The Future Challenges of the Chaplaincy

What should military chaplains be prepared for in the coming years?

First, remember that those under Title X are obliged to respect UCMJ art. 88, which prohibits “contemptuous words” against the president. Focus on speaking to issues and actions, and speaking from your faith tradition.

Second, realize that many service members and their families may feel anxiety based on race, religion, gender, or sexuality. The chaplain must be a voice for all in the unit, especially those with no voice. I will always live by the words in the former AR 165-1 (2009), “Chaplains, in performing their duties, are expected to speak with a prophetic voice and must confront the issues of religious accommodation, the obstruction of free exercise of religion, and moral turpitude in conflict with the Army values.” The current version (2015) waters this down somewhat to say, “Chaplains, in performing their duties, are expected to speak with candor as an advocate to confront and support resolution to challenges and issues of the command”–but notice the clear use of the phrase, “as an advocate.” Chaplains will need to keep in mind that the chaplaincy exists to ensure that all service members are able to exercise their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion. The military is diverse; there can be no establishment or preference of any religion.

Third, chaplains will need to be an objective source of information and analysis for the command on religious issues within the unit and in the AO–internal and external advisement.

Fourth, chaplains will need to speak clearly on moral issues related to the Law of Land Warfare, and the illegality and immorality of torture and other war crimes.

Fifth, chaplains will need to be diligent in assisting the command in implementation of the SHARP program.

Finally, chaplains will be working with service members in a more dangerous world, with ongoing harassing threats of terrorists, and strategic threats from nations with military capabilities similar to our own.  This will require flexibility and agility on the part of units and personnel.  It may well mean a continuation of frequent deployments with minimal dwell time.  This means a continuation of family and personal stress, and of visible and invisible wounds. They will need to be capable counselors who can collaborate with behavioral health resources and counsel service members of all faiths and none.

So it means doing what we have always done. It means standing in the shoes of chaplains like Kermit Johnson, James Yee, Wes Modder, and Chris Antal, who took unpopular positions that brought them into conflict with commanders and national policy. But they were faithful, and their faithfulness is an example to us all.

What sort of men and women do we need for this job?  This question has been raised in many conversations with senior chaplains over the past year.

  1.  Solid seminary preparation with an in-residence M.Div.
  2. Substantive coursework in counseling, world religions, history, theology, preaching, teaching and crisis intervention.
  3. Significant field experience, including CPE, internships, and minimum of two years pastoral experience, doing the full range of pastoral ministry.
  4. We should expect that National Guard and Reserve chaplains will be in full-time ministry in civilian life.
  5. Experience working with individuals of many faiths as equals.
  6. We need man and women of character and strength, compassion and care, with pastoral skills and academic ability; they need to be physically fit, personally mature, and well balanced.
  7. We need, in short, the best pastors, representing all major faiths.  If that sounds like you, call a recruiter!