Category Archives: Church-State

What do you think of this chaplain’s actions?

According to an Army Times article, a Christian Broadcasting Network report with journalist Chuck Holton, and an interview with the Army chaplain at the center of the story on the Daily Signal, the facts are that

– in conducting a suicide prevention program, an Army chaplain presented various sources of non-religious support and help to troops

– the chaplain shared with the troops that, personally, when he was an infantryman, he had found the Psalms and the story of King David and his Christian faith helpful in overcoming depression

– troops are required to attend such suicide prevention programs

– the handout the chaplain gave troops at the end of the session had a list of non-religious resources on one side; on the other, he had written Psalms from the Old Testament Bible

– the chaplain states that he presented his personal approach as just that, personal, and did not indicate any of the options he outlined were mandatory

– some troops objected to being  given, in the handout, religious material at a non-religious, mandatory program

– the Army issued a letter of concern to the chaplain

– “A local letter of concern is not punishment,” according to a statement by Maj. Gen. Scott Miller quoted in the Army Times.  “Rather, it is an administrative counseling tool, with no long-term consequences. By design, letters of concerns are temporary, local administrative actions that are removed from a Soldier’s personnel file upon transfer to another assignment.”

– Gen. Miller, the article continues, further stated that “the role of military chaplains is to serve the religious needs of military members of a unit and their families.  Their role is not to provide religious instruction during non-religious mandatory training classes. Chaplains may appropriately share their personal experiences, but any religious information given by a Chaplain to a military formation should be limited to an orientation of what religious services and facilities are available and how to contact Chaplains of specific faiths.”

– chaplains, who are both ordained clergy and military officers, are typically in charge of these suicide-prevention briefings

So….

Did this Army chaplain overstep his bounds by sharing his faith as a personal aside in a mandated, non-religious program?  Would he have been neglecting his duties as a chaplain endorsed by a Protestant church not to do so?  Should he have not addressed the help many find in religion and spirituality at all?  Was it okay to address the help many find in religion and spirituality but do so more broadly, encouraging troops of all faiths to turn to their church, mosque, temple, synagogue…?   Should the handout have had no references to religion at all?  Should he have listed on the back information on how to get in touch with a representative of one’s own faith tradition? Was the Army right to reprimand the chaplain or out of line?….

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Our fragile and amazing First Amendment

At a recent evening hosted by the Crossroads Cultural Center, a young woman in the audience asked  how chaplains minister to troops of other faiths or no faith.  This is a question that always comes up, and, indeed, it was one of the issues that drove us to make the film: we wanted to see for ourselves whether and how a predominantly Christian clergy in the employ of the state served the needs of a religiously diverse population.  Chaplain Ken Bolin answered in a way that reminded us of the many chaplains we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq.  They reached to others out, fueled by their faith to love, not judge, fellow service men and women.

The more time passes, the more I realize how very important this is.  Anyone read the book Christian Nation?  It is a particularly chilling dystopia because it underscores that what we have is so very valuable and, possibly, so very fragile.  We take its existence for granted, but the  Constitutional balance that at once guarantees our free exercise of religion and prohibits the government from establishing any one religion is delicate and finely tuned.  And it needs to be protected if it is to endure.  In his extremely well researched novel, author Fred Rich sets out how, through a confluence of planning and accident, a dogmatic religious faction comes to power in the US.  And, yes, military chaplains play a role in this dystopia: rather than reaching out in faith-inspired love to help and comfort troops, the chaplains in this novel love only those who share their faith and help the government impose that faith on those who do not.

We are so very lucky that the world Rich describes exists within the pages of a book and not in the world we inhabit.  As we approach Memorial Day, we want to thank all the chaplains and all the troops who have died upholding this delicate and oh so valuable balance in our Constitution.

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Filed under atheism, chaplains, chaplains, Church-State, military

A live link

Although the Humanity Explored film festival is over, there still seems to be a live link through another site:  http://learni.st/learnings/86739-chaplains-under-fireImage

So if you want to stream the doc, you’ve got another chance (and, of course, there is always the DVD you can buy).

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Why can’t we speak of ‘worldview’ instead of ‘spirituality’ or ‘faith’?

A piece in Huffington Post blasts the Marine Corps for considering, the author writes, “those who do not profess a religious belief  or choose to leave their religion are to be considered a potential hazard to themselves and the Corps and be placed under greater scrutiny than their peers.”

Let’s back up.  At issue is a Marine Corps document that deals with, among other things, identifying Marines who might be prone to engaging in risky behavior.  It reads:

Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 9.17.08 AMIt goes on to list 11 categories of these potential risk indicators, including such things as relationship problems, substance abuse, financial problems, and off-duty activities that include high-risk or anti-social behaviors.  One of them has to do with Guidance/Moral Compass. It reads:

Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 9.21.28 AM

It is easy to see how a loss of spiritual faith might be a warning signal, since it could mean that a person is suddenly bereft of a belief system and community that provided great support.  It is equally easy to see why the author, who works for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is irate at the inclusion of lack of spiritual faith as a marker.  Plenty of people without any “spiritual faith” have a thought-out worldview from which they derive meaning and morality.   Interestingly, a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry concluded that people who profess to be spiritual but do not adhere to any one religion are more at risk for drug use and mental health problem than people who identify themselves as agnostic, atheist or religious.

It seems pretty clear that the determining factor in terms of mental health is not religious or spiritual faith but the presence or lack of a thought-out a worldview.  So would it not be more accurate for the military — and the culture at large — to think and speak in terms of “worldviews”  when dealing with practical, this-earthly-life issues?  The question at hand was not religious in nature.  The task was to identify indicators that would lead to risky behavior.  And, in terms of mental stability, it is the fact that a person thinks about the role of individuals  in the greater scheme, about the fact that individuals belong to a greater body of humanity — that is what’s important, not whether the framework is religious, humanist, or atheist.

Ron Eastes, a military chaplain we spent time with at War Eagle in Iraq, talked about working with soldiers “not of my faith, atheists, soldiers who understand the world differently.”  When they came to him for counseling, it was not their lack of faith that put them at risk for problems.  It was a bad marriage or financial issues.  Similarly, Pat McLaughlin, with whom we spent time at TQ also in Iraq, talked about atheists whom he regarded as models in terms of their ethics and behavior.  Would both have liked to see these men and women come to share their faith in Christ?  Absolutely.  Did either of them see in their lack of faith a cause for concern in terms of the stability and safety of the unit? No.

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Perform or Provide still holds

Our  post Chaplains once again used as pawns drew an impassioned comment from Thomas Carney, who wrote:

Whoever wrote this is sorely mistaken. The same-sex ceremony garbage has been MANDATED that chaplains WILL perform them and if not, said chaplains must resign their commissions. Military chaplains are also ILLEGALLY ordered not to preach against homosexuality in military chapels. One of the last acts of Adm McMullen as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was to tell all Chiefs of Chaplains that all chaplains MUST be on board with the pro-homosexual agenda. This comes straight from the White House.

Since we could not find any definitive information on-line, we contacted the office of the Army Chief of Chaplains and it appears that, Mr. Carney has less to fear than he thought.  Indeed, the policy of ‘Perform or Provide’ still holds.  Here is what the spokesman for the Army Chief of Chaplains wrote:

 I speak only for the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps.
A Chaplain is not required to perform ANY religious service if doing so
would violate the tenants of his or her religion, personal beliefs or
conscience.  Army Chaplains perform or provide religious services according to the dictates of their faith, personal beliefs, and conscience, consistent with their denomination/endorser, provided those services are not prohibited by applicable state and local law.

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Filed under chaplains, chaplains, Church-State, First Amendment, guidelines, military, religion

a precedent for a Wiccan becoming a military chaplain?

According to an AP report, we may soon be seeing a California prison hiring a chaplain of the Wiccan faith.  here are a couple of excerpts:

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a trial judge’s dismissal of a Wiccan prisoner lawsuit seeking the same rights as the five other religious practices. The appeals court said the Wiccan prisoners make a compelling argument that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation may be unconstitutionally showing preference to the five religions in violation of the 1st Amendment.

. . .

“There are certainly enough Wiccan prisoners to merit their own chaplain,” said Gary Friedman, a spokesman for the American Correctional Chaplains Association. “I hope this leads to the hiring of more chaplains to represent even more minority faith groups.”

Given the long battle Wiccans in the military have been fighting to have a chaplain who shares their belief, this is a case worth watching.

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Filed under chaplains, chaplains, Church-State, First Amendment, military, religion

Humanity Explored film festival

For all of you who ask us where you can watch “Chaplains Under Fire”– well, we are proud to announce that the documentary will be part of the next Humanity Explored film festival whose organizers, Culture Unplugged, make it easy for everyone to attend: it is on-line, free, and runs for a year.  Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 8.42.50 AMThe 2013 festival will launch later this month and, in the meantime, you can still check out the 2012 films.

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Filed under chaplains, Church-State, documentary, First Amendment, military, religion