Military Chaplains Split Over Jesus’ Name
Today’s WaPo reports a squabble between rival military chaplains’ associations, the Secretary of the Navy, and the United States Congress over Jesus’ name, or, specifically, whether and when chaplains can pray with reference to it.
In recent months, the Secretary of the Navy and the Air Force have issued guidelines requiring that prayer “should be nonsectarian” and “non-denominational, inclusive” when offered at an event service members are required to attend by their commands. In response to this, the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers (ICECE) called for an executive order authorizing chaplains to pray in Jesus’ name, quickly starting a political groundswell.
Prodded by complaints from ICECE, 74 members of Congress signed a letter to President Bush last fall saying that “it has come to our attention that in all branches of the military it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christian chaplains to use the name of Jesus when praying.” In December, Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) and three other congressmen unveiled a supporting petition that has since swelled to more than 200,000 signatures. Calls for congressional hearings and an executive order have become a staple on religious radio and television broadcasts, generating protests of White House inaction by conservative Christians, who are usually strong supporters of Bush.
This in turn has created a counter-reaction by the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces (NCMAF), “a private, 40-year-old association of more than 60 Christian, Jewish and Muslim denominations. It says it represents 5,430 of the 7,620 chaplains in the armed forces.” They note that Christian chaplains routinely pray in Jesus’ name in chapel services, a fact ignored by those politicizing this matter.
While the ICECE is right to note that “chaplains must represent the church that endorses them for military duty,” they are also military officers. The rationale for maintaining chaplains on active duty has more to do with troop morale and spiritual counseling than it does with religious worship, which could certainly be accomplished by private churches at least within CONUS. The command has every right to set parameters for what chaplains do in that capacity, as opposed to their separate capacity as clergymen.
Further, it seems obvious that non-evangelical, non-Christian, and non-religious soldiers should not be forced to endure religious indoctrination as a condition of their service to the nation.