inviting hiding places for CPE supervisors and trainees — and their affiliated seminaries  —  who do not want to risk addressing social justice issues that could create conflict in their organization or faith group or larger community.

It is not a stretch to say that CPE’s individual interpersonal training model remains primarily a reflection of a white-controlled and white-favored hierarchy of access to political, economic, legal and religious power and privilege.  True, as in medical care, cultural competency has been integrated into clinical pastoral training.  But cultural competency is not enough.  It embraces “diversity and inclusion,” minus equality and justice.

Hospital and other chaplains – and local clergy — should also be trained in political competency.  They need to be knowledgeable of America’s white-controlled hierarchy of access to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and how that hierarchy adversely affects the health of people of color and their communities.  Such political competency also includes an awareness and engagement with communities of color, especially with community-based organizations and leaders who are addressing the inequities undermining the health and pursuit of happiness of the residents in those communities. (For a discussion of the important relationship between structural inequality and ill health, see James Jennings, “Community Health Centers in the U.S. Inner Cities: From Cultural Competency to Community Competency,” Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World,” Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World: A Review Journal, Winter 2009)

Political — and community — competency  — which addresses the adverse health effects of poverty, racism, xenophobia and war and which is the arena of these organizations’ own prophetic traditions — is sorely missing in Clinical Pastoral Education.  An example of this prophetic restraint is seen in the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE), which describes itself as “the premier DOE [Department of Education]-recognized organization and that provides the highest quality CPE programs for spiritual care professionals of any faith in any setting.” (“ACPE: About Us,”  And, ACPE’s “Vision” is “to create measurable and appreciative improvement in spiritual health that transforms people and communities in the US and across the globe, (”ACPE: Vision,”

The Association for Clinical Education’s influence is formidable.   It boasts “600 . . . certified faculty members,” and “Theological Schools Members and Faith Groups/Agencies who are partners with ACPE,” and “since form[ing] in 1967 [has offered] nearly 200,000 units of ACPE certified CPE . . . to about 75,000 individuals in the United States and many other countries.”  Included are “CPE students from many different ethnic and cultural groups . . . [and] many faith traditions.” (“ACPE: About Us,”

“Spiritual health that transforms people and communities in the US and across the globe.”  Compare ACPE’s “Vision” with reality.  President Trump promised health insurance for everyone, yet pushed Republican plans that favored the rich and would have knocked millions of people off health care. (See “6 promises Trump has made about health care,” By Henry C. Jackson, POLITICO, Mar. 3, 2017)  In addition, Trump seeks to undermine Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), even though Obamacare has provided health care coverage for around 20 million low-income people of various racial and ethnic groups. (See “Trump won’t stop until he destroys Obamacare,” By Michael A. Cohen, The Boston Globe, Oct. 6, 2017)  How many poverty-stricken black and white patients do hospital chaplains provide spiritual care for?  How many such poverty-stricken persons are not in hospitals to provide spiritual care for?

“Spiritual health that transforms people and communities in the US.”  Donald Trump billed himself as “the law and order candidate.”  What was he really saying?  In a speech to police officers on Long Island, he told them not to worry about protecting a suspect’s head as he is being lowered into a police car. (See “Trump tells police not to worry about injuring suspects during arrests,” By Mark Berman, The Washington Post, July 28, 2017)  His encouragement of police violence is in the face of the epidemic of white police officers killing black suspects.  “The law and order candidate” are code words for keeping people of color in their place, at the bottom of America’s white-controlled hierarchy of access to more abundant life and health.

“Spiritual health that transforms people . . . across the globe.”  When running for president, Donald Trump said about ISIS, “You have to take out their families.  . . . They care about their families, don’t kid yourself.”  After Trump became president, “US-backed airstrikes were reported to have killed “at least 106 people . . . including 42 children of Islamic State fighters.” (“Trump said he would ‘take out’ the families of ISIS fighters.  Did the air strike in Syria do just that.?” By Adam Taylor, The Washington Post, May 27, 2017)

ISIS was formed as a reaction to former President George W. Bush’s falsely based, illegal invasion of Iraq, which resulted in the deaths of over a million Iraqi civilians and uprooted millions more. (See “Noam Chomsky: the Islamic State is one of the ‘main effects’ of US invasion of Iraq,” by Vinnie Rotondaro, National Catholic Reporter online, Mar. 4, 2015)  America’s invasions and bombing of countries have created endless enemies like ISIS, and blowback violence, the most recent being the tragic killing of eight bicyclists and injuring of 12 in New York City –by a 29-year-old man in the name of ISIS.

“Spiritual health that transforms communities in the US.”  President Trump is seeking to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, build a wall to keep others out, enact bans to keep people from Muslim majority countries from entering the country, and institute surveillance of mosques and a national registry for Muslims.  He is in the process of trammeling, not “transform[ing]” America.  His blaming “both sides” for last summer’s alt-right violence in Charlottesville reveals his own white supremacist conditioning — which former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who was in Charlottesville, gave voice to in calling Charlottesville “a turning point,” and adding, “We are going to fulfil the promises of Donald Trump.  . . . That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.” (“Why we voted for Donald Trump”: David Duke explains the white supremacists Charlottesville protests,” Updated by Libby Nelson, Vox, Aug. 12, 2017)

“Spiritual health that transforms people across the globe.”  In his first UN address, President Trump threatened to “totally destroy North Korea,” a country of 25 million people, which reveals just how dangerous this narcissistic authoritarian president is to “the globe” itself. (“At U.N., Trump Singles Out ‘Rogue’ Nations North Korea and Iran,” By The New York Times. Sept. 19. 2017) The UN is a diplomatic body committed to resolving international disputes, not a platform for threatening to commit mass murder.

President Trump’s pathological lying is obvious to anyone who follows the news.  His continually calling mainstream media “fake news” is an obvious attempt to discredit the very institution whose mission is to scrutinize policies and behavior on behalf of an informed citizenry.  If anyone needs a refresher, The New York Times categorized the number of lies Trump told during the first seven months of his presidency. (“Trump’s Lies,” By David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson, Updated July 21, 2017)

President Trump deals in denial and projection, which are the very defense mechanisms Clinical Pastoral Education trainees work through in their self-reflective interaction with those in their spiritual care. Trump has demonstrated that such soul searching is beyond him.  One cannot believe anything he says, which is most alarming.  The so-called “leader of the free world” is a dictator.   His narcissism and delusions of grandeur could turn America into a fascist state, and threatens the world with nuclear disaster.  He lacks impulse control, seen in his self-professed compulsive sexual abuse of women, his constant mocking and putting down of people, and his warmongering outbursts against North Korea.

The above examples are merely the tip of President Trump’s divisive volcanic authoritarian behavior.  His presidency should alarm any faith group, especially one with a “vision to create measurable and appreciable improvement in spiritual health that transforms people and communities in the US and across the globe.”

But a survey of ACPE’s monthly newsletter, covering President Trump’s time in office, reveals that this “premier-DOE recognized organization” has a circumscribed “vision.”  From November of 2016 through November of 2017, ACPE’s newsletter makes no reference to Trump’s authoritarian policies and behavior cited above.  The newsletter contains normal in-house business, such as:  organizational restructuring and new bylaws (“ACPE News,”, Nov. 2016); participation in a “joint spiritual care leadership symposium” (“ACPE Newsletter,”, Oct. 2017); facts and research “about spiritual health and spiritual care,” (“ACPE Newsletter,”, Aug. 2017); and updates of ACPE’s accrediting commission (“ACPE News,” May 2017, www.acpe, May 2017)

ACPE’s September 2017 newsletter cited the “destruction and suffering caused by Hurricane Harvey,” stated “ACPE is holding in thought and prayer . . . everyone impacted by the storm, is “pray[ing] for the “strength and courage” of its colleagues “directly impacted . . . as you endure this crisis and provide spiritual and pastoral care to all who find themselves in the throes of this catastrophe,” and listed “charities and aid organizations” to which ACPE members can “contribute assistance.” (“ACPE Newsletter,” Sept. 2017, `

In a number of newsletters, ACPE promoted its 10-day “Mission to Israel.”  The stated purpose is to “engage with one another, to experience the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as well as the modern state of Israel, and to have opportunities to engage with colleagues in Israel who are in the emerging field of spiritual care with site visits to centers.” (“ACPE Mission to Israel,” ACPE Newsletter,, Dec. 2016) The description of ACPE’s “Mission to Israel” contains no reference to the Palestinian people and the State of Israel’s occupation of their territories and oppression of them.   Such as Israeli soldiers and police carrying out violent hospital raids against Palestinian patients and medical staff. (See, “Israeli forces carry out violent hospital raids in ruthless display of force,” Amnesty International, July 25, 2017)

ACPE’s work with the Veterans Administration is featured in the monthly column of its president, Rev. Carlos Bell.  He cites ACPE’s training programs with veterans and “the commitment of the VA to the value of chaplaincy and to VA CPE programs.”  Regarding his personal experience as a CPE supervisor with veterans, Bell states, “The opportunity to serve individuals who have given so much to our country and sacrificed their lives was an unforgettable life changing experience.” (“Working Together, Building Together,”  ACPE Newsletter, March 2017)

Chaplains provide invaluable pastoral and spiritual care to military personnel and to veterans.  But the patriotic altar provided by Rev. Bell’s words serves to make disappear America’s unnecessary, illegal  invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, wars in which the lives of thousands of American soldiers have been needlessly “sacrificed.”  Wars that also have destroyed and uprooted the lives of millions of Iraqi and Afghan human beings.

There is the question of who is really being served.  ACPE would lose its “DOE-recognized” status and the golden goose of its CPE centers in VA hospitals and military bases if it dared to speak moral truth — on behalf of enlistees and veterans — about America’s criminal invasions and bombings of countries in an imperial pursuit of world domination, under the pretext of waging a “global war on terrorism.”

How is ACPE accomplishing its “vision to create measurable and appreciable improvement in spiritual health that transforms people and communities in the US and across the globe?”  This survey of its newsletters reveals no “measurable and appreciable” research on or commentary about the social justice and war and peace issues that greatly determine the health and illness of people.  ACPE’s “vision” would be well served by including in its spiritual care research and training the “measurable and appreciable” adverse effects of economic inequality, racism and the militarization of America, effects that are undermining the health of “people and communities in the US and across the globe.”

There is a prophetic voice in the Clinical Pastoral Education movement that sought to address the local, national and global threats represented by Donald Trump’s presidency.  On November 5, the Executive Chapter of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychology (CPSP) – which has some 1200 members and 95 training centers, and like ACPE, provides clinical pastoral education for health care chaplains and seminarians preparing to serve local congregations – sent an email to its membership, (I have been a member for 20 years) calling for President Trump’s ouster in a statement entitled, “Addressing the Perverse Leadership of Donald Trump.” (, Nov. 5, 2017 — see Addendum for statement)

Rather than praying for the president, CPSP’s leadership’s statement declares that “Trump must be removed from office by due process and with due haste.”  The executive leadership’s reasons are quite specific: Trump’s racially divisive pronouncements emboldening white supremacists, his public nuclear-warmongering threats against North Korea, with “destruction like this world has never seen,” which reveals his lack of a “a moral core,” and “signals an evil mind.”  The statement also cites Trump’s “predatory approaches to women,” which “make every woman a potential object of his perverse narcissistic cravings.”  And “he is a psychopathic liar” and “nothing he says can be believed.” (Ibid)

CPSP’s Executive Chapter reminds everyone of “the Adolf Hitler movement,” and that “a moral stand against Nazism was not negotiable ethically.”  The Chapter members’ cite “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemoller, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich and others who stood publicly against Hitler and set a public example.”  Thus these CPSP leaders say they “have a duty to give voice to our alarm about the threat to us all from the leadership of Donald Trump.”  The statement, released on the Executive Chapter’s behalf by CPSP Executive Director Raymond J. Lawrence, ends with an invitation “to all members of the CPSP community to join us in this urgent matter and add your name to this document as it is prepared for public distribution.” (Ibid)

Unfortunately, the resistance of enough CPSP members to the document led the Executive Chapter to back away from releasing it publicly.  CPSP members, like those of ACPE, are affiliated with various faith groups, many of whose leaders are guardians of the status quo, and would not take kindly to their clergy signing on to a controversial political statement.  Besides, deep in the religious DNA of many clergy is the avoidance of conflict that might threaten their standing and privilege.  Thus the Executive Chapter’s admirable prophetic statement is assumed to have been conveniently dumped into a morally evasive “too political” wastebasket.

The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy’s Executive Chapter now has a responsibility to share with all members why the statement, “Addressing the Perverse Leadership of Donald Trump,” was not released to the public.  CPSP members received the statement and were asked to discuss it in their individual Chapters and invited to be signatories.  The Nov. 5-email regarding the statement’s public release (see Addendum) was not conditional.  In fact, its “Preface” states that “the intent is to offer each member the opportunity to be a signatory in a public distribution of this letter,” because “many members . . . feel compelled to speak openly about our grave concern about the leadership of Donald Trump.”  It is assume that many of the some 1200 CPSP members signed the statement.

Hopefully, CPSP’s executive leadership will reconsider its decision and publish the statement and the names of the members who signed it.  An exemplary quality of the organization has been its leadership’s inclusion of social justice issues in the pastoral and spiritual care of the whole person.

CPSP’s motto is “Recovery of Soul in the Clinical Pastoral Movement.”  “The recovery of soul” is a sacred mission indeed.  And in the case of countless people being banned, barricaded, bombed, burdened and bypassed at the whim of this authoritarian president, “recovery of soul” demands a moral backbone.   A moral backbone, which is in keeping with the faith traditions of the members of CPSP and ACPE.

One such faith tradition is the premier statement on clinical pastoral care by Jesus, who was recorded as saying, “The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor . . . to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free.” (Luke 4: 16-18)

There is also the foremost statement on spiritual care from the prophet Isaiah, who declared, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loosen the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58: 6-7)

And, a principal statement on caring for people’s bodies and souls comes from Islam’s Qur’an: “Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or west but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, in the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love of it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle.  Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” (Qur’an 2: 177)

It is much easier for a faith leader to be a shepherd than a prophet. To see people as sheep to be tended to, rather than as individuals with human rights that may be violated and need to be fought for.  Yet, the pastoral and prophetic roles are inseparable, as the well-being and rights of people are interrelated.

Therefore, a moral challenge of health care and military chaplains – and all faith leaders — is to recognize and address the political, economic, legal and religious powers that greatly determine who shall be rich and who shall be poor, who shall be free and who shall be oppressed, who shall have health and who shall suffer illness, who shall live and who shall die.  Whether ACPE, CPSP or another such clinical pastoral training group — or their affiliated theological seminaries — “the spiritual health that transforms people and communities in the US and across the globe” depends on prophets of the people, and not just chaplains of the status quo.




Many members of the College Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy feel compelled to speak openly about our grave concern about the leadership of President Donald Trump. The Executive Chapter of CPSP has composed the following letter to be forwarded to each member of CPSP. The intent is to offer each member the opportunity to be a signatory in a public distribution of this letter.

Addressing the Perverse Leadership of Donald Trump

November 5, 2017

Tolerance for political diversity is a long tradition in American culture and many other advanced cultures as well. A tolerance for extreme differences of political opinion is generally accepted as a cultural value. But there are limits.

People of good will could not have accepted a continuation of racial segregation in this country. Nor could they have supported political leaders who promoted it. The movement against racial segregation led by Martin Luther King, Jr. was a struggle against a moral evil from which people of good will could not detach themselves.

In Europe, at mid-century, the Adolf Hitler movement was similarly evil. A moral stand against Nazism was not negotiable ethically. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemöller, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich and others who stood publicly against Hitler set a public example that was not really optional for faithful people. Now in the U.S., we face an evil potentially as destructive as racial segregation in the U.S. or Nazism in Europe. Or perhaps worse.

The failed political leadership of Donald Trump is communicating in no uncertain terms that the utter destruction of this nation is a political option. We cannot expect public threats like “destruction like the world has never seen” as envisioned by Donald Trump to leave us safe and unharmed. We cannot expect a catastrophic nuclear assault on North Korea, or any nation, to go unanswered ultimately. A political leader with a moral core does not make such undisciplined and reckless threats. To do so signals an evil mind.

The pathology of Donald Trump extends beyond the threat of nuclear catastrophe. He has also immeasurably cheapened political and public discourse. Literally speaking, nothing he says can be believed. He has demonstrated publicly and proudly that he is a pathological liar. He makes no pretense of valuing truth in any context.

Donald Trump is also personally aggressive in ways that cannot be acceptable to people with principles of decency. His crude and predatory approaches to women make every woman a potential object of his perverse, narcissistic cravings. Donald Trump establishes a public example for every male that portends altogether to destroy not only gender relations but our entire social fabric.

We who are individually part of the leadership of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy have a duty to give voice to our alarm about the threat to us all from the leadership of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump must be removed from office by due process and with all due haste. Our judgement is that the consequences of a delay in such action threaten our well-being, and in fact the well-being of the entire earth.

The Executive Chapter invites all members of the CPSP community to join us in this urgent matter and to add your name to this document as it is prepared for public distribution. Click the green button below to add your name to the letter.

Raymond J. Lawrence
for the Executive Chapter




Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His newly published book, The Minister who Could Not Be “preyed” Away is available Alberts is also author of The Counterpunching Minister and of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is