A. T. Jones on Military Chaplains

Alonzo Trevier Jones, a leading Seventh-day Adventist theologian in the late 19th century, and tireless advocate of religious liberty, was also an Army veteran, having been converted while a sergeant serving in the Pacific northwest.

I found an interesting article from The American Sentinel (March 20, 1889) where he discusses Army chaplains–it represents the first statement by a Seventh-day Adventist on the subject that I am aware of.

THE Christian Statesman of January 24 announces that a bill is now before Congress, providing for the increase of the corps of army chaplains to one hundred—the number now allowed by law being only thirty-four. Instead of increasing the number to one hundred it ought to be reduced to none. The thirty-four chaplains in the army now are thirty-four too many. Army chaplains are supposed to be for the spiritual benefit of the soldiers. But they are no benefit at all, either spiritually or otherwise, to the soldiers. We know whereof we speak. We were in the regular army five years, and received a “most excellent” discharge. We have been in different garrisons where chaplains were stationed, and never in the whole five years did a chaplain visit the quarters where we were, or any of the men in the company to which we belonged; unless, perhaps, in company with the officers at Sunday morning inspection. Never was there a visit made by a chaplain to the company in which we served, for any spiritual purpose, or for any purpose, in the due exercise of the duties which he is appointed to perform.

The fact of the matter is, chaplains cannot work for the spiritual interests of the soldiers in the regular army. They rank as commissioned officers, and are to be held, in the estimation of the men, with the same deference and military respect that is due to the officers. He has an officer’s uniform, an officer’s insignia of rank, and whenever he appears the soldier has to strike an attitude of attention and salute as he would any other commissioned officer. Thus, the very position which he holds, making as an officer, places an insurmountable barrier between him and the soldier. He cannot maintain the dignity of his rank and meet the common soldier upon the level where he is, and approach him upon that common level as every minister of the gospel must do with those whom he is to help spiritually. He cannot enter into the feelings, the wants, the trials, the temptations, the besetments of the common soldier, as one must do to be able to help spiritually, and as the minister of the gospel must do in the exercise of his office anywhere, with any person in the wide world.

Jesus Christ set the example; he did not appear in the glory, the dignity, the rank, and the insignia of his office which he bore as the King of eternity. He laid this aside; he came amongst men, meeting humanity upon humanity’s level. He, though divine, came in human form; made himself subject to all the temptations which humanity meets. This he did in order that he might be able to help those who are tempted. The great apostle to the Gentiles, following the way of his Master, became all things to all men, that by all means he might save some. To the weak he became as weak, that he might save them that are weak; to the tempted and tried, the same, that he might save them, and bring them to the knowledge of Him who was tempted and tried for their sakes, that he might deliver them from temptation and give them strength to overcome in time of trial. This is the divine method; it is the only method.

The appointment of chaplaincies in the United States army, with the rank, the dignity, and the insignia of superior office, is contrary to the principle illustrated by Jesus Christ in his life, and taught in his word, and frustrates the very purpose for which professedly they are appointed. The money that is spent by the United States Government in paying chaplains could scarcely be spent in a way that would do the soldiers less good. We said once before in these columns, that unless the chaplains of the United States army whom we did not see while in the army, were vastly more efficient than those whom we did see, all of them put together did not do the soldiers as much good in the five years we spent in the service, as would a single bag of white beans. In the nature of the case, as we have shown, it is impossible that they could benefit the men. They, having it devolved upon them to maintain the dignity and respect that is due to their rank, do not make any strenuous efforts to help the men. It is difficult to conceive how any man who has the Spirit of Christ, and who really has the burden to help the enlisted men of the army, could ever think of accepting such a position; because the acceptance of such a position becomes at once the greatest hindrance to his helping the men at all.

We have said nothing upon the constitutional aspect of the question; and it is certainly an open question as to whether the payment of chaplains from Government funds is constitutional. We have discussed the question wholly upon the merit of the case. The principle shows that in the circumstances of their appointment, army chaplains cannot benefit the men; and practice shows not only that they do not, but that they do not try.

A. T. J.

What an indictment! And a good source of reflection for chaplains today. Do you spend time with soldiers? Do you make “strenuous efforts to help the men” and women in your unit? I think most do. I think the chaplaincy has come a long ways since the days of Elder Jones.

But from 1897 comes another article from his pen, and this looks at another issue.

“What Army Chaplains Are For” American Sentinel 12, 44, pp. 689, 690.

RECENTLY, at a “Grand Army” banquet in Buffalo, N. Y., tendered to the President of the United States, Archbishop Ireland spoke in response to the toast, “The Chaplain.” As a statement of what are deemed the proper functions of the chaplain’s office, the words of this eminent churchman are worthy of consideration. The quotations following give that part of his speech most directly pertinent to the subject:—

“But why in an encampment of veterans mention the army chaplain? Has he had a part even most slight in their achievements? Apparently the part of the chaplain was small, if a part is at all to be credited to him. The chaplain bore no gun upon hes shoulder. The chaplain was a non-combatant, a man of peace, whether in camp or on the battle-field. In fact, however, the part of the chaplain was most important. I am making a plea of my own patriotism. I was a chaplain.

“The chaplain invested the soldier’s fighting, the soldier’s whole round of labor and suffering, with the halo of moral duty.”

We have never believed in the utility of the office, but this statement makes it worse even than we had thought. We had never before conceived of the chaplain’s duty as being that of casting a halo about the business of killing people.

Unquestionably the soldier’s business is one that will admit of a service of this kind. This is no natural halo about it, certainly. To deliberately shoot down men, made in the image of the Creator, to smash their skulls with clubbed muskets in fierce hand-to-hand conflict, to cut and stab them to death with sword and bayonet, to pour their life blood out upon the earth, to make widows and orphans of those they have left at home,—these are actions which, unsurrounded by any halo, would strike the minds of ordinary people with horror. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who certainly knew what the soldier’s business is, said, “War is hell.” Putting this statement of this eminent military authority with that of Archbishop Ireland concerning the chaplain’s office, we are brought to the conclusion that the legitimate business of the army chaplain is to cast a halo about hell!

But casting a halo about hell does not at all change the character of that place. And that which needs to be invested with a “halo of moral duty” in order that people may be led to espouse the support it, would far better be left to appear in its true light, and be accepted or rejected upon its merits.

Proceeding with his line of thought, the archbishop went on to say that,—-

“The appeal of the chaplain to the living God, as approving war and consecrating battle-fields, is in the fullest harmony with the teachings of religion. God is, indeed, the God of love and peace while love means no violation of justice and peace implies no surrender of supreme rights.”

As soon, therefore, as a person feels that he is treated unjustly, or that his rights have been invaded, he may properly go to war with his enemies, relying upon the protection and aid of Heaven! This view will scarcely harmonize with the divinely given exhortation, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.”

The archbishop was not, in this, stating something peculiar to his own views, or to those of his church: otherwise it would not be so worthy of notice. The conception of God as “approving war,” whenever people are suffering injustice, is a very general one, and is the idea by which the horrors of war are theoretically justified. But it has no foundation in truth.

The archbishop continued:—

“The servants of God must ever seek peace so long as it is possible to obtain peace. They must never proclaim war so long as war is not absolutely necessary. But times come when war is absolutely necessary, when naught but war can avert great wrongs and save the life and the honor of the nation. Then the God of peace becomes the God of armies; he who unsheathes the sword in response to country’s call finds favor before God, and the soldier who is a coward on the battle-field is a culprit before heaven’s tribunal.”

Yes; “the servants of God must ever seek peace so long as it is possible to obtain peace,” and “must never proclaim war so long as war is not absolutely necessary.” But when is the point reached where peace becomes impossible and war “abolutely [sic.] necessary”? Oh, it is when somebody is not treating us right and will not stop misusing us as soon as we think they ought to; or it is when we have been insulted by somebody and the offender will not apologize to save our “honor” from being stained. It is, in short, whenever we think that war is necessary. And what we think on such occasions is inspired by the aroused passions and pride of fallen human nature. But God has not left the matter of living peaceably or otherwise to be determined in this way.

People generally, and nations, usually find it quite “possible to obtain peace” when they do not feel strong enough to ship their opponents in the event of hostilities. And when people—and nations—are naturally belligerent, or have something to gain by fighting, and feel confident as to the result, it is very easy for them to reach the point where war is “absolutely necessary.”

In the late war between Germany and France, the contestants on each side “unsheathed the sword in response to country’s call,” and I so doing, both sides of the controversy found “favor before God,” no doubt!

One more quotation from the archbishop’s speech will be in place. It is this:—-

“The chaplain—let him remain to America—to America’s army and navy. It is sometimes said that the chaplain is an anomaly in a country which has decreed the separation of state and church. America has decreed the separation of state from church; America has not decreed and America never will decree the separation of state from morals and religion. To soldiers upon land and sea, as well as to other citizens, morals and religion are necessary. The dependence of soldiers upon the government of the country is complete. The government of the country must provide for soldiers teachers of morals and religion. In providing for them such teachers the country performs a duty which she owes to the soldiers and she serves her own high interests. For the best and bravest soldiers are men that are not estranged from morals and religion.”

Yes, it is true that “the dependence of soldiers upon the government is complete,” under such a system as that for which the archbishop was speaking. But “pity ‘tis ‘tis true.” There never ought to be such dependence in the case of any individual. The archbishop frankly admits that, to the soldier, the government stands in the place of God. “The government of the country must provide for soldiers teachers of morals and religion.” But the government has no higher wisdom or power than that which is human, and human wisdom is altogether inadequate to provide for the needs of the soul.

In providing teachers of morals and religion, the government will select such persons as it fancies, and these will be persons who will teach in harmony with the government’s ideas. They will teach the morals and religion of the state, and nothing else. But what every individual needs and must have in order to obtain salvation, is the teaching of the morals and religion of the divine Word. And the teacher of these is the Holy Spirit, provided by God himself.

It is also true enough that “the best and bravest soldiers are men that are not estranged from morals and religion,” and by no people is its truth better illustrated than by the Mohammedans. With sword or lance in one hand, and the Koran in the other, one of these fanatics will rush on to what he knows is certain death, without the least hesitation. It is only a perverted religion that will harmonize with the spirit of war.

Let not this perverted religion be palmed off as Christianity. Let not the government usurp the place of … as the teacher of morals and religion. Let not the miserable business of killing people be invested with a halo of moral duty; let it stand upon its own merits—if such exists. Let the government keep separate from religion. Let army chaplaincies be abolished.

Powerful words. Difficult words for this Army chaplain to read. But I think we are in a better position on this today, too. AR 165-1 tells chaplains that we are to speak “prophetically” on moral issues. That we are to faithfully represent the teachings of our religion. We insist today that the chaplaincy exists to ensure that all soldiers, of any faith or of none, are able to exercise their religion freely.

We are cognizant of the tension, and know that sometime we must help soldiers work around the system. Sometimes we must protect soldiers from the system. Dare we speak against the system when it is wrong? We must, if we will be faithful to our calling–and accept the consequences, be what they may.

In his book, The Two Republics (pp. 800-801), Jones went further, and argued that the chaplaincy was an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

” SECTION 1123. No person shall be appointed as regimental or post chaplain until he shall furnish proof that he is a regularly ordained minister of some religious denomination, in good standing at the time of his appointment, together with a recommendation for such appointment from some authorized ecclesiastical body, or from not less than five accredited ministers of said denomination.

“SECTION 1261. The officers of the army shall be entitled to the pay herein stated after their respective designations.

“Chaplain : Fifteen hundred dollars a year.

“SECTION 1262. There shall be allowed and paid to each commissioned officer below the rank of brigadier-general, including chaplains and others having assimilated rank or pay, ten per centum of their current yearly pay for each term of five years of service.”

Here is a distinctly religious qualification required. The applicant shall prove that he is a regularly ordained minister of some religious denomination and must be recommended by some authorized ecclesiastical body. It is true that he is not required directly by this law, to declare that he believes in the Trinity, or the communion of saints, or the resurrection of the dead. It is true he is not required to pass such a direct test as that. But he is required to be religious and to belong to a religious denomination. If he is not this, he cannot be appointed. This is nothing else than a religious test as a qualification for office under the United States, and is clearly a violation of that clause of the Constitution which declares that “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification of any office of public trust under the United States.”

More than this: although, as stated above, no direct test as to a belief in the Trinity, etc., is required, the same thing is done indirectly. For in order to be an ordained minister in good standing in some religious denomination, he must necessarily pass a close and searching test upon many religious points. Therefore this requirement does indirectly what it does not do directly, and is just as certainly a violation of the Constitution, as though it were done directly.

He notes that the Baptists (who today have the largest number of chaplains) appealed to the 34th Congress to eliminate the chaplaincy (pp. 803-804):

To the Thirty-fourth Congress the Baptists sent up a memorial asking that chaplaincies be abolished, and the argument is good for all time. We can present only a portion of the document as follows :—

“The immense increase of the number of chaplains employed by the government within the past few years, has alarmed us to apprehend that an extension of the system may ultimately subject us all to the serious and oppressive features of an unholy union of Church and State, with which the world has been so grievously burdened in all ages, and from which we had hoped we were forever delivered by the glorious epoch of the American Revolution.

“The number of national clergy which the citizens of our country are annually forced to support, by indirect taxation, is as follows: Thirty in the army; twenty-four in the navy, and two in Congress, besides a large number at the various naval and military schools, stations, and out-posts; and at various missionary stations, ostensibly as teachers of Indian schools. The aggregate amount which we are annually compelled to pay for the support of clergymen, as officers which the Constitution gives Congress no power to create or impose upon us, but on the contrary, positively prohibits, cannot therefore vary far from a quarter of a million of dollars annually ! Should the number of national chaplains continue to increase in the ratio of the past few years, it will soon equal that of the national clergy in the despotisms of the Old World, where the Church and State are allies in corruption and oppression. Indeed, we know of no stopping place or limit that can be set to arrest its progress, when precedent has overthrown the protective barriers of the Constitution.

“We cannot perceive why clergymen should be sustained by government in either house of Congress, at our military and naval stations, on board our vessels of war, in each regiment of our army, any more than in each township, parish, district, or village throughout the land: and to sanction the former could not be regarded otherwise than as an assent to the extension of the same system that would place us upon a level with the priest-ridden despotisms of the Old World. Our members of Congress, military and naval officers, soldiery and seamen, are, or should be, paid a just compensation for their services, and be left, like all other citizens, to support any clergymen, or none, as their consciences may direct them, without legal agency or coercion. Neither Christianity nor the genius of our institutions contemplates any aristocracy predicated upon the clerical profession, and no special provision therefore is necessary by the government to admit clergymen to our army and navy, as they may enlist like other men, and labor like Jesus himself and his apostles among the poor fishermen on the sea-side. If it be objected that few clergymen would serve among the troops and marines upon such terms, we can only say that, if actuated by correct religious motives, no minister would wait for government gold to lead him to his labors of love among them, and that none but hypocrites would be debarred by the want of it. We think the government should not evince more religious zeal than professed ministers of the gospel themselves, by bribing them to perform religious service. If the clergymen in the army and navy look for other compensation then the voluntary contribution of those among whom they labor, the various religious societies of the country might be more appropriately appealed to, as their funds are voluntarily contributed for such purposes; while those of the government are taken for national purposes, by authority of law, equally from all classes of citizens of whatever sects, and whether professors or non-professors or religions.”

This is the argument that many critics of the chaplaincy have made, especially in recent decades. The courts have affirmed, however, that rather than the chaplaincy being an example of established religion, it is an institution that guarantees freedom of religion for the soldier. Thus there is no state approval of some denominations over others, but the chaplaincy has increased in diversity, so that now it includes every variety of Protestant, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus.

But what of Jones’ point that the chaplaincy shows an elevation of religion over non-religion, and that that, in itself, is unconstitutional? That would be an argument in favor of the addition of humanist and atheist chaplains.  But we object, that changes the purpose of the chaplaincy, which is “For God and Country!”  Then we are forced to confront Jones’ objection once more–and that’s what the US is doing now.