Friday, July 29, 2005

Chaplains Disloyal To National Religion




I heard this story on NPR regarding the over abundance of evangelicals Christians in the ranks of chaplains of the military. Having been a part of military chapel system at times I feel it is an incredibly tough job to be a chaplain. It is a political mine field. Over the years, my wife and I talked about the possibiliites of going into the chaplaincy, but because there has to be so much compromise, we felt it would not be a fit.

In this story NPR basically stated that the evangelical Chaplains were not playing by the rules when it comes to evangelizing and when it comes to serving those of other faiths. In a sense I think NPR is stating that the national religion of the United States is an ecumenical one. In a sense, the Unitarian faith would be the state sponsored church and these chaplains are disloyal. (Perhaps I overstate my case.) However, the main push of the story seemed to be that the evangelical men and women who serve as chaplains should be more generic and less specific in the way they expressed their faith. This tension is exactly why I felt I had to leave the chapel at Frankfurt, Germany. While I did not begrudge a Christian Science chaplain from serving, I did not want non-trinitarian chaplain preaching a different gospel to my family. I wanted him to serve, just not serve me and my family. Generic religion may be fine if that is what you beleive, but some of us believe God sets the standards, not the Chaplain Corps, the US government, nor NPR.

As I understand it, the Chaplain Corps attempts to recruit the same percentages as reflect the rank and file in the military at large. Also as I understand it, the Chaplain Corps has gone to great lengths to recruit Roman Catholic chaplains. They have even made it so that a Roman Catholic priest can be much older than his evangelical counterparts. But there are many reasons Roman Catholics are not entering the ministry. Then if they do enter, why seek to serve in the military when there are many needs in the civilian sector.

The capitalization of the word evangelical in the story and using the term evangelical the same way you would properly capitalize Roman Catholic is an error. Evangelical is not a denomination. There are many small and varied groups that one might (or might not) call evangelical. I think the numbers in the Chaplain Corps should reflect each specific denomination. Lumping certain groups together by one's liking into a single category may simplify the recruiting issue and the accusation building, however, those who are a part of those groups find their distinctions being trampled upon.

I think you will find that the Chaplain Corps has been working hard to make their ranks look like the soldier ranks. I also think these public servants by and large try to balance faith and national service in a way that does not unnecessarily comprehmise either.
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