In the July 19th edition of Athens Now, with reluctance, I dragged you into the Theatre of the Absurd by discussing the proposed DOD gag order that would prohibit military chaplains from ministering from a position that one set of religious beliefs may just be superior to another. That was bad enough, and this time I feel like I am buying season tickets to said Theatre for all of Athens by giving space to something that can only be described as an example of “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” I apologize in advance for having to subject you to this, but we must be “watchmen on the wall” for the religious freedoms of our soldiers as well as our own.
If two House Democrats by the names of Rob Andrews of New Jersey, and Jared Polis of Colorado got their wish, the recently debated Defense bill would make the way for a new category of chaplains: “non-theist chaplains.” Said another way, they would be “non-chaplain chaplains.”
Oy! Let’s play with this for a minute. The very word chaplain is from the 14th century French word, “chapelein,” and one of its definitions is: “a clergyman attached to a branch of the military.” And, it so happens that the word clergy, which is also French, is defined as (1.) “a group ordained to perform pastoral or sacerdotal (priestly) functions in a Christian church,” and (2.) “the official or sacerdotal class of a non-Christian religion.” Folks, the operative word here is “religion.”
All chaplains of the United States military wear a patch on their uniform that signifies that they are chaplains. If they are Christian, there is a cross. If they are Jewish, there is a star of David., If they are Muslim, there is a crescent. If they are Buddhist, there is a dharma wheel. What would non-chaplain chaplains wear, an “international NO” sign?
Additionally, military chaplains have to have a bachelor’s degree in any discipline, followed by a master’s in theological studies. The very word “theological” means “the study of the Word of God.” Speaking for self, I don’t believe that the Koran is the word of God, but one thing it is not, and that is the study of no one. According to the USN statement of the requirements and duties of a chaplain, one must be able to offer “counsel, guidance, moral support and worship opportunities.” Last I checked, you can’t sing to, praise, testify about, pray to, or preach for someone who isn’t there!
Recently at our home fellowship, I told my family of my intent to write about the non-chaplain chaplain proposal, which thankfully, for now, has crashed and burned. With their typical humor, they started in on various scenarios, including the one of the dying soldier mentioned in the July 19th Athens Now. They envisioned the non-chaplain chaplain kneeling beside the fatally wounded soldier before he breathed his last, and saying, “Bye, guy. Have a good time going nowhere, and won’t be seeing you, ever.” Now, there’s comfort for ya!
The fact of the matter is that atheist soldiers go to chaplains for counsel all the time, even though there are psychologists available for counsel. Why? I am sure there are as many reasons as there are atheist soldiers, but I can tell you that one of my favorite chaplains in Iraq was the source of inspiration for a young Wiccan soldier. Chaplain Behnken listened to him, he told him the truth as he believed it, he made the young man think, asked him questions, and most importantly, he loved him. Could a non-chaplain chaplain have loved the kid? Probably. But doesn’t a young soldier deserve more than leaning on and gleaning from a man or woman whose faith, at the end of the day, is only in themselves?
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner