Monday, July 16, 2012

THYME Magazine

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume IV, Issue XXVIII

Caring for the Souls of Soldiers
A History of Chaplains in the Service

In 1756 George Washington appointed a minister for his Virginia Regiment. In July 1775, the Second Constitutional Congress voted to pay chaplains $20 a month ... just above first lieutenants. Washington sought Divine Providence as he fought the British and looked to chaplains as an important link in the chain of command. In addition to providing religious services, chaplains counselled the troops, visited them when they were sick (disease was often a more deadly enemy than hostile fire), and read and wrote letters to and from home for the soldiers who could not read and write.

In the early days, with regiments coming from specific geographical areas, often the same communities, it was relatively easy to select a chaplain and there were few rules necessary in the creation of this office.

"Chaplains have been counseling soldiers since 1775 on things like trying to stay sober; don't cheat at cards; don't gamble away your pay, send it home; all that sort of thing. But in World War II, because the armies were so big, the chaplains got involved in a major way in trying to counsel the soldiers. We even had chaplains in Nuremberg to try to counsel the German POWs." -- John Brinsfield, U.S. Army Chaplain Corps Hstorian

The World Wars, with regiments created with men from all over the country, presented new challenges for the chaplaincy. In World War II, the armed services set quotas for chaplains of various faiths, attempting to match the proportion of each denomination in the general population. Today the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest mainline denomination providing chaplains to the military, while a general shortage of Priests hinders the provision of Catholic clergy.

Today the honest discussion of how to minister to entire regiments with respect for diverse traditions is often muddied by demands for political correctness. Consider the case of  Lt. Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a chaplain and a priest with the Evangelical Episcopal Church:

"Aboard the USS Anzio, his first post, he backed a Jewish sailor's request to receive kosher meals and tried to get permission for a Muslim crewman to take a turn offering the nightly benediction over the ship's public address system. But Klingenschmitt also insisted on his own right to preach what he believes as a born-again Christian. " -- Alan Cooperman

Klingensschmitt was sanctioned for expressing Biblical distinctives of his faith in sermons that were given in a setting where attendance was optional. The fact that most applicants for the chaplaincy today are Evangelicals makes the issue of religious freedom and free speech for Evangelical chaplains a lively one.

Yet the spiritual needs of soldiers remain the same. Today soldiers wrestle with a lot of the same issues as their forefathers; Relationships back home, stretching their paycheck, parenting in absence and isolation, to name a few, and on top of that dealing with the stress of combat. Deployments to areas such as Afghanistan, which are nothing like home, present unique challenges.

This week TIME discusses the suicide rate among soldiers, one that begs the question of how to bring our best resources to the caring for their souls?

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