Monday, May 15, 2006

Onward Christian soldiers

Those wacky evangelicals are at it again. Not satisfied with their victory in opening up the Air Force to greater expression of indivudual religious sentiments on the job, they want to guarantee every armed forces chaplain the right to push his own faith in opposition to the spiritual needs of the diverse flock he supposedly serves. Last week the US House of Representatives passed a defense appropriations bill with language that would allow just this:

The House passed a $513 billion defense authorization bill yesterday that includes language intended to allow chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus at public military ceremonies, undercutting new Air Force and Navy guidelines on religion.

The bill, which passed by a vote of 396 to 31, also contains significant adjustments to the Pentagon's original request, mainly by shifting hundreds of millions of dollars toward military personnel -- in the form of troop increases, protective gear and health-care benefits -- and away from new weapons systems. The measure includes $50 billion for next year's cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We're not a rubber stamp," House Armed Services Committee ranking Democrat Ike Skelton (Mo.) told reporters.

Before the bill reached the House floor, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee added the provision on military chaplains. It says each chaplain "shall have the prerogative to pray according to the dictates of the chaplain's own conscience, except as must be limited by military necessity, with any such limitation being imposed in the least restrictive manner feasible."

Air Force and Navy rules issued in recent months allow chaplains to pray as they wish in voluntary worship services. But the rules call for nonsectarian prayers, or a moment of silence, at public meetings or ceremonies, especially when attendance is mandatory for service members of all faiths.

Focus on the Family, the Christian Coalition and other evangelical Christian groups have lobbied vigorously against the Air Force and Navy rules, urging President Bush to issue an executive order guaranteeing the right of chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus under any circumstances. Because the White House has not acted, sympathetic members of Congress stepped in.

"We felt there needed to be a clarification" of the rules "because there is political correctness creeping into the chaplains corps," said Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.). "I don't understand anyone being opposed to a chaplain having the freedom to pray to God in the way his conscience calls him to pray."

Among the provision's opponents is the chief of Navy chaplains, Rear Adm. Louis V. Iasiello, a Roman Catholic priest.

"The language ignores and negates the primary duties of the chaplain to support the religious needs of the entire crew" and "will, in the end, marginalize chaplains and degrade their use and effectiveness," Iasiello wrote in a letter to a committee member.

The National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, a private association of religious groups that provide more than 70 percent of U.S. chaplains, also objected to the language. "Chaplains represent their faith communities and we endorse them to represent that faith community with integrity and loyalty to that tradition, not to the dictates of their individual conscience," the association's executive committee wrote.


I could see this coming back in February, I just didn't expect the evangelicals to move this quickly. That they can't find enough commonality even with their fellow religious servicemen to put the broader good of their unit's morale and cohesion above their personal sectarian preferences shows me that these evangelical ministers, politicians and chaplains do not have the national interest at heart, but only their own narrow identification as a separate people. Their stance is both unpatriotic and un-American. I hope that the Republican representatives that inserted this language in committee lose their seats in the Fall. The stench to vote Republican is becoming overwhelming, I can't squeeze my nostrils tight enough to keep it out!

13 Comments:

Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Sorry, but I can't help imagining a Catholic chaplain in Duck's ideal army caught behind enemy lines with a platoon from Brooklyn saying: "Hmm...let's see...ok, boys, why is to-night different from all other nights?"

May 15, 2006 6:49 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The troops will respect the chaplains to the extent they are soldiers, sailors or airmen, without reference to what imaginary gods they invoke.

I doubt whether Dobson and his boys ever pulled on a uniform.

In the trenches during World War I, if we can believe that pagan Graves, the men, overwhelmingly chapel or Anglican, had no use from Protestant (especially Anglican) chaplains, because they never came to the front. They did respect the Catholic priests, who did.

I was reading a piece recently about a US Navy ship going into combat. A lot of the sailors who were not ordinarily religious went to precombat services, without reference to creed.

There are atheists in foxholes, but not sectaries.

If the vote was 300-30, then a lot of De mocrats must have voted with the evangelicals.

May 15, 2006 7:02 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Harry, I've read that too. Say what you want about the Catholics, they sure seem to have a much better record of wandering into death, danger and sickness. Assuming it is of value, it is something that those who dismiss celibacy and the prohibition against marriage out of hand might want to ponder a bit.

Duck, is your objection the way some chaplains behave or the way they are ordered to behave? It does make a difference.

May 15, 2006 7:10 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

My objection is to a single religious group using political pressure to enable chaplains and commanding officers of their own faith to use military functions as a ground to proselityze their faith, to the detriment of time honored military traditions of stressing unit identity over religious differences. Read what the head of Navy chaplains says in the article.

May 15, 2006 7:23 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

The article contains: "It says each chaplain "shall have the prerogative to pray according to the dictates of the chaplain's own conscience..."

A chaplain's own conscience would take into account the beliefs and needs of his or her unit, no? In which case the language is liberating and enables each chaplain to do his or her job with passion and confidence.

I can understand the chaplain chiefs being unhappy - it takes away some of their power, but I don't see that as a bad thing.

May 15, 2006 9:58 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

A chaplain's own conscience would take into account the beliefs and needs of his or her unit, no?

Uh, the answer to that question will inevitably, in some cases, be No.

Chaplains have varied religious duties. Sometimes they conduct sect-specific worship services. There never was any bar to Chaplains preaching according to their faith's tenets.

Other times, though, they are by definition preaching to a more diverse audience, some of whom are not the choir. Funerals, Change of Command ceremonies, and prayer services before a unit goes into combat are all examples.

Any Chaplain who cannot put on the Ecumenical hat during those occasions needs to get the heck out of the military.

This may come as a surprise to Peter, but I had absolutely no problems with Chaplains during my time in the military, including as a commander.

However, should one have come in spouting evangelical nonsense during an ecumenical occasions, I would very quickly made him persona non grata in my unit.

When Duck says these evangelical ministers, politicians and chaplains do not have the national interest at heart he is exactly right.

Unit cohesion is essential to effectiveness. Allowing this sort of nonsense in an environment as religiously diverse as the US military, and where freedom of association is impossible, is grotesque.

It isn't quite as bad as Commander's spouting evangelical nonsense, but it's close.

PS -- in my combat experience, something under 90% of the guys went to prayer services (conducted by a singularly effective Chaplain whose denomination was completely irrelevant to his mission, and which would have destroyed his effectiveness had it become relevant.)

I have no idea what religious ideas those 10% entertained.

May 16, 2006 4:22 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

No, I don't doubt that for a moment, Skipper, and it may come as a surprise to you and Duck, but I basically agree with you, at least the thrust of the spirit behind what you say. But as with the previous post on this subject, I'm very much wondering what is behind this. As you have said before, all this was worked out somehow on the ground within the relationships among armed forces' members, but now it seems to be "the war of the regulations". What gives? I find it hard to believe that a wave of in-your-face fundamentalism much stronger than the Forces have ever encountered before is sweeping the military.

May 16, 2006 5:39 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Peter, where have you been? This arose from an evangelical campaign at the Air Force Academy.

Was it a planned assault on military ecumenicalism? I doubt it, though that's not beyond possibility.

Probably some enthusiasts in Colorado Springs got the ball rolling (a phenomenon that any Southerner has seen time and again) and the opportunists in the evangelical/political movement saw their chances and they took 'em.

Evangelicals are not naturally political. But they are easily manipulated, because they are so fearful of being labeled soft on sin.

That's why they are helpless against any sort of tyrannous political movement that is also puritanical: whether the KKK, Hitler or Islam. They just can't so no.

May 16, 2006 10:17 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Per another thread, this is cowpox threatening to morph into smallpox.

So long as it is only Chaplains who have taken it upon themselves to convince others of God's Truth, then one could add the occasional proselytizing at ecumenical events to the immense bucket labeled "Bad Manners."

However, as the schlamozzle at the AF Academy shows, there are officers whose Evangelical allegiance tramples upon their Oath of Office.

Any commander worthy of the position must, among other things, convince each of his subordinates that his religious beliefs are sufficiently close to theirs so as to ensure they are being judged on performance instead of fealty.

Evangelicals, to the extent they desire to act on their religious mission in the military, dishonor the oath of office and reveal themselves as hypocrites en route to ruining their unit's cohesion.

May 16, 2006 11:55 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Check out these activities by an Air Force general.

An Air Force major general who used e-mail to seek donations for a Republican congressional candidate may have violated at least two regulations: improper use of his military computer and using his position to solicit votes and contributions for a political candidate.

But Maj. Gen. Jack J. Catton Jr. also tripped a third hotwire when he wrote in his e-mail — sent to scores of recipients, many with dot.mil addresses — that “We are certainly in need of Christian men with integrity and military experience in Congress.”

...
Eugene Fidell, a teacher of military law at Washington College of Law at American University in Washington, D.C., maintains that Catton’s e-mail does violate military regulations because he used his military computer for political purposes and for being actively involved in a political campaign.

The emphasis on Christian congressman is not a legal issue, but “it is a hot-button one these days,” said Fidell, who is an advisor to Weinstein’s group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. [http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org]

“It’s clear we’re in a period where normal restraints are being kicked over,” he said, referring to the episodes of religious intolerance and improper proselytizing at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and a Navy chaplains’ protests in front of the White House over claims he could not pray as his conscience and religious beliefs dictate.

“There is too much going on here in this part of the forest, and it’s very troubling.”


I think Skipper has it right, we are watching cowpox mutate into smallpox here. Inherent in any religious tradition is the idea that the religion holds divine truths. It is the normal, natural state of affairs for religious followers to push their faith above others and to set up exclusionary social structures and norms. The American experiment in tolerance and cooperation among different faiths has been the exception to the norm, and it is always in danger of breaking down. Cowpox isn't the normal state for religions, smallpox is.

Peter, it is not hard to explain the evangelical campaign for supremacy, it is the natural way for Christians to act. It is unAmerican, but it is very Christian. The harder thing to explain is why all the other sects have been so cooperative with each other for so long.

May 16, 2006 2:48 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Yeah, those cooperative Christians will drive you crazy every time, won't they?

This is my last comment on this one. I've never been in the military and I've too much gratitude and respect for the US Armed Forces to offer armchair advice. But, Duck:

But Maj. Gen. Jack J. Catton Jr. also tripped a third hotwire when he wrote in his e-mail — sent to scores of recipients, many with dot.mil addresses — that “We are certainly in need of Christian men with integrity and military experience in Congress.”

Eugene Fidell, a teacher of military law at Washington College of Law at American University in Washington, D.C., maintains that Catton’s e-mail does violate military regulations because he used his military computer for political purposes and for being actively involved in a political campaign.

Aren't we getting a little fevered here?

May 16, 2006 3:52 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,
You really have to do a tour in the military to realize that it is a very different world than civilian life. You realize some of the most simple freedoms that civilians enjoy by their absence in the military. There is a strong tradition that military personnel abstain from any personal pursuits that could bring even the hint of disrepute to the service, or put political and/or sectarian biases on display to the public. Those are the rules, and the majority of military personnel take pride in upholding them. Special identities don't wash in the military. While in uniform your service is your primary identity.

Even if you ignore the religious aspect of it, what you have is an identity group wanting to flout the rules, and inject their own special identity status into on-duty military affairs. And they are being egged on by special interest politicians. Can you imagine how that makes all the other service personnel, who have sacrificed so much of their own identities to wear the uniform, feel? If politics and religion are fair game, if an officer in uniform can proselytize for his faith or campaign for politicians while on-duty, gee, what's the point of everyone else obeying the rules? Gee, maybe I can use the morning formation to sell Amway. Or lets teach evolutionary theory to the guys stuck with mess duty. Why not pin an Aids ribbon on the lapel of your uniform?

These guys are seriously monkeying with tradition, and undermining an ethos that has made the United States military the world's greatest.

May 16, 2006 4:47 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Cooperation isn't the word I'd've used to describe the relationships among the various Christian sects.

Barely contained hostility is more like it.

Secularism survives in the US not because a majority of people are secular but because the minority of seculars have been able to play off the sects against each other.

If the cults ever do adopt a united political front, the Bill of Rights will be in big trouble. It barely existed in the South of my youth because of the dominance of the Baptists.

May 16, 2006 5:05 PM  

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