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Group of Chaplains Endorses Atheist Chaplains

A group of former chaplains has issued a letter supporting the appointment of humanist chaplains in the military, which is in line, I think, with how most chaplains view their job. Most chaplains, I’m told, are not like Gordon Klingenschmitt. Most of them see their job as helping all soldiers, regardless of their religion, without proselytizing. The letter says, in part:

Military chaplains exist for the sake of their service members, not the other way around. Every service member has a constitutional right to the free and unfettered exercise of their religious beliefs, without regard to dominant theologies, orthodox doctrines, or privileged status…

The growing visibility and demands of Humanist troops for the appointment of chaplains who can nurture and support them further strains the sensibilities of many conservative chaplains. Those unable to care for a diverse and altogether unfamiliar clientele may find their gifts and skills more useful in some other area of ministry,and this might actually be the most honorable course of action for them to minister with integrity.

We the undersigned strongly support the recruitment and retention of highly qualified, clinically trained chaplains who are representative of and committed to a chaplaincy reflecting a broad and inclusive range of interfaith, multicultural and diverse life experiences. This inclusive outreach extends to chaplains representing the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities of faith, and to those of minority beliefs, including Humanists and other nontheists. They, too, are valued members of our country’s military and must be embraced fully. Our soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen deserve nothing less!

Hear, hear.

Comments

  1. skinnercitycyclist says

    Yeah, when I was in the army, 1980-84, I do not remember being told but remember being aware that the role of a military chaplain was exactly what these chaplains laid out in their letter. Klingenschmitt et al. drone on and on about the First Amendment rights of chaplains when such rights DO NOT EXIST when they are acting in their capacity as chaplains, that is, as agents of the government. The “face-palm” was invented for people who just do not get this.

  2. Synfandel says

    …and to those of minority beliefs, including Humanists and other nontheists.

    Sometime, probably within my lifetime, Humanists and nontheists will be a majority in American society and in the US military. They’re already 15% in the US and 24% in my home country of Canada. How will chaplains react when the shoe is on the other foot?

  3. says

    Synfandel – Just ’cause people don’t specify an organized religion doesn’t make them ‘nontheists’, unfortunately. A lot of them fall into the ‘spiritual, not religious’ category.

  4. CaitieCat says

    Yes, but a bunch also fit into their religions’ version of the CNE crowd (Christmas n’ Easter), who don’t actually believe but go along because otherwise Great Aunt Ethelbert will write them out of her stonking great fortune in her will. I tend to think the two groups balance out some: faithful without religion, and religious without faith.

  5. Michael Heath says

    skinnercitycyclist writes:

    the First Amendment rights of chaplains when such rights DO NOT EXIST when they are acting in their capacity as chaplains, that is, as agents of the government. The “face-palm” was invented for people who just do not get this.

    Others don’t get it because this is wrong. When we use sloppy language to describe rights we shouldn’t be surprised when so many get it wrong, including liberals.

    All of us have inalienable rights that nobody or nor any government can take away from us. Rather than dive down the imaginary and unnavigable rabbit hole of defining the existence or non-existence of rights, we instead need to address how government is required to act when there is a controversy regarding the exercise, protection, and governmental infringement of rights.

    In this case, chaplains absolutely have religious freedom rights, contrary to your assertion. However, when acting as chaplains, they have a legal obligation to protect the free exercise of others’ religious freedom rights, even if their actions as agents of the government result in the infringement of their own personal religious freedom rights.

  6. exdrone says

    The few Canadian military chaplains from mainstream religions with whom I have interacted have been completely focused on the welfare of the soldiers rather than evangelism or religious politics, so I can believe that there would be a group of similarly minded chaplains in the US military. It is good to see that they are speaking out. It is also honourable because the number of established positions of chaplains is based proportionately on the declared religious membership of the military members, so creating humanist chaplain positions will likely eat into established positions.

  7. says

    Michael Heath wrote:

    All of us have inalienable rights that nobody or nor any government can take away from us.

    This is something that the majority of people forget when they say “You don’t have a right to…X.” I think most of the time it’s not really intended to be as firm a statement as it is. What language would better be used to describe such a situation where one right supersedes another? Perhaps something like “Your right to X does not trump my right to Y?” I’m certainly open to suggestions.

  8. magistramarla says

    “Most of them see their job as helping all soldiers, regardless of their religion, without proselytizing.”

    This seemed to be very true when my husband first joined the AF in the early ’80s.
    Sometime during the last twenty years, there has been a huge change. On some bases, the military member was looked upon more favorably for promotion if he listed volunteerism at his church as one of his off-duty achievements. We’ve seen more and more evangelicals reciting the invocation at dining-outs, too.

    Just last summer, we were attending the military funeral of a beloved friend. He was beloved in the community, and many of the people around us were from foreign countries and represented many faiths.
    During the funeral service, the chaplains got more and more enthusiastic about proselytizing. As Atheists, my husband and I were very uncomfortable, and we were certain that the foreign officers surrounding us must have felt the same way. The chaplains were obviously evangelicals, and had just as obviously given no thought to the audience that they would be addressing.

  9. Michael Heath says

    Me earlier:

    All of us have inalienable rights that nobody or nor any government can take away from us.

    Dan J writes:

    This is something that the majority of people forget when they say “You don’t have a right to…X.” I think most of the time it’s not really intended to be as firm a statement as it is.

    Oh I agree completely, even Ed uses this rhetorical device where he knows better. The problem is such rhetoric keeps the water muddy regarding the existence and nature of rights, and how government should act in light of this. Those of us who know better should strive to clear up the confusion rather than perpetuate confusion.

    Dan J continues:

    What language would better be used to describe such a situation where one right supersedes another? Perhaps something like “Your right to X does not trump my right to Y?” I’m certainly open to suggestions.

    Well as I’ve repeatedly noted, including above, we shouldn’t look to defining what is and what is not a right, but instead make our argument in regards to how the government should act when it comes to the protection and infringement of rights.

    Does the government have the authority to infringe upon a particular right, where we presume the set of rights is countless? Does the government have an obligation to defend the exercise of a particular right?

    When one person or group is infringing upon the right of another person, does government have the obligation to intervene? If such protection infringes upon the rights of another, i.e., a competing rights controversy; should government intervene and if so, whose rights will they protect?

    Re this last controversy. Judge Walker in the Prop 8 trial heard arguments on how conservative Christians’ rights would be infringed upon if California protected gay people’s right to marry. Such weighing frequently enlightens all of us regarding the absurdity some people will make to deny others the equal protection of their rights. So the framework I argue for here frequently and effectively helps clarify such debates. In this case, conservative Christian’s individual right to not be offended by the existence of gays was not sufficient for the state of CA to infringe upon the right of gays to marry.

    When we debate rights we should remember the elephant in the room when controversy typically arises, that is the government. How should government respond? That’s the controversy. Attempting to define the existence of a right is as I stated earlier, is an un-navigable rabbit hole that gets us nowhere. Plus it suggests we can define what is and what is not a right, where we can’t.

  10. Michael Heath says

    magistramarla writes:

    Just last summer, we were attending the military funeral of a beloved friend. He was beloved in the community, and many of the people around us were from foreign countries and represented many faiths.
    During the funeral service, the chaplains got more and more enthusiastic about proselytizing. As Atheists, my husband and I were very uncomfortable, and we were certain that the foreign officers surrounding us must have felt the same way. The chaplains were obviously evangelicals, and had just as obviously given no thought to the audience that they would be addressing.
    [emphasis added by Heath]

    More likely they were acting true to form, which was consciously exploiting an opportunity to proselytize while not giving a fuck about anything else, including honor and their duty. I wouldn’t have a such a problem with their proselytization if they were honest about the role it plays for them relative to other obligations. Instead evangelicals and fundies are now first in line claiming they’re all about defending freedom and American principles, rather than demonstrating they’re currently the greatest enemy to both; with no close second.

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