Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

6/13 2016

Theological Values of Social Work

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theology and social workThe theological values of social work can be summarized by two of my husband’s phrases, “God loves us no matter what” and “be a hard worker.”

God Loves Us No Matter What

Scripture tells us: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” Rom 8:38-39.

A social worker might say, “For I am convinced that neither hunger, nor thirst, nor mental illness, nor physical illness, nor abuse, nor homelessness, nor wealth, nor government, nor violence, nor poverty, nor injustice, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In a nutshell social work is seeking justice for the “least of these.” It is working for change in social institutions that are decaying and unhelpful. It is working for change for children and the elderly. It is working for change for the abused. It is advocating. It is being nimble. It is listening.

The theological values of social work are actually quite simple—God love us no matter what.

Be a Hard Worker

Social workers actively live out this belief that God loves us no matter what. Believing that all human beings need to know, and deserve to know, that they are a beloved child of God.

What I most like about the term “social work” is the word WORK. That is absolutely part of the theology. That God wants us to work. Changing social norms, society, government, or the life of just one child takes an enormous amount of work. It takes time, dedication, knowledge, and wherewithal to get the job done.

Social workers are typically underpaid work horses. They are in the background of the story, receiving little to no glory for their hard work. But they do see results.

They get to see children succeeding in school, they get to see behavior management techniques working, they get to see adults discharged home from the hospital with the skills and care they need, they get to listen to couples and see reconciliation, they get to be in the tender moments of life, and they work to get beneficial results for all involved.

The Core Values

The National Association of Social Workers, of which I am a proud member, gives the following definition of the core values of social work:

The mission of the social work profession is rooted in a set of core values. These core values, embraced by social workers throughout the profession’s history, are the foundation of social work’s unique purpose and perspective:

  • service,
  • social justice,
  • dignity and worth of the person,
  • importance of human relationships,
  • integrity, and
  • competence.

You can find more information on these core values and the NASW code of ethics at their website.

Social workers are hard workers. Social workers believe that all humans deserve dignity, service, justice, integrity, and competence. In theological terms, “God loves us no matter what.”

For more information on programs in social work and theology, visit the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary MDiv/MSW joint degree program page.

The Rev. Erin Davenport is a 2005 alumna of the MDiv program. Through the Seminary’s joint degree program, she also earned her MSW from the University of Pittsburgh. A former chaplain, she now resides in Pittsburgh and serves as the Seminary’s director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute.

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