Category Archives: chaplains

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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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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Chaplain receives Medal of Honor

Hard to imagine a more inspiring story than that of Chaplain Emil Kapaun who served in World War 2 and then in the Korean war.  Here is a particularly moving excerpt from a two-part series by Jaqueline Hames published in Soldiers Magazine (here are links to part 1 and part 2):

Then-Sgt. 1st Class Herbert Miller was badly injured leading his platoon across the river. His ankle was broken when grenade shrapnel slammed into it, sending him tumbling into a ditch, where he hid beneath the body of an enemy Soldier as the Chinese and Koreans advanced.
The enemy came into the ditch to conduct a search and found Miller. After he was captured, a Chinese Soldier noticed Miller was wounded, and prepared to shoot him.
“He had the gun pointed at my head, and about that time, I looked and this American come across the road and it was Father Kapaun,” Miller said. “He pushed the man aside — why that Soldier never shot him, I’ll never know.”
“And they were still shooting and firing at us, they wasn’t just setting there looking at one another, war was going on!” he said. “And he walked across that road, standing up, never got hit or anything.”
Kapaun knew it was common enemy practice to execute men too injured to walk, the Rev. John Hotze, judicial vicar for the Wichita Diocese, explained, so Kapaun picked Miller up and carried him.
“I kept telling him to put me down, you can’t carry me like this. He said, ‘If I put you down, they’ll shoot ya,'” Miller said.
As the prisoners marched, Miller would alternate between leaning on Kapaun and being carried by Kapaun – this went on for 30 miles. They were separated upon arrival at the Pyoktong prison camp, Kapaun was sent to the officer’s compound and Miller to the enlisted.

Later in the prison camp,  Kapaun was put in with the officers since he was both chaplain and Captain.

Kapaun would gather the officers every night at dusk and sing with them, Hotze explained. They would sing the “Lord’s Prayer,” “God Save the Queen” and “God Bless America.”
“He wanted to make sure the enlisted men knew the officers were still there so that they would not lose hope, and would not feel abandoned,” Hotze said.
Once all the officers were settled in their huts, Kapaun would sneak out and head to the enlisted compound, where he would go from hut to hut speaking with the men and providing spiritual guidance.
“We were housed in mud shacks,” then-1st Lt. William Funchess said. “The shacks had straw roofs, and the sliding doors and one small window were covered in paper. It was very primitive conditions, and I was extremely hungry.”
The enemy had lost Funchess’ paperwork and didn’t realize he was an officer, so he was placed in the enlisted compound. One night, as he was out walking around, Funchess came across a man crouching near a fire who “looked real old” and dirty, with a big beard.
“I walked over to him, toward the fire and this old gentleman, and anyway, as soon as I got near, he spoke up and welcomed me and he said, ‘I am Chaplain Emil Kapaun, and I am melting snow,'” Funchess recalled. “He asked, ‘Would you like a cup of hot water?’ And I said, ‘Yes sir.'”
They struck up a conversation and Kapaun described how he would slip through the barbed wire between the compounds, dodging armed guards, to come and care for the enlisted men.
Kapaun would scrounge around the camp and raid enemy warehouses for millet seed, corn and sometimes soybeans, Funchess said, filling his pockets and distributing the food among the prisoners.

Kapaun fell ill and died in what his captors called a hospital and what the prisoners dubbed the “Death House” on May 6, 1951.

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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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Can computers help teach the art of being a chaplain?

Probably not entirely, but they might help prepare chaplains for the challenges that lie ahead, according to an article by Mark Pinsky of the Religion News Service.  He writes:

The animated figure on the computer screen moves carefully among the wounded, darting from one fallen figure to another. Trailing the combat medics, the uniformed military chaplain kneels and performs “spiritual triage,” assessing who is dead, who is soon to die, and who is likely to survive.

For the dead, there is silent prayer; for the gravely wounded and those in pain, there are words of comfort. Checking dog tags to determine the faith of the fallen, the pastor uses language consistent with each faith tradition. At each point in the action, a prompt asks users what they think is the appropriate response, and then offers them feedback on their choices.

It is clear from the article that any such computer program is an adjunct to not a substitution for the mentoring and training only another human can provide.

“We shouldn’t confuse simulation trainers as replacements for chaplains or care providers,”  [Chaplain Jeff Zust, an Army lieutenant colonel and an EMT] said. “Trauma care and counseling need to be provided in person. There is no substitute for human contact in training.”

Navy Chaplain Josh Sherwin, 31, a rabbi who has deployed three times to Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, agrees.

“There is no way a classroom environment can prepare you,” he said. “But a simulation that puts you through realistic situations can be highly valuable.”

The article then concludes with information about another valuable tool — it is one you will recognize:

A 2010 documentary, “Chaplains Under Fire,” examines the roles of military clergy in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the complexities inherent in their service. The film shows chaplains visiting with soldiers in forward operating bases, watching over them in field hospitals, and meeting their flag-draped coffins when they are returned to the United States.

“It’s exhilarating to be in combat,” says Chaplain Bennett Sandford in the film, after escaping an improvised explosive attack unscathed. But before long, after praying over a slain Marine, the Baptist minister says, “the exhilaration went away.”

We never set out to make a training tool for the military.  But we cannot think of a higher honor than to see our work  being used to shape the chaplains of tomorrow.

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Filed under casualties, chaplains, chaplains, documentary, First Amendment, military, religion, suicides, wounded warriors

Humanity Explored Film Festival up and running

Screen Shot 2012-12-20 at 11.19.55 AMHumanity Explored Film Festival is up and running, and you can watch Chaplains Under Fire on-line as well as a number of other great documentaries and feature films.  And, please, give the festival your feedback and spread the word.  Thanks.

Screen Shot 2012-12-20 at 11.11.30 AM

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Chaplains once again used as pawns

Once again, military chaplains are being used to serve a political agenda.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is urging supporters to contact their representatives and urge them to keep in the National Defense Authorization Act language that prevents same-sex marriages from being performed on military installations.  So far, so fine.

But NOM argues that this action protects “the religious liberty of our military chaplains, who could otherwise be forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies as part of their official duties.”  Now, really.  That is simply untrue.  Military chaplains have to follow orders when it comes to their duties as officers, but when it comes to their religious duties they are never required to go against the doctrines of their faith.   Nobody can force a Roman Catholic military chaplain to perform a baptism by immersion if he believes this violates his religious beliefs, so you really think he could be forced to unite two men or two women in matrimony?  That’s what the “Provide or Perform” policy of the military chaplaincy is all about:  to perform for their troops those religious duties they can; and when asked for a ceremony or other religious duty they cannot perform, then they are to provide someone who can.

(Provide or Perform is one of the issues Chaplains Under Fire raises and is the subject of short in  Discussion Matters, the extra-features DVD)

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