Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Evangelicals as Military Chaplains

The New York Times has an interesting article about the "growing force" of evangelicals in the military chaplain corps. Ironically, as the military grows increasingly diverse, the military chaplain corp is becoming increasingly evangelical.

The article picks up a theme from the recent report of a task force that discovered "religious insensitivity" at the Air Force Academy. That report seemed to suggest that the problem arose because of the increase in the number of evangelicals in the chaplain corp.

Does blaming the increase in the number of evangelical chaplains address the issue of "insensitive" chaplains or does it merely explain it away? In the past, thousands of "born again" Baptists have served as chaplains in the military without creating such problems. Insensitivity is not a trait peculiar to evangelicals. In fact, the article cites an instance where a liturgical chaplain rudely and insensitively took over an evangelical chaplain's worship service.

I suggest that the problem has less to do with the growth in the number of evangelicals than it has to do with growth of intolerance within the chaplain corp. The article addressed this most clearly when it discussed the case of Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt, of the Evangelical Episcopal Church, whose chaplain contract was not renewed due to his aggressive proselytizing.

"The Navy wants to impose its religion on me," he said. "Religious pluralism is a religion. It's a theology all by itself."
What's changed most is the increasing proportion of chaplains, officers and soldiers who are no longer willing to tolerate religious pluralism within the military. Reports from the Air Force Academy indicate that some of the "insensitive" officers at the school recently attended seminars teaching such intolerance on duty hours.

The military is right to decide that the kind of intolerance that Kilingenschmitt expresses is intolerable. When acting in an official capacity, chaplains must be required to be tolerant of and sensitive to the religious convictions of all the soldiers that serve of our country.

It shouldn't be that hard to find chaplains who are tolerant. All they have to do is find people who believe in and practice the golden rule -- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." In some form, that principle is common to most faiths.


grandma1 said...

I just received a letter from Toni Morrison the author. She was writing to solicte money for Southern Proverty Law Center. They are the ones that send all the literature to public schools on the Tolerance Campaign. Having been in a school and seeing there literature, I believe this is a very needed program.

The Religious Right is trying to stop this program. I was raised in a very predaciousc home, after attending a public school with every nationality and religion. I understood the necessity of being tolerant of everyone. I tried to teach my children the same. Unforuntanely the rest of the country has forgotten the need to accept all regilions and nationalies, and now sexal orientations. Yes, I am going to send some money. We need to keep this program going. Do you suppose that the SBC was referring to this program with there call to teaching of homosexuality in public schools?

Dr. Bruce Prescott said...


It's programs like that that they find objectionable.

mom2 said...

I don't believe the problem is intolerance. The problem is: do we want people to know the truth or are we content with letting lies keep people in deception? The Truth will set us free, everyone included. I notice that terms like "religious right" are used as if there is something bad about them. How about treating even us as equal?

Dr. Bruce Prescott said...


Your post is a good example of the intolerance I'm talking about.

250 years ago Congregationalists and Episcopalians said much the same thing that you said -- as they threw Baptists in jail for preaching without a license.

That's why colonial Baptists insisted on securing religious liberty for everyone -- even heretics. They were confident that Truth could shift for itself in a free marketplace of ideas. It did not need to be propped up by the government to flourish.

In the marketplace -- where people meet as equals and can engage in dialogues of mutual respect -- everyone is free to openly and persuasively share their deepest convictions. Within the institution of government -- where some are invested with power and authority over others -- people are required to respect the religious convictions of others and refrain from proselytization.

Of course, nothing dictates that people must engage in respectful dialogue in the marketplace. You are free to characterize the beliefs of others as lies and deceptions in the marketplace.

Were you invested with some kind of governmental authority and you expressed such opinions in the course of performing your duties, you should be censured for violating the "pluralistic" intent of the First Amendment of the Constitution. A document that government officials are required to uphold.

D.R. said...

Actually, the military has never asked its chaplains to refrain from proselytization. Traditionally there has not been a problem among the ranks. Now that it apparently is from the perspective of many, the military is having to retreat. However, from my understanding, even in chaplancy training there is not an official position about proselytization, except that it should be respectful and not be a pressured situation. In order for those who are chaplains to hold to their conviction they must be able to present their religious views as superior to competing religions. After all, isn't that what all us do in the real world?

As for the rising numbers of Evangelicals as chaplains, one recruiter directly told us that they actively seek Evangelicals, specifically Southern Baptists, because they have found they have far more integrity in regards to obeying orders, handling their responsibilities, and not engaging in sexual promiscuity and other sketchy activities. I think we should be thankful for that (whihc by the way, didn't make the news) and focus a little less on pointing fingers at those who have corrected many of the more pressing problems with the military chaplaincy.

mom2 said...

Bruce, I was referring to Truth in respect to our Christian views, that we need not be ashamed of the gospel as being the Way, the Truth, the Life. I don't believe that Christians are out trying to silence anyone, but we are having to work to be able to proclaim our own beliefs. Just do a little research on who and what denominations or religions have the ear of the ACLU and look with an unbiased mind at the news reports. I do believe that Christianity is the gospel of Truth and should not be silenced in favor or all the other religions. I harbor no hate for anyone, so I hope you don't go in that direction with my comments.

Bubba said...

mom2, I believe you should feel safe in ignoring Bruce's comments about the First Amendment. His recent record demonstrates an understanding of the Constitution that is, well, lacking.

(Or does Bruce think that Lincoln should have been censured for violating the "pluarlistic" intent of that amendment in his invocations of the Almighty, as in his second inaugural address?)

(And does Bruce think that absolute church-state separation was part of our country's "real" religious history, despite such invocations?)

Bruce, I'm not sure you're interested in a public environment where "everyone is free to openly and persuasively share their deepest convictions."

Though you're reluctant to elaborate on your position of the morality of homosexuality, you clearly believe that public schools should have programs that teach that homosexuality is morally equivalent to heterosexuality...

(And you have misconstrued such programs as teaching tolerance of people rather than teaching acceptance of behavior.)

...but I sincerely doubt that you would support allowing Christian organizations (or any religious organizations) to present an opposing view in the classroom.

It seems to me that you want a "free marketplace of ideas" except for ideas that are not liberal and secular.

And, in the case of what is and isn't taught in school, you don't want any "marketplace" dialogue. You not only oppose parents being able to choose from a marketplace of curricula through school choice, you denounce such an idea as being theocratic.

grandma1 said...

Anonymous have you ever seen the literature I referred to? I don't have to agree with a life style to teach tolerance of it. I don't believe in Budda but does that mean I should denie that some people do? My daughter had a teacher in mid-school that was a Buddist and she did not teach any of that in her classes. A lot of special education teachers are homosexuals but they don't teach that in class. How many over weight people do you know or are you one? That is as much a sin as homosexually. Sin is sin you can't have little ones or big ones. All sin is falling short of the plan of God has for us. How many people sitting in church pews are not sinning in some way or another. Do you sit in judgement of them? We accept those inside the church that are sinning. Why can't we accept those outside the church that are sinning. We convert people by our actions not my hitting them over the head with the Bible or our holier than thou attitude.

Bubba said...

Grandma, I don't know enough about the details to know whether they're right, but the SBC is asserting that there are programs that teach not only tolerance but outright acceptance of homosexuality as morally equivalent to heterosexual monogamy.

(If that assertion is wrong, I think it would be more helpful to correct the assert than to misconstrue it, which I believe Bruce has done, intentionally or not.)

If there were a public school program teaching that, for instance, gluttony was morally equivalent to a diet of healthy moderation, I would also object to that. Whether some conservative Christians are hypocritical in their criticism is an open question, whether some have their priorities wrong is an open question.

But if programs are teaching moral equivalency, I think that Christians may be right to oppose it.

Greek Shadow said...

I've been in the classroom for 24 years. I had a good friend who was a missionary to Kyrgistan come and show slides of the country and share her story of what it was like being there (she freely shared how God kept her alive when she needed an operation there), I had Muslim students and those from the Muslim Cultural Center speak to my students. I had many Budhist, Muslim, Sikh, Mormnon Native American students who practise their tribes version of shamanism. They all knew what their basic beliefs were and when we covered their respective religions I never had any problems with administration or parents if they explained their beliefs. I have found most of my Catholic students horribly ignorant of Catholic beliefs, mention celebacy and they draw a blank, transubstantiation and they scratch their head, they don't even know what the word sacriment means without me explaining it to them. Protestant students by and large think just carrying a Bible to class is sufficient, none of them have read it. I had four students in two different classes that I asked to quote John 3:16 and they couldn't do it. (There was a channel one piece about the fight over people standing behind the goal posts with the John 3:16 sign). In World History different religions can be discussed and their basic beliefs objectively covered, but the teacher and textbooks have to be nuetral concerning advocating one as better than another. The toleration literature is nuetral concerning homosexuality. But many feel if you don't condemn it you are endorsing it. Same mentality under Jim Crow, if you wanted to treat African Americans decently you were labeled by a derogatory term everyone here knows so I won't write it. The SBC's position is a slap in the face of all good Baptist and Christian teachers who could use some salt in the classroom. Read Alvin Toffler's Third Wave. Our schools teach three things. 1. Training students to be present and on time. Attendance and Tardy policies. 2 Obedience to authority -- Sit down, be quiet , take out your books and turn to page XXX. 3. To do a dull boring meaningless, repititious task all day long -- Do three hundred math problems by the end of the period. Underline the subject once and the verb twice on the following three hundred sentences, etc.
All three tasks are necessary for a good work ethic, if businesses have a problem with High School graduates it's because they have not learned these three skills. Not because they had a sex education class or a toleration class that most of them slept through anyway.

Marty said...

Greek Shadow,

Thanks for keeping the priorities straight.

Bubba said...

Greek, I don't think anyone's arguing that the programs in question will adversely affect graduates' ability to succeed in the workforce.

I don't understand your assertion that students are going to sleep through the programs -- that the programs are, ergo, harmless. If the students are going to ignore them, let's not have the programs and let's not waste their time more than we already do.

And I'm skeptical of your claim that "The toleration literature is nuetral concerning homosexuality."

Maybe you're right, but surely you can understand others' skepticism. After all, the debate about redefining marriage has ultimately not been a debate about allowing homosexual couples to do what they want in their own private lives. It has been about explicitly condoning their behavior as equivalent to heterosexual fidelity.

If those advocating the redefinition of marriage are the same people who want those programs taught in school (and they largely are), it's at least possible that both agendas have the same aim.