Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fundamentalist Chaplains Part One

As a former Army infantry officer with combat experience in Vietnam, I remain deeply concerned for the U.S. military. Unfortunately, during my year in combat (almost all of 1968)  I saw the worst of the chaplaincy.  The chaplain in my infantry battalion was known for frequenting prostitutes. He was a good-old-boy, slap-you-on-the-back kind of chaplain who had nothing to give to men who were going out with the strong potential of dying. He was one of the "new" kind of chaplains.  Certainly, no on would have slapped the label "fundamentalist" on him. 

A friend who has access to such things in the military sent me the attached paper.  While it does not yet represent the official position of the U.S. Army, it indicates the depth of the conflict taking place in the chaplains corp right now.  



by Chaplain (Colonel) Barbara K. Sherer United States Army

This SRP is submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Master of Strategic Studies Degree. The U.S. Army War College is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, 3624 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, (215) 662-5606. The Commission on Higher Education is an institutional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The views expressed in this student academic research paper are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
U.S. Army War College

The Chaplain Corps is the Army’s primary agency for practically ensuring the free exercise of religion for America’s soldiers.1 The Army chaplain assumes many roles, functions, and responsibilities in the performance of duty, but there is none more key and essential than this, the Constitutional mandate to ensure the free exercise of religion.
Army chaplains2 represent a wide variety of denominations and faith groups, with a broad base of theological beliefs. These chaplains must work together collegially in order to provide religious support to a very diverse soldier population. Yet some chaplains hold theological beliefs that are very strict and unwavering. These strict beliefs make it a challenge for the chaplains to interact comfortably with others who do not have the same faith practices. An example of one such belief set is Christian Fundamentalism.
This paper will examine the beliefs and practices of Christian fundamentalists, and consider whether they conflict with the Army chaplaincy stated mission to ensure the free exercise of religion for America‟s soldiers. The paper will begin by defining the term fundamentalist” along with an often associated term, “evangelical.” Next, the author will discuss the legal basis for the existence of the chaplaincy and various related court cases and legal questions. Following the legal section the author will describe some of the challenges that have occurred when fundamentalist chaplains minister in the pluralistic military community. The paper will close with a discussion of the methods currently in place to ensure chaplains are capable of providing religious support in the current environment and a few recommendations for ways the chaplaincy might strengthen policies and training in order to protect the free exercise of religion.
The underlying theme throughout the paper, which will be demonstrated in both research and discussion, is that Christian fundamentalist beliefs, when put into practice, may be incompatible with the requirements to provide for the free exercise of religion in the pluralistic military environment. Chaplains who hold these beliefs must either moderate their actions and refrain from imposing their theology and values on others, or risk infringing the rights of their soldiers.

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