Last month, I posted about the problems the U.S. Air Force Academy is having with evangelical Christian chaplains spreading “The Word” a bit too strenuously (to put it mildly) among the cadets, especially those who are not Christian.
Today, NPR ran a broader examination (hear it) of the problem in all the armed forces. Jeff Brady interviewed David Hicks, the Navy’s chief of chaplains, who presented a tolerant and ecumenical perspective on the mission of chaplains. However, the story clearly points out that evangelical chaplains (who now comprise 60% of all chaplains) haven’t gotten the message.
Take the case of Gordon James Klingenschmidt, the evangelical Navy chaplain who officiated at public memorial service for a Catholic sailor who died at sea. This fellow doesn’t accept the notion of ecumenism within the military service. He cannot in good conscience conduct an ecumenical service as it violates his own religious practice. At the memorial, he explains:
“I quoted John 3:36 and this verse is very controversial, very non-pluralistic and it says if you believe in the son you have eternal life if you don’t believe in Jesus then you don’t have eternal life ‘for God’s wrath remains upon you.'”
Klingenschmidt is about to lose his job over that sermon. He objects to his termination saying federal law says chaplains have the right to “practice their own faith.” He continues:
“I don’t know why my commanding officer punished me for my sermon except that he wanted me to preach a different message. In other words, he wanted me to preach their faith instead of my own faith.” He claims the Navy is setting up “a new pluralistic religion akin to Unitarianism.”
Brady notes that Congressmember Walter Jones (R, NC) is sponsoring legislation that would allow chaplains like Klingenschmidt to “express their faith openly without fear of retribution.” Isn’t that cozy and convenient. Because a U.S. Navy chaplain refuses to minister to those of other faiths that means that he’s suffering “religious discrimination” for his beliefs? How ludicrous.
Chaplain Hicks notes that when you become a chaplain you accept the notion that you will deal with service members of all faiths. He explains that when you conduct an ecumenical service you preach in one way and when you preach to members of your own faith you preach another. This subtlety appears lost on Klingenschmidt and other evangelical clergy. In their view, they are there to minister to fellow evangelicals and to convert those who aren’t yet evangelicals. That’s it. Please excuse me but this makes me extremely uncomfortable.
If evangelicals can’t minister to everyone whatever their religion then they shouldn’t be military clergy. It’s as simple as that. If I were a Jewish chaplain, even an Orthodox one who would have a more restrictive view of religious practice than I, how could I possibly justify only ministering to fellow Jewish soldiers (especially since there are relatively few in the armed forces)? In fact, I had a suggestion–fire all the evangelical clergy and replace them with Jews. At least then you know there won’t be any proselytizing since Jews don’t do it (except for Chabad).
Though Brady does not mention it, his reporting borrows heavily from Laurie Goodstein’s excellent New York Times story of July 12th: Evangelicals Are a Growing Force in the Military Chaplain Corps. Thanks to the Democracy Cell Project for providing the original source for this story.