Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fundamentalist Chaplains Part Six

A fundamentalist pastor who attends CH-BOLC will find it difficult to complete the training without recognizing the potential conflict between a conviction to share the Gospel with a soldier, and that soldiers right to free exercise of religion. Some chaplains will successfully resolve the conflict by adjusting their actions to conform to the expectations for ministry in a pluralistic environment. Others may come to the realization that chaplaincy in the armed forces is not for them, and request release from military service. A third group may bury feelings of frustration with the system, and continue to operate according to their personal wishes. By their actions, this group can undermine the constitutional basis for the chaplaincy and threaten its right to exist. Chaplain supervisors65 must identify members of this third group, counsel them, and ensure they receive proper mentoring from senior leaders.
While there is a great diversity of faith groups within the Army Chaplain Corps, most units have only one chaplain, and that chaplain cannot be all things to all people. For this reason, Army regulations state that the professional military religious leader must perform or provide religious support that meets the spiritual and religious requirements of the unique military culture.66 Supervisory chaplains help their subordinate chaplains understand the difference between performing and providing religious support for soldiers, and counsel them to ensure they understand the responsibility to provide religious support for all members of the unit. The supervisor can also arrange for someone not in that chaplain‟s rating chain to serve as a mentor, helping to guide the subordinate chaplain in the right direction. When counseling and mentoring fail, and chaplains continue to indicate by words or actions that they are incapable of providing religious support in a pluralistic environment, the Officer Evaluation Report (OER) becomes an important tool. When there are problems, it is essential for that supervisor to provide honest input on the OER so that promotion and schools boards can make informed decisions.


The Army Chaplaincy takes seriously its responsibility to ensure the chaplain corps is filled with men and women dedicated to the free exercise of religion. The accessions, training, mentoring and evaluation of chaplains are very thorough, yet further steps could be taken to help the chaplaincy limit instances of religious intolerance. Following are a few recommendations for ways the chaplaincy might further strengthen its ability to support ministry in a pluralistic environment. Although the primary focus for this paper has been the Army chaplaincy, it is the Department of Defense which “establishes requirements and procedures for religious organizations to endorse religious ministry professionals for the chaplaincy.67 Therefore, some of the recommendations will involve policy decisions at the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
The accessions process is critical to ensuring chaplains are capable of providing for the free exercise of religion. The Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) which provides guidance for the appointment of chaplains for the military departments requires that the applicant is “willing to function in a pluralistic environment,” and will support directly and indirectly the free exercise of religion by all members of the Military Services, their family members, and other persons authorized to be served by the military chaplaincies.68 This statement must be stronger. The Armed Forces Chaplains Board (AFCB)69 should recommend to the Secretary of Defense that this DoDI be amended so that there is no doubt what it means to function in a pluralistic environment. Include statements similar to those found in the NCMAF Code of Ethics, such as “provide for pastoral care and ministry to persons of religious bodies other than their own” and respect the beliefs and traditions of their colleagues.”
In the area of training, the topic of pluralism seems absent from chaplain training levels beyond initial entry. An initial scan of the curriculum for the Chaplain Captain Career Course (C4) and Chaplain Brigade Functional Area course indicates that they do not specifically address the need for pluralism. 70 However, both provide lessons on the topics of leadership, supervision, coaching and mentoring which would offer excellent opportunities to revisit pluralism and free exercise of religion. The pluralism challenges facing a chaplain supervisor at the brigade level are twofold. First, a chaplain may supervise a subordinate chaplain who is intolerant of others, and will need to recognize the problem and be aware of options for dealing with it. Second, chaplains may be supervising others who represent faith groups very different from their own. These chaplains must honestly evaluate their own responses and make sure they provide the same support and understanding for all subordinates, regardless of their faith backgrounds. Discussions about pluralism and free exercise should occur at all levels of the chaplaincy, and include the corps-wide Chaplaincy Annual Sustainment Training and the Chief of Chaplains Senior Leader Development Training.
The most difficult topic that should be addressed is the question of evangelism. As stated in the NCMAF code of ethics, chaplains and their endorsing institutions declare: “I will not proselytize from other religious bodies.” However, the code continues by adding but I retain the right to evangelize those who are not affiliated.71 This statement leaves a rather broad, undefined area known as “those who are not affiliated.” What is meant by this phrase? Does it mean not affiliated with somrecognized faith group? Perhaps it means not affiliated with my faith group”, or even more precisely, “my specific denomination or sect”. In the absence of a definition, each chaplain is free to interpret this as he or she chooses. A fundamentalist chaplain could choose to define not affiliated” as someone who is not already a professing Christian. This would mean that Muslim, Buddhist, or professed Atheist soldiers would all be appropriate targets for evangelism. Would an unsolicited, unwelcomed attempt to convert any of these soldiers jeopardize their rights to free exercise of religion? On the other hand, if any of the aforementioned soldiers should invite discussion or show interest in learning more about the chaplain‟s faith background, is the chaplain then free to share? The challenge, therefore, is in knowing when and how it is appropriate to evangelize another soldier.
Any discussion about setting parameters for evangelism would certainly be contentious and not easily resolved. However, the discussion would be worthwhile, and should occur between the AFCB and NCMAF. The AFCB has the mission, representing OSD, to promote dialogue about religious issues with civilian organizations.72 The AFCB could encourage NCMAF to more explicitly define the term evangelism, and discuss appropriate parameters for this activity. They might consider adding a statement to the code of ethics like that found in the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) Code of Professional Ethics, which affirms: [ACPE members] approach the religious convictions of a person, group and/or CPE student with respect and sensitivity; avoid the imposition of their theology or cultural values on those served or supervised.73 Regardless of any decision made by NCMAF, AFCB, could recommend to the Secretary of Defense that the DoD Instruction regarding appointment of chaplains include parameters for appropriate evangelistic activities.

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