Al Jazeera on Military Chaplains

Al Jazeera has aired a report on alleged proselytism by American soldiers, and alleged inappropriate conduct by chaplains. It includes extracts from a documentary, The Word and the Warriors, by Brian Hughes. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is making a big deal of it, saying it “proves proselytization rampant at U.S. military bases.”

The film shows a discussion at a Protestant Bible study about the appropriateness of handing out Bibles in native languages. These are soldiers who, as Christians, want to witness. They realize they cannot do mass distributions of Bibles through their units, but they believe they can, as individuals, give Bibles as gifts to individuals they come in contact with. And the chaplain leading the group tells them their best witness is how they conduct themselves. But even if what they are doing is legal, it is very risky, and not at all prudent in a Muslim country. The chaplain would do better, I think, to advise them not to distribute any religious literature while in uniform.

In another scene, Ch (LTC) Gary Hensley is shown preaching.

“The special forces guys – they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down,” he says.

“Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That’s what we do, that’s our business.”

The context is important. He’s an evangelical chaplain, and here he is speaking at an evangelical chapel service. Chaplains represent both the military and their denomination. They must ensure that all religious needs are met, and advise the commander on issues of morals, morale, and ethics, but they also are to ensure that the religious needs of the members of their faith are met. Thus, chaplains are permitted to have services for members of their own faith; Protestant chaplains cooperate with one another for general Protestant services as well. In denomination specific services, chaplains are free to speak freely as members of that denomination (or as Protestants in the Protestant service). Here, Ch. Hensley preaches to fellow evangelicals about the Christian call to evangelize. “As Christians,” he says, “we hunt people for Jesus. …That’s what we do, that’s our business.” He has as much right to say that in a Protestant chapel service as he would in his own church back home (just as a Catholic chaplain is free to tell people to go to confession, etc.).

One thought on “Al Jazeera on Military Chaplains

  1. This is very interesting. Would any type of overt evangelizing be appropriate for a soldier in uniform? I’m unfamiliar with the law- what does it state?

    I agree that it doesn’t sound wise for US personnel to be handing out Bibles while wearing the uniform. Particularly not in a Moslem country.

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