Friday, July 15, 2005

On Evangelicals as Military Chaplains

Earlier this week the New York Times published an interesting article about the "growing force" of evangelicals in the military chaplain corps. Today, Mercer University's Baptist Studies Bulletin posted a brief dispatch that I wrote about the aggressive proselytization that is going on at the Air Force Academy. Ironically, as the military grows increasingly diverse, the military chaplain corp is becoming increasingly evangelical.

The NY Times article picked 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.


Blogger Bruce Wilson said...

That's a good point. The implicit assumption seems to be that evangelicals as a group are just intolerant, and the failure to either substantiate that assumption or discard it is troubling.

Surely, one would think, the authors of the task force report on religious discrimination at the USAF Academy would be aware of the fact that tendencies towards religious discrimination are not unique to Christian evangelicals or to Christianity.

Intolerance is an equal opportunity affliction, common to most or to all religious faiths.

Consider the uproar if the premise had been stated more bluntly :

"Evangelicals are simply intolerant"

Or, consider the furor that would certainly accompany this claim :

"Most Christians are intolerant"

Assuming that intolerance is somehow intrinsic to evangelicals evades the challenge of looking more deeply and also in an odd way lets those who actually are intolerant off the hook : It's intrinsic, in their nature.

Or to put it differently : "boys will be boys"

12:47 PM  

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