These anecdotal situations demonstrate that within the chaplaincy there exist pockets of intolerance. That intolerance represents a lack of respect for the views of others, and a failure to embrace the pluralistic environment in which chaplains work. In a corps of approximately 1650 Army chaplains on active duty, it should not be surprising to find a few people who are intolerant of the religious views of others. While there is no indication that these problems have reached epidemic proportion, it is still an issue which cannot be ignored.
Even a small group of chaplains who do not support the pluralistic nature of this ministry could be a threat to the chaplaincy‟s ability to provide for the soldiers‟ free exercise of religion. In today‟s Army, it is not unusual for units to be deployed across a wide geographic area of operations. It is common for one chaplain to serve as the single source of religious support for a number of isolated Forward Operating Bases and Combat Outposts. If that chaplain is intolerant of the wide variety of religious beliefs represented in his or her unit, that chaplain may fail to provide for the free exercise of those soldiers. And yet, as described by Drazin, ensuring the free exercise is the primary basis for the existence of the chaplaincy.
Fortunately, there are methods in place to help ensure that religious professionals serving as chaplains are able to provide support for the wide variety of faith groups they may encounter. But are these methods enough, or should the chaplaincy consider adjustments to policy and regulations?
Accessions, Training, and Supervision
A clergyperson who wishes to join the Army must pass through two gates in order to be accessioned as a chaplain. First, an official representative of a faith community recognized by the Armed Forces Chaplains Board must endorse the individual as fully qualified and capable of representing that faith group in the armed forces as a chaplain. Second, a board convened by the Army Chief of Chaplains must consider the prospective chaplain‟s file and, if he or she is deemed fit for military service, select the applicant for military service.
At this time, most communities of faith which endorse individuals for ministry in the armed forces participate in NCMAF, the consortium of endorsing agents mentioned earlier in this paper. This organization has expressed their expectations for ethical behavior by chaplains through the Code of Ethics printed in Appendix 1. The code serves as a reminder of the environment in which ministry is performed. The third statement affirms: “I understand as a chaplain in the United States Armed Forces that I will function in a pluralistic environment with chaplains of other religious bodies to provide for ministry to all military personnel and their families entrusted to my care.”59 The subsequent statement describes the proper approach by which a chaplain operates in this pluralistic environment.
I will seek to provide for pastoral care and ministry to persons of religious bodies other than my own within my area of responsibility with the same investment of myself as I give to members of my own religious body. I will work collegially with chaplains of religious bodies other than my own as together we seek to provide as full a ministry as possible to our people. I will respect the beliefs and traditions of my colleagues and those to whom I minister. When conducting services of worship that include persons of other than my religious body, I will draw upon those beliefs, principles, and practices that we have in common.60
As the first gatekeeper in the accessions process, endorsing agents may use this code as a baseline for the qualities they seek in chaplains from their organizations. However, there is no legal requirement for prospective chaplains to swear or affirm that they will abide by the NCMAF code. Therefore, the Chaplain Accessions Board, as the second gatekeeper in the process, requires that an applicant submit a signed statement which is similar in content to the NCMAF Code of Ethics.
While remaining faithful to my denominational beliefs and practices, I understand that, as a chaplain, I must be sensitive to religious pluralism and will provide for the free exercise of religion by military personnel, their families, and other authorized personnel served by the Army. I further understand that, while the Army places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religions, accommodation is based on military need and cannot be guaranteed at all times and in all places.61
Two further resources are available to the Chaplain Accessions Board members as they assess the ability of the applicants to minister in a pluralistic environment. The prospective chaplain must submit a one-page essay titled “Why I Want to Be An Army Chaplain.” This essay gives the board insight into the individual‟s theology of ministry and purpose for applying to be a chaplain. Also, every applicant must have a personal interview with an Active Duty chaplain who holds the rank of colonel. The chaplain performing the interview is expected to assess the ability of the applicant to operate in a pluralistic environment and offer his or her insights about the prospective chaplain's “willingness to work cooperatively with chaplains of various faith groups, ethnic backgrounds, and gender.”62
Through diligent efforts of the endorsing agents and the accessions boards there should be enough data to make informed selections of Army chaplains. However, asevidenced by the anecdotes related earlier in this paper, there are times when clergy who are not comfortable with ministry in a pluralistic environment are commissioned as chaplains. Perhaps they did not fully understand the definition of pluralism or the wide variety of faith practices they would actually encounter. Perhaps they rationalized that it would be possible to “respect” the religious views of other persons and yet make a concerted effort to convert them. For whatever reason, these chaplains will have a difficult time tolerating those with divergent beliefs, and may fail to respect the rights of their soldiers. What, then, are the options for guiding these chaplains toward appropriate behavior, or guiding them back to civilian ministry? The options include training, counseling, mentoring, and the Officer Evaluation System.
The initial entry training for chaplains provided by the United States Army Chaplain Center and School (USACHCS) is a critical step in the transformation of civilian clergypersons into military chaplains. An examination of the curriculum for the course, known as Chaplain Basic Officer Leader Course (CH-BOLC), demonstrates that USACHCS takes seriously the responsibility to prepare chaplains to operate in a pluralistic environment.63 Four hours of classroom time are allotted for specific coursework on pluralism and the constitutional basis for the chaplaincy. Another twenty- two hours of classroom time focus the student on ancillary subjects with direct application to ministry in a pluralistic environment.64 In addition, a minimum of fifteen hours are set aside for instructors to coach and mentor students in their staff groups. This training provides a solid foundation for new chaplains, and they should graduate from their CH-BOLC course with an appreciation for their role in providing for the free exercise of religion.