Tag Archives: military chaplains

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?….

Leave a comment

Filed under chaplains, Church-State, guidelines

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.

Leave a comment

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

Crossroads: “Hope for our Veterans”

We are delighted and honored to be part of “Hope for Our Veterans,” a three-part series organized by  Crossroads Cultural Center

Under Fire: A Candid Look at the Military Chaplaincy

April 24th at 7:30 pm at The Catholic University of America

(McGivney Hall, Keane Auditorium)

The event is free and open to the public   —  join us and spread the word!

Crossroads Cultural Center in Washington, DC, is hosting a three-part event that explores “Hope for Our Veterans.”  The first (on March 21st) focused on the difficulties facing too many of our veterans upon their return and it featured Nancy Albin, co-founder of a valuable resource and source of hope: the Los Angeles Habilitation House, which helps returning veterans suffering from PTSD tackle the sometimes seemingly unsurmountable challenges to reentering the workforce.

The second event will take place April 24th and will explore the role of military chaplains with excerpts from “Chaplains Under Fire” and a discussion with Chaplain Ken Bolin (who was an infantryman before he became a chaplain) as well as documentary’s editor, Andrea Hull, and director Lee Lawrence.  The evening will be moderated by Suzanne Tanzi, managing editor of Traces magazine.

Part three of the series, “The Arts and Military Healing,” will be presented by Smithsonian curator Jane Milosch on Veteran’s Day. We’ll keep you posted about the time and location.

Leave a comment

Filed under chaplains, documentary

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).

Leave a comment

Filed under chaplains, Church-State, documentary

Humanists hope to get what Wiccans have: lay leaders

“We are trying to work up to what Sacred Well has,” says Jason Torpy of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.  He is referring to the Sacred Well Congregation, a Wiccan church headquartered in Missouri.

Although the Sacred Well has not yet succeeded in having the military accept a member of its clergy into the chaplaincy, it is a recognized denomination in the military.  This means that chaplains have to provide Wiccan lay leaders with logistical help, such as finding them a space for meetings or assistance in accessing study materials.  Chaplains routinely do this for Christian, Jewish and other religious lay leaders in the military.

Humanists have no such standing in the military, where many balk at classifying non-theistic belief systems under the rubric of religion.  This comes out most clearly in discussions surrounding calls for humanist chaplains.  Indeed, a humanist who holds a divinity degree and an endorsement from the Humanist Society has submitted an application to the Navy to become a chaplain.  This triggered fierce reactions — “The notion of an atheist chaplain is nonsensical; it’s an oxymoron,” Rep. John Fleming, a Republican from Louisiana, told reporters in June.

Not surprisingly, the humanist chaplain application “has lingered for three months,” says  Torpy whose expression indicates he doesn’t expect a resolution any time soon.  This may explain why he has set his sights on achieving what the Wiccans have: the ability for humanist troops to become lay leaders.  In this role, they would be trained to assist the growing number of troops who profess no religious affiliation yet struggle with the same life issues as other servicemen and women.  Indeed, humanist, atheists and agnostics a growing demographic of so-called NONES, Americans who do not identify with any religion and who, today, account for 30% of Americans under thirty.

As evidence of increasing support for the recognition of humanists and atheists, Torpy points to a  petition signed by a diverse range of individuals and organizations, including some Christian churches.  In calling for ” chaplaincy for all troops,” the petitioner ask “our national leaders to assure that military chaplains can adequately address the needs of the men and women in the Armed Services by providing support to humanists and other nontheists and by accepting otherwise qualified chaplain candidates who represent nontheistic beliefs.”

But there is also staunch opposition, witness the amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill that, if passed by the Senate, would bar the military from appointing a chaplain who does not have the endorsement of a religious organization.

As much as  Torpy and believes that non-theists “need  a humanist chaplain who can help them live the well-examined life,” his short-term goal is to gain recognition for lay leaders.  “Five thousand chaplains are not supporting atheists,” he says.  He wants that to change.   First, though, the military would have to recognize lay leaders representing a non-religious worldview.

___

We caught up with him at the  Religion Newswriters Association conference in Austin where he sat on a panel that, over breakfast, illustrated to a room full of journalists the diversity within the ranks of atheists, agnostics, humanists and other non-theists.

Leave a comment

Filed under atheism, chaplains, humanist chaplains

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.

3 Comments

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

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under casualties, chaplains, chaplains, military