Last March, Dr. Wendy Cadge, founder of the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab and head of the Templeton Religion Trust project on chaplaincy and covenantal pluralism, tasked me with putting together an advisory board for the project. As we made rosters of potential candidates, our team was intentional in creating a board that was diverse in representation—and not just one that signaled diversity. Our team discussed various points of representation, accounting for religious background, race, gender, age range, and fields of expertise. After deliberations and invitations, the resulting board is one that represents a slice of the current religious and demographic landscape of America.
Our project highlights chaplains as facilitators of covenantal pluralism. Chaplains are spiritual leaders and professionals who play an important role in facilitating religious inclusion, whether it be in the military, prisons, hospitals, university campuses, corporate companies, law enforcement, public transit, or disaster relief. One of the key findings from the project is that those who employ and train chaplains are predominantly white, male, and Christian. In a meeting with our advisory board during which we presented and discussed these findings, the general consensus was that we needed more diverse representation among the gatekeepers in the field.
Social scientists who study hiring find that managers and employers are more likely to hire and promote those who are similar to them and those to whom they feel a natural affinity. This perpetuates cycles of labor stratification and inequality in representation. They also found that, among faith groups and religious bodies, religious leadership that is mostly white is more likely to extend mentorship to junior white leaders and not up-and-coming leaders of color. Other studies too find that women and queer individuals have a harder time getting hired by local congregations and churches. Emerging findings from our lab’s studies, including a study on black chaplains and this project suggest that people of color, women, and minority religious groups are still vastly underrepresented in chaplaincy roles.
Our lab’s findings suggest that the future of religious care will be dominated by chaplains as attendance in congregations and local religious bodies dwindle. Theological schools, which also historically cater to training predominantly Christian leaders, are shrinking in size and number. Besides the military, hospitals, prisons, and law enforcement, more chaplains are meeting individuals in the context of their workplaces, university campuses, and in other circumstances of daily life, such as public transit. We believe that training, be it theological or similar types of institutions for future spiritual leaders, also needs to account for shifting contexts and locations of spiritual care.
These findings also tell us that for those currently in leadership roles, there is a significant and urgent need to intentionally mentor, hire, and promote demographically diverse junior leadership who can serve and provide spiritual care to younger generations who increasingly identify as “spiritual but not religious.”
Token diversity is a poor substitute for true diversity and inclusion. Often, as our team found while building our own board of advisors, outstanding leaders from diverse backgrounds are out there, and junior talent always exists to elevate. Inclusion requires more than signaling and symbolic gestures. It requires strategic intentionality in how we mentor, hire, and promote.