Religious Freedom Watch: Pentagon May Prosecute Witnessing (Updated)

Originally posted May 1, 2013 Updated below.

If these fundamentalist Christian monsters of human degradation … and tyranny cannot broker or barter your acceptance of their putrid theology, then they crave for your universal silence in the face of their rapacious reign of theocratic terror. Indeed, they ceaselessly lust, ache, and pine for you to do absolutely nothing to thwart their oppression. Comply, my friends, and you become as monstrously savage as are they. I beg you, do not feed these hideous monsters with your stoic lethargy, callousness and neutrality. Do not lubricate the path of their racism, bigotry, and prejudice. Doing so directly threatens the national security of our beautiful nation.

These are the words of Mikey Weinstein, an anti-Christian bigot who was recently appointed as a “consultant” to the Pentagon, where military policy is established.

Those who serve in the U. S. Military don’t enjoy all the freedoms they defend, e.g., they aren’t allowed to come and go as they please and they do endure certain restrictions on their speech. There things they cannot may not say that civilians may say with impunity, e.g., criticism of the chain of command including the commander-in-chief.

Nevertheless, historically, uniformed personnel have enjoyed basic civil liberties. Among those has been the freedom to talk about their religion with their co-workers. Of course they may not do so in a way that disrupts unit cohesion or interferes with their mission but within those restrictions, those who serve in the military have been free to express their religious commitments. Apparently, there is a move to restrict that freedom and the idea that someone who thinks, let alone speaks, as Weinstein does, has any influence on policy is truly frightening.

According the Ken Kuklowski,

So President Barack Obama’s civilian appointees who lead the Pentagon are confirming that the military will make it a crime—possibly resulting in imprisonment—for those in uniform to share their faith. This would include chaplains—military officers who are ordained clergymen of their faith (mostly Christian pastors or priests, or Jewish rabbis)—whose duty since the founding of the U.S. military under George Washington is to teach their faith and minister to the spiritual needs of troops who come to them for counsel, instruction, or comfort.

This regulation would severely limit expressions of faith in the military, even on a one-to-one basis between close friends. It could also effectively abolish the position of chaplain in the military, as it would not allow chaplains (or any service members, for that matter), to say anything about their faith that others say led them to think they were being encouraged to make faith part of their life. It’s difficult to imagine how a member of the clergy could give spiritual counseling without saying anything that might be perceived in that fashion.

To be sure, those in authority should be cautious about being perceived as forcing those in their command to act against conscience or to attend services or support a religion to which they do not adhere. That concern, however, cannot be used as a pretext to prevent co-workers, colleagues, or even commanders and those in their command from discussing religion.

That such a policy is even being considered—let alone adopted— is stunning.

We should certainly pray for Christians now serving in the military, for their chaplains, and for our elected representatives who will certainly want to consider whether such a policy is in line with the Constitution of the United States.

UPDATE May 8, 2013

Billy Hallowell updates the story at length. He concludes that the original reporting was misleading and sensationalist. He interviews Weinstein for the piece.

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. Thank you for posting this, Dr. Clark. We went through a mess a few years ago with Weinstein’s organization threatening a lawsuit for practices at our local Army installation, Fort Leonard Wood.

    The devil, unfortunately, is in the details.

    The Department of Defense has had a longstanding objection to proselytizing — understood as getting people to change their religion — and particularly when it is done by chaplains, senior officers, and senior NCOs, because of the potential for inappropriate command influence.

    On the other hand, even the ACLU believes that in a military context, having government-paid chaplains is legitimate because it is the only realistic way to allow servicemembers to freely exercise their own religion in a combat context, and often the only viable way to allow it for personnel deployed in non-combat situations where there are fewer religious options than the United States.

    Those distinctions are probably legitimate. Providing religious services for those who want them is quite different from intruding into someone’s life who has clearly said “no.”

    The problem for the military is that especially in the case of junior enlisted personnel, saying “no” isn’t quite as easy when the person asking is in your chain of command or from a significantly higher rank. There is a huge difference between a colonel effectively telling members of his unit to go to church with him to “set an example of good morals for our troops” and one private inviting another private to come to chapel rather than sitting in the barracks on Sunday morning. The Army used to have a lot of people being “voluntold” (i.e., being told to “volunteer”) for various things. That sort of informal pressure has ended compared to the way things were a generation or two ago, and for good reason.

    The problems come when legitimate distinctions get put to illegitimate purposes by being interpreted in ways contrary to the original intent.

  2. Here’s an example of how Weinstein’s organization works, from the 2008 case involving our installation:

    Note this key paragraph: “A weekly ‘Free Day Away’ for soldiers in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., since 1971. Weinstein’s group and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have questioned the program, but it has been described as voluntary and has since been modified to make clear it’s sponsored by a Baptist Church.”

    In many cases relatively small changes can be made in practices on military installations or involving military personnel to make a religious observance truly voluntary. The key is whether the people responsible for interpreting the distinction between “voluntary” and “coerced” actually have the best interests of the servicemember in mind, or whether they’re looking for an excuse to cause problems or get a program shut down.

    Time will tell in this case.

  3. I’m an attorney with the Army JAG. This is yet another case of how Christians can get their facts wrong and yell once again “The sky is falling!” and so makes themselves looks silly. I’m hardly up there in the food chain of DA JAG, but I can’t imagine, and I have yet to hear of any change being made to the UCMJ which would make it punishable to share one’s faith. Sure, being a military chaplain has its challenges–one of them is putting up with a PC-atmosphere which pervades the federal government concerning affirmative action. And we should be praying for a good Reformed witness in the military–which I’ve found sadly lacking for a variety of reasons. But, let’s not over-do the panic. Please.

    • Thanks Richard. I appreciate the caution.

      Frankly, I don’t know whom to believe. I don’t have much confidence in the administration. They’ve not given me a lot of reason to trust that they’re zealous for my liberties. [Update: apparently 29% of Americans are really unsure about the administration!]

      Hiring this bigot is a little scary.

      The sites I’m reading aren’t evangelical.

      Where can I find the truth?

      Sally Quinn discusses it but omits info cited elsewhere.

  4. Good question, Dr. Clark. This hasn’t at all popped up on my radar screen as an attorney. I really get a little leery of some of the organizations such as ACLJ which at times has a “Chicken Little” mentality. I respect and get mailings from the Federalist Society,
    Also good is–a blog by attorneys from various law schools.

    • Thanks Richard. I agree that there has been some crying “wolf” (no pun intended) and have read those sites.

      Please let us know if you hear to read anything that you can pass on.

      Thanks foe keeping the HB honest.

      The goal is to get it right (pilgrim), not to be right (QIRC).

  5. Mikey Weinstein, an anti-Christian bigot

    Yeesh! Ya think?

    having government-paid chaplains is legitimate because it is the only realistic way to allow servicemembers to freely exercise their own religion…Providing religious services for those who want them is quite different from intruding into someone’s life who has clearly said “no.”

    OK, I gotta throw the 2K flag here and ask whether there should be government-paid chaplains at all? From what I’ve heard from chaplains I know, the nature of the military, the government, and the job make it basically impossible to avoid watering down the gospel.

    And why is it the government’s duty to provide the means for servicemembers (employees) to exercise their religion? It’s a free country, it’s a volunteer military, what’s the difference between working for the military, and working for a private company that sends one to a non-Christian country? (2K trick question, all countries are non-Christian, obviously I mean a country with very few Christian churches to worship in)

    And if a church wants to provide religious support for soldiers, certainly it can ordain and send chaplains as missionaries to military populations. It’s one thing for the government to allow religious exercise by approving access between missionary chaplains and soldiers; it’s another for the government to provide religious services.

    How can the government possibly discriminate between orthodox and heterodox religion in deciding which religions to supply chaplains for? (Obviously they can’t, since there are Mormon chaplains, Muslim chaplains, etc.)

    • I don’t want to answer for him, but I believe DG Hart believes the same. Having been exposed to the military chaplaincy for some twenty years, I feel some sympathy for such views. There is a real allergy to Reformed views in the chaplain corps–and Reformed chaplains get to compete with female chaplains and all sorts of extra-orthodoxy.

    • Rube,

      Chaplaincy is a difficulty for everyone but what are the alternatives?

      I wouldn’t be opposed to privately (ecclesiastically) funded chaplains but what about troops on maneuvers or on deployment? People serve for months on end “in the sandbox” as the Marines around here like to say. Who will minister to them if there are not chaplains and what about the logistics of dozens of privately funded chaplains on deployment? Seems like a logistical nightmare for the even the most willing commander.

      As a pastor it’s hard for me to say, “Our troops can attend church or get counsel when they get back to the States.”

    • RubeRad wrote on May 1, 2013 @ 2:47 PM: “OK, I gotta throw the 2K flag here and ask whether there should be government-paid chaplains at all? From what I’ve heard from chaplains I know, the nature of the military, the government, and the job make it basically impossible to avoid watering down the gospel.”

      Richard wrote on May 1, 2013 @ 3:20 PM: “I don’t want to answer for him, but I believe DG Hart believes the same. Having been exposed to the military chaplaincy for some twenty years, I feel some sympathy for such views. There is a real allergy to Reformed views in the chaplain corps–and Reformed chaplains get to compete with female chaplains and all sorts of extra-orthodoxy.”

      Come on, Richard and RubeRad! You’re now taking a position more radical than the ACLU on military chaplains, and doing in the name of “Two Kingdoms” theology. I very much hope that Dr. Hart does **NOT** agree with you.

      Dr. Clark has already pointed out the problems right here on this blog with **NOT** having chaplains in the military, so this obviously isn’t something on which the “Two Kingdoms” people are unified.

      There’s already been more than enough things said to cause opponents of “Two Kingdoms” theology to raise red flags. Please tell me this is an “off the cuff” comment and something on which you’ve changed your position after listening to Dr. Clark.

      I’m far from naive about the problems that chaplains face. I went through the fight just a few years ago over “religious coercion” issues at Fort Leonard Wood, and I am quite aware of the challenges faced by evangelical chaplains (more in the Navy than the Army or Air Force). I’m not so sure that Reformed chaplains have more problems than other evangelicals — at least that’s not what the Reformed chaplains I know are telling me, a fair number of whom have made it to the O-5 or O-6 levels — but there are real issues of political correctness in the military and the simple fact of the matter is that a line officer or a tough-as-nails sergeant major can get away with a lot more than a senior chaplain.

      The Two Kingdoms movement has enough critics already without giving people the idea that adopting “Two Kingdoms” theology will lead to opposition to military chaplaincy.

  6. Darrell,

    As a matter of principle, there are real problems having tax-payer funded chaplains. My tax dollars are funding Muslim clerics and liberal protestant chaplains and Roman priests who knows what else. I shudder to think.

    I’m as opposed to your attitude toward this question. We don’t live in a Constantinian state (and it’s a good thing too!). Further, the old, often unspoken consensus about America as a “Christian nation” no longer exists. So, now the implied problems from years past are on the table now and we cannot just shout them away. Your post doesn’t begin to address the problems at the level of principle.

    There’s nothing even impliedly in the NT about chaplains. I’ve no knowledge that Christians sent chaplains with the Roman army in the 1st or 2nd centuries. I’m sure they wouldn’t have been allowed.

    So, we’re left to wisdom and that’s no place for shouting or shaming.

    • I’ll let Dr. Hart speak for himself, I’m not his spokesman, Darrell, so my comment about him was out of line.
      My critique of the chaplain system is based on taxpayer funding for a system which classifies Mormons as doctrinaire Protestants, which views female chaplains as acceptable to orthodox Christians, and which largely marginalizes the Reformed since they don’t quite fit within the Baptist Protestant community under the rubric of “General Protestant.” The General Protestant services I attended in Germany at military chapels for almost twenty years generally practiced what Mike Horton calls “unchurching the churched” since the chaplains were into seeker sensitive services with rock bands. I live in a military community where I can discern no real reason why our fort holds services instead of encouraging its soldiers to go offpost into the community churches. Sorry, Darrell, this is a sore subject for me. One of the major reasons I moved my family from Deutschland to the States is because my family and I needed a church of Word and Sacrament grounded in the Reformed confessions–the chaplaincy didn’t provide that, and the system is so designed not to do so. I think the Reformed should have legitimate issues about this.

    • Richard, I definitely do agree with you on the problems you point out with regard to taking people out of community churches and putting them into an environment with no elders, no deacons and (often) no doctrinal integrity.

      However valuable chaplains are in a combat environment or when deployed overseas to a place where English is not the local language and where evangelical churches are not common, it’s harder to justify promoting chapel services stateside as opposed to encouraging servicemembers to attend and join off-post churches.

      As for the “happy clappy” stuff, I’m painfully aware of the results of the military chaplaincy being billed to young seminarians as the world’s largest young adult ministry. The good part is that at the level of regular contact with troops, mainline chaplains often have been crowded out by broadly evangelical chaplains. The military cares about statistics, mainline chaplains are poor preachers and don’t get lots of people coming to their services, and that gets noticed, so even though there are a lot of older mainline chaplains at the O-5 and O-6 levels, evangelicals predominate at the O-3 and O-4 levels. I’d certainly rather have a Bible-believing Baptist talking to a twenty-something young kid on his way to Afghanistan than a mainline Presbyterian who doesn’t know or care what the Bible says.

      I would say, however, that what I’ve seen of military chaplaincy has been anything but hostile to the Reformed faith. Clearly your experience is much different than what I’ve seen firsthand with chaplaincy at two different active-duty installations and in three different states with National Guard chaplaincy, and also is much different from what I’ve heard secondhand from Reformed laymen and chaplains about their experiences elsewhere in the Army and Air Force. (There does appear to be a much more serious problem in the Navy chaplaincy, however.)

      The general attitude I’ve seen has been that if a Reformed chaplain wants to hold his own worship services, that’s fine, and he’s encouraged to do so in accord with his own distinctives, much like a Missouri Synod Lutheran might hold a separate smaller worship service preaching Lutheran distinctives and communing only fellow Lutherans, while also being involved in the main “general protestant” or “liturgical protestant” activities sponsored by the chaplaincy office.

      For example, for many years, Fort Leonard Wood had an on-post Reformed service because the only off-post Reformed church of any type within a reasonable driving distance is a Korean PCA where the pastor speaks virtually no English. (It happens to be my wife’s church, I attended for many years but never joined, the rest of my family still goes there since my mother- and father-in-law speak no English and they need my daughter to play piano, and I am well aware of the issues in Korean Presbyterianism which make outreach to an American Reformed community very difficult.)

      The chaplains I know of in charge of that service over the last dozen years included a Conservative Congregational Christian Conference chaplain who was an RTS-Jackson graduate, a quite conservative PC(USA) chaplain who was attending a PCA congregation after medical retirement from the Army, though he died before he could leave the PC(USA), an Associate Reformed Presbyterian chaplain, and a Reformed Episcopal chaplain. That service eventually “morphed” into an Anglican service using the prayerbook and more recently got turned into a generic liturgical service. I don’t know the details of how that happened, although I do know the organist and several self-identified Anglicans who continue to be involved and consider themselves to be Reformed in doctrine but “high church” in liturgy.

      Are there pressures on chaplains (especially young O-3s who are recent seminary graduates without prior enlisted service) to conform to broadly evangelical expectations, or sometimes even liberal expectations?


      However, what I’ve been told by Reformed people in the chaplaincy is that they’ve had a lot fewer problems in the chaplaincy than they had in prior civilian ministry in a lot of typical PCAs, and some people got out of civilian ministry and entered the military chaplaincy, or transferred from Reserve/Guard chaplaincy to active duty chaplaincy, specifically for that reason.

      A Reformed or Lutheran military chaplain who wants to hold a Reformed or Lutheran service is usually free to do so, although it may have to be held in the afternoon or evening, and won’t have a lot of people attending. The sad fact is that quite a few elders in local churches would be a lot less receptive to holding a strictly Reformed worship service where Reformed distinctives are clearly rather than obliquely proclaimed. We may not like that, but it’s the simple reality in too many of our own churches that the elders are not confessionally knowledgeable.

      The Army will generally let a confessional chaplain be confessional, but that isn’t necessarily true of every church that claims to be Reformed.

  7. Wow. This was not something I expected — not at all.

    I honestly don’t know what to say, hearing now for virtually the first time that there are people in the conservative Reformed world who think there are matters of principle at stake in the appropriateness of military chaplaincy.

    I have almost never heard anyone in the Reformed community, liberal, moderate, or conservative, or anything in between, question the legitimacy of the military chaplaincy, with the sole exception of the Protestant Reformed Churches, and that has happened mostly in recent years. The PRs are probably becoming more consistent with some of their core principles of separation on this issue, and while I certainly disagree, I can respect their views about compromising their principles.

    Reformed churches have an extremely long history of support for chaplaincy, including the Old School side of the churches.

    My understanding is that J. Gresham Machen considered joining the chaplaincy during World War II but chose to become a YMCA secretary instead because in those days chaplains didn’t have as much direct contact with the troops, and he felt he could be more effective with the troops as a YMCA secretary. No less of a Southern Old School advocate of the “spirituality of the church” than Robert Lewis Dabney himself served as a Confederate Army chaplain. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Old School Presbyterians, both North and South, were quite happy and willing to endorse military chaplains in the 1800s and 1900s. In the Netherlands, even ultraconservative denominations such as the Gereformeerde Gemeenten (Netherlands Reformed Congregations) had military chaplains in the Royal Dutch Army — GH Kersten himself, the de facto head of the denomination, served as a chaplain. If we’re going to talk about the Reformation era and the Puritan era in which our confessions were written, serving in chaplaincy roles was quite common, especially for English Puritans since it brought a chaplain under the direct protection of a powerful noble or military officer and kept the bishops from harassing him.

    As for the modern era, the URC is an associate member of the Presbyterian and Reformed Commission for Chaplain and Military Personnel, in which most of the NAPARC denominations participate, and its executive director is a retired Army one-star general and ordained PCA minister who served for three decades in various chaplaincy roles. The former head of Reformed Theological Seminary-Charlotte is an Army Reserve chaplain and an instructor at the Armed Forces Chaplain School.

    Given the fact that virtually all of the major NAPARC denominations participate in chaplaincy ministries, I did not realize that the military chaplaincy was in any way controversial in the conservative Reformed community, either now or in its older history.

    I guess I learned something new today.

    • Darrell,

      Machen also sang hymns. Homer nodded. It happens.

      I didn’t say that I’m opposed to chaplains but there are issues that we should consider.

      Virtually everyone you cited lived in what was left of the Constantinian world. It still existed in my youth, in the Blue laws but this isn’t 1920. It’s not even 1960. The Blue Laws are gone. Christendom is gone. “Christian America,” to the degree it ever existed, is gone. Apart from an extraordinary work of God, it’s not coming back. Arguably, it only existed for a brief period of time in the 19th century. Folk could argue about the 17th and 18th centuries.

      So, now, back to actual reality as it exists. What about the NT? Where is the NT plan for state-funded chaplains? Why is it when I ask you Constantinians this question (e.g., the NT plan for a state church or cultural transformation) all I ever get is crickets? I’m not asking for 32 paragraphs. I’m asking for a brief, coherent, compelling case from the NT.

      I’m not saying that there’s no way to justify chaplains but it has to be done as a matter of wisdom not a matter of confession or faithfulness or Scripture.

    • Dr. Clark, you’re asking a reasonable question. If you’re hearing “crickets” in response to your questions to me, then I’m not doing my job.

      We both confess the need to apply the dual Reformed doctrines of the regulative principle and of Christian freedom, which severely limit what the church as institute can do and can say. And when it comes to Reformed worship, i.e., your allusion to Machen singing hymns, while I’m not sure we’re in the same place, we’re awfully close if not identical. (I think my toleration level for error in worship is higher than yours, but my ideal church might be stricter than yours — no musical instruments, for example.)

      The bottom line is we need to back up what we say from Scripture. You and I both agree on that.

      Anabaptists either deny or question whether Christians can serve in civil government, typically acknowledging what Romans 13 says about the sword and then concluding wrongly that because Christians should not bear the sword, Christians should not be magistrates. However, we have at least one example of a city treasurer, or perhaps city director of public works, Erastus of Corinth, who was a member of the New Testament church. I believe that establishes conclusively that Christians may hold civil office, just as Christ’s own words to the Roman centurion establish conclusively that Christians may hold military office. We also have the Apostle Paul’s exhortations to various judges and rulers, and while we have no reason to believe that any of the upper-level people to whom he spoke were in fact converted, certainly Paul and the other apostles believed in “speaking truth to power,” even when that was pagan Roman power.

      If Christians may hold civil and military office, where is the proof from Scripture that Christians who hold such offices ought not to exercise their authority in the same way any other faithful Christian exercises whatever authority he has been given, knowing that ultimately all authority is from God?

      I’m not a theonomist. I understand there are continuities and discontinuities between the civil polity of Old Testament Israel and the role of Christians after the coming of Christ. I also understand that even in the Old Testament, the obligations of Jews serving the Persian Empire were different from the Jewish judges and kings from the death of Moses to the exile to Babylon.

      What I simply fail to see is that Christians are somehow limited and should seek to apply only what can be known of natural law through general revelation when serving as civil magistrates, rather than biblical truth through special revelation.

      Working that out isn’t always easy. I grant that.

      What I don’t see is why we shouldn’t try to apply Scripture to civil government, just much as any Christian business owner ought to be applying Scripture to his business. Certainly Christianity does not say much about how to do plumbing, but it has a lot to say about work ethics, honest finances, lying, paying ones employees fairly, and similar matters, and what Scripture has to say on those matters goes far beyond what could be ascertained from general revelation.

      • Darrell,

        You essentially dodged my question. If you’re going to be shocked and outraged, then I suppose there should be easily adduced, prima facie evidence from the NT that what you think is true but when pressed you concede that it’s a difficult question.

        Who said the Christian businessmen should’t apply Scripture to their daily lives and work? Where on earth did you get such a notion?

  8. Greetings, Brothers.

    I must be careful with my comments as I am a NAPARC chaplain, so please bear with me. I also a 2k adherent, following my hero, Machen (to speak a bit anachronistically), which keeps me in a semi-awkward position as a military chaplain.

    In theory, I do not think the military should have government-paid chaplains. The strings attached to this money has always created difficulties for chaplains, as their employers get a say over their work. As a result, a religious pragmatism tending toward paganism has been the dominant impulse in the chaplaincy, with “Pro Deo et Patria” becoming “Deo Pro Patria.” Early in my chaplain career, I had to read histories of the chaplaincy that celebrated those who preached “sermons” palatable to Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. George Washington celebrated chaplains who operated in that vein.

    The pressures, then, are several-fold: (1) To exploit one’s faith for its perceived moral use, (2) To exploit one’s faith for its perceived effect on morale, (3) To exploit one’s faith in service to a civil cause or ideal, and (4) To diminish one’s faith in favor of a generic spirituality (i.e., interfaith services) to which all religions can respond with an “Amen.”

    In my initial chaplain training, there were mandatory prayers given at the beginning and end of the day for a class representing many different religions. Those offerings those prayers were forbidden to pray in Jesus’ name. The senior chaplains wanted the generic prayers, not authentic expressions of a chaplain’s core beliefs. I protested, not as a stance for political freedom (though it should be had), but from a 2k perspective, I believed they were promoting universalistic paganism (which they were not happy to hear me say).

    All that said, in practice, a government-paid chaplaincy seems necessary for the reasons mentioned elsewhere my Dr. C. And the balance between practical civil service and spiritual/ecclesiastical fidelity can be struck, though with some difficulty. I am allowed to pray freely at mandatory formations, but I make sure to qualify my prayers in Jesus’ name with the first person pronoun. I offer intercessory prayer at those formations, not corporate prayer.

    In chapel services, I preach without interference and do so with strict fidelity to the Reformed Confessions. My soldiers will hear of Christ crucified, the doctrines of grace, and the exclusivity of the Gospel in every sermon. The day I am required to water down a sermon is the day I leave the military with a clean conscience.

    But until that day, I savor this role. It is likely that half of the attendees at every chapel or field service are unbelievers and are willing to hear me present the claims of Christ. I have watched soldiers with poor theology or shallow faith be transformed by God’s sovereign grace in Christ through the ordinary means of grace.

    And for those who doubt the biblical fidelity of military chaplains, I can attest that in a recent chaplain course I attended, the vast majority of chaplains self-identified as evangelical, and the vast majority of those self-identified as Reformed. The YRR wave has hit the chaplaincy, with a Charismatic Episcopalian chaplain claiming Machen as his hero, a Southern Baptist devouring Modern Reformation, and a EV Free chaplain reading Horton’s systematic for the second time as he also reads Greidanus on Christ-centered preaching.

    Does the pragmatism, universalism, and blatant and oft-hostile politically correct orthodoxy bother me? Sure does. Do any of these things affect my ability to stand fast as a Reformed minister and missionary in this environment? Not yet. And until they do, I cherish every moment of the working the great harvest, in His grace alone.

    Your Servant in Christ,

    P.S. If you want more info on the Weinstein article, please contact Gen. Doug Lee with the PRCC. He is not only the head of our endorsing agency, but also the head of a newly-formed coalition of endorsers that are protecting evangelical chaplains.

    • Thanks also for your participation here, Chaplain Stephen, and more importantly, thank you for your service.

      It’s easy to complain about how bad things are in comparison to the way they should be, but when doing so, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the Army in my father’s day was full of hard-drinking foulmouthed heathens who loved to work hard and play hard. (I mean by that the Korea and Vietnam eras.) Much of that has been cleaned up. Today’s military, because it is so heavily rural and Southern, is filled with Baptists and charismatics, and that’s a big improvement over how bad things used to be.

      I concur with you about the YRR movement hitting the chaplaincy. I haven’t seen it much in my area, but it is definitely out there and increasing. That should not be surprising. Since personal discipline is crucial to long-term success in the military, and since family stability is very helpful to long-term success, some of the key cultural manifestations of Calvinism are very compatible with a military career.

      I sure wish some committed YRRs would get PCSed to Fort Leonard Wood, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. Those Reformed people from an OPC or PCA background who do get assigned here tend either 1) to get frustrated with a small Korean-speaking PCA and a small Calvinistic church in the Southern Baptist Convention, so they drive several hours to church, either in Springfield (where my membership is held) or to St. Louis, or 2) to decide they’ll put up with the problems of broad evangelicalism and attend on-post chapel services or go to one of several decent off-post evangelical churches without joining them due to rebaptism requirements.

      Anyone who thinks military life is easy for one’s spiritual life is a fool, and the lack of solid Reformed churches outside too many Army installations is a major problem.

  9. Man, I turn my back for a second and you guys run away with the discussion! Instead of dropping a comment here in the first place, I should have written a post at CO — we’re in need of new material!


    Stephen: Thank you so much for sharing your insider’s view. It’s fascinating that you disagree with the chaplaincy in theory, but find that it works in practice. To put a more negative spin on it (please don’t take offense, I am just now for the first time exploring this issue of chaplaincy&2K), if it is correct that there is no biblical mandate, or at least justification, for military chaplaincy, perhaps we are taking advantage of “free” money — hey, soldiers need the gospel, and if the military is going to give careers to some of our ordained men, and secure livelihoods for their families, why would we reject that? In fact, it may be wrong to fail to take advantage of a paid opportunity to share the gospel, regardless of whether the system also supports promulgation of false religions.

    In fact, if the military chaplaincy were to disappear, and private chaplaincy spring up in its place, I bet (because of zeal and affluence) the Mormons would be way in front in providing military missionaries. Second place the Catholics, because (a) there’s so many of them and (b) unmarried priests need less money. So the current situation is better for the gospel than if it were to go away. But that doesn’t make it right. It would also be better for the gospel if the government would give $100 million dollars to NAPARC to plant churches; but that wouldn’t make it right.

    RSC: Soldiers deployed/sandbox, etc. How is that different from, say, a businessman who is usually on travel to China and has no access to Christian word&sacrament 75% of the time? What about Christians in non-Christian countries, whose militaries do not offer Christian chaplains? Are they not free to choose a military vocation? Jesus didn’t condemn the vocation of Roman soldiers, and I’ll bet you a dollar they didn’t have Christian chaplains…

    DTM: rejection of chaplaincy is not a hallmark of 2K; I am as surprised as you that I’ve never seen it discussed before, since it’s a pretty straightforward application of the 2K principle. And I would certainly not say that 2K must automatically be against chaplaincy, I just wonder how many have even considered the question.

    As for your biblical treatment (thank you for not pulling out Deut 20) of course Christians do not need to abstain from civil or military occupations, and they are free to exercise their religion in those occupations, but that does not mean that exercising their religion is their occupation. I am free to share the gospel with my cow-orkers, but my company does not pay me to share the gospel, they pay me to get my work done. Relationships are formed among cow-orkers however, conversations take place about many topics, and sharing the gospel has a legitimate place in those contexts which are apart from the job itself.

    In fact, that raises an alternative model for chaplaincy I hadn’t thought about before; sending ordained men to serve in the military. They would have their day jobs, but they would be free to minister to fellow soldiers otherwise. In fact, in this situation soldier-chaplains would probably have less restrictions and pressures to compromise and universalize than regular chaplains today. Of course this method would be much less effective/efficient than a full-time career chaplain, simply from an available hours standpoint; a hugely larger number of soldier-chaplains would have to be sent out to spread as much gospel as one full-time chaplain.

    You also mention Machen and the YMCA. Rather than supporting military chaplaincy, that seems to bolster the notion that private chaplaincy is better.

    • Rube,

      Military service isn’t exactly like selling widgets in China, is it? One is a week-long trip with relative freedom of movement and, perhaps, even access to religious services. The other, in its very nature, restricts freedom of movement considerably and entails risk of life and limb in service of country and it occurs over a period of months and years. In the Battle of the Bulge, men didn’t move from their positions for months. They couldn’t move, they were surrounded by the Germans! Even if one had freedom of movement in military service, there aren’t many churches in Afghanistan (or Iraq any more).

    • Dr. Clark said the main things I would have said. I agree with him on this point.

      I would add three additional items:

      1) Since the end of Vietnam, we’ve had an all-volunteer force, so a case could be made that servicemembers signed up and the government therefore has fewer obligations toward them. However, consider what happens in a draft context. Would it not create constitutional problems if the government were to draft people and send them into a situation where there is no realistic possibility of having any sort of church service? That is, historically speaking, a major part of why the ACLU and similar organizations have not objected to military chaplaincy — and as Dr. Clark pointed out, the principle continues to apply today since even though servicemembers voluntarily enlist, there is a very good likelihood that they may end up getting sent places where it is difficult or impossible to attend church.

      2) While the role of chaplains is inherently religious, chaplains perform a secular purpose for the military in helping servicemembers deal with some pretty major issues in their personal lives caused by the inherent nature of military life. Having a trained person serving as a morale officer, marriage counselor, social worker, and in numerous other roles that are subsumed under the rubric of “pastoral counseling” provides a valid secular purpose to the military in paying for a chaplain. If our government is going to send people into situations where they are separated from their spouses and families for a year or more, live in some pretty horrific conditions, and know that their mission is, as some have put it, “to kill people and break things,” a reasonable case could be made that the government ought to provide them emotional and psychological support in dealing with that situation.

      3. With regard to private chaplaincy work, the way things worked with Machen in World War I with clear “front lines” and rear areas simply isn’t reflective of modern combat realities. Machen, during his time as a YMCA secretary, was far behind the lines shaving chocolate bars to make hot chocolate and organizing sporting events for troops rotated back for what today would be called “R&R.” Maybe a private chaplaincy could work today in some parts of Kabul or at Bagram Air Base, but there is no way a military commander is going to tolerate a typical civilian pastor accompanying troops into a combat environment. It’s difficult enough to deal with embedded reporters in relatively safe units, but chaplains are — and are supposed to be — going in some of the most difficult situations possible because that is where they are most needed. Anyone going into that kind of situation needs to have a level of training sufficient to keep themselves from getting killed or getting others killed.

  10. Would it not create constitutional problems if the government were to draft people and send them into a situation where there is no realistic possibility of having any sort of church service?

    I maintain a distinction between allowing religious exercise, and providing it. I don’t see why there would have to be a constitutional problem. Would there be a constitutional problem if the government (reacting to ever-dropping voter participation), switched elections to Sundays, thereby potentially prohibiting some citizens from exercising their religion?

    a reasonable case could be made that the government ought to provide them emotional and psychological support in dealing with that situation.

    Yes, the military has an interest in performing routine maintenance on their personnel as well as their equipment. That role already exists in the form of medics, psychologists, and other counselors.

    there is no way a military commander is going to tolerate a typical civilian pastor accompanying troops into a combat environment

    That problem doesn’t exist with soldier/chaplains. In fact, how many regular chaplains are in combat environments anyways? I may be showing my ignorance here, but wouldn’t they be back at the base, not out in the field? Anyways, there is already plenty of precedent for civilians helping out the military in many ways; mechanics, janitorial/cooking providers, even look at all the essentially combat work done by those Blackwater private militia guys. And how do journalists get embedded with combat troops?

    • in re: elections on Sundays; that is probably not a clear logical leap; I mean to draw a comparison with a hypothetical situation in which the government might impose a duty on its citizens that may interfere with exercise of religion.

    • Quick response:

      Yes, chaplains definitely **DO** go into combat situations, though they do so unarmed, and their chaplain assistant (an enlisted soldier) is responsible for keeping the chaplain alive. I am not going to try to get into current military doctrine on chaplains providing pastoral care to forward-deployed units because the details may be outdated, but let’s just say chaplains typically want to serve in harm’s way, or they wouldn’t have joined the military. We have a NAPARC chaplain on this thread to whom I’m going to defer on current military doctrine regarding that issue.

      It might interest you that the most recent Medal of Honor recipient was a chaplain from the Korean War who saved the lives of numerous wounded American soldiers by dragging them out of harm’s way, and who died as a POW in a North Korean prison camp. He received the Medal of Honor posthumously last month. I don’t know the history of why the award was delayed this long, but lower-level awards for bravery to chaplains under fire are not unusual.

      “Front lines,” as traditionally understood, really don’t exist anymore in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and anyone going into that environment needs to be prepared to deal with an ambush pretty much anywhere at any time. That includes embedded reporters accompanying military units. There are reasons why a fair number of combat correspondents are former military personnel themselves, or come from military families. Some things can’t be taught overnight.

      Again, if we’re going to get into details of what chaplains do in a combat environment, I want to defer to our NAPARC chaplain here. However, it absolutely is **NOT** true that chaplains typically stay “back on base.”

  11. This all seems to be a case of defining the rules by the exceptions, i.e. so that in the end there are no exceptions. The point was made about a Christian to travelling to places where there is no church. Employers don’t provide religious services for employees. Why should the government? The soldier is simply an employee of the government, one that has a risky job, and one where breaking the contract has criminal was well as civil penalties, but then there are risky jobs outside the military too.

    The draft makes no difference, be cause it doesn’t change the basic relationship between the soldier and the government. The military service is the same either way. A draftee is not owed anything more more by the military than a volunteer. Being subject to the draft is a risk/duty that everyone that meets the government criteria for being subject to the draft, just like taxes. Even if the government uses money they collected from someone in taxes to limit his freedom or take away his rights, his duty to pay his taxes is not diminished. The leaders alone bear any responsibility on how they spend the governments money. That’s correct — once the taxes are paid, it’s the government’s money, not the taxpayers, even when they use it for evil purposes, like killing babies (now in the USA) or Christians, like in Rome.

    Likewise, one’s duty to serve in the military when drafted is not diminished by virtue of the fact that his rights to exercise his religion during his military service are diminished or eliminated. Rather be thankful that the US military today does a better job of supplying basic necessities like boots, unlike Washington’s army at Valley Forge.

    How does one justify paying chaplains when the grunts had no shoes? — or did the Continental Congress not pay the chaplains? Why does the phrase “be warm and filled” come to mind. And if the Continental Congress didn’t pay the chaplains, where’s the precedent?

    Clearly that is not an issue now, but it doesn’t sound as if there is any moral high-ground in justifying chaplaincy in the military on the basis that George Washington did it, considering all the circumstances.

    • Employers don’t provide religious services for employees. Why should the government?

      Right. Lesser to greater? Greater to lesser? One of those forms of argument is going on here.

      The soldier is simply an employee of the government, one that has a risky job, and one where breaking the contract has criminal was well as civil penalties, but then there are risky jobs outside the military too.

      I agree; the difference between deployment to the sandbox, and selling widgets in China, is one of degree, not nature. Maybe a better analogue than widget-sales, would be offshore oil drilling. From what I’ve heard, those dudes are out on the platform for extended periods, and it’s dangerous work.

  12. “Misleading and sensationalist.” Gee, what a surprise. Cal Thomas blew the whistle on this tactic a long time ago in his book, “Blinded by Might.” Some Christian organizations use misleading and sensationalist scare tactics as a way of building up their mailing lists and donor base; Thomas was familiar with this as part of “The Moral Majority.” That Christians feed on this time and time again is tragic and a poor witness to a world which needs to hear the Gospel.

    • Richard,

      I agree. I see this tactic a lot and I usually see it for what it is but this one got through the nonsense detector.

      Hallowell says that Weinstein was referring mainly to “Dominionist” Christians. That’s not what Weinstein said, however, and the idea that someone who writes/speaks like that about Christians was given access to the Pentagon and taken seriously is a little frightening.

      As I said earlier, I’m nervous. I trust the Lord but I don’t trust this administration. It’s not a matter of partisan politics. I didn’t like the Clinton administration either and there was a lot to distrust but I had the sense that there were grownups who would speak up or that there were limits.

      Yet, I’ve never lived under an administration (including the Nixon administration) that seemed more hostile to truth and to religious conservatives. I am troubled that this report about the Pentagon seemed plausible. Why was it plausible? Perhaps it’s because terrorist acts are now described as “workplace violence” and a terrorist attack on an American consulate is said by the administration to be the result of a “mob.”

      For all its evils, there were people in the Nixon administration who could say, “there is a cancer on the presidency.” Is there anyone in the administration today who could say that and keep his job?

      • The more I look into this, the more I’m beginning to think that this report was premature and had significant errors, but may have been an important warning flag.

        There are problems with religious freedom issues in the military. So far, the pushback has been very strong against those who might have an openly anti-Christian attitude. Those in charge understand that our military is heavily Southern and heavily rural, and servicemembers who are from urban areas tend to be either Hispanic Roman Catholics or blacks who often have a background in evangelical churches, so there are limits to how far people opposed to conservative Christianity are going to go.

        But that doesn’t mean the problems aren’t there, or that they are going away anytime soon.

  13. I’m not a fan of this administration, either, but I’m not sure how much this moral slipperiness is due to it or the societal norms in which we all swim. If Christians don’t have a rigid adherence to truth so they can smell out on their BS detector nonsense such as this before they launch protests in the media, surely they, we, are part of the problem?

  14. I agree with Darrell. I’m in the military, and while I think that this is blown out of proportion, it is very likely part of the thin edge of a wedge of anti-Christian bias. Imagine suggesting in 1973–two generations ago–that homosexuals would be allowed to serve in the military, and that thousands would be have marriage licenses signed and sealed by state-sanctioned authorities.

    Slightly different topic….

    I was once discussing with a very mild senior chaplain (Orthodox) his duties, and he mentioned with a fair amount of gusto his even-handed support of a request by a “Wiccan” for a place to meet with his “brothers,” along with some candles and a black altar cloth. All’s fair, and even a Wiccan has his rights.

    The same priest became visibly disgusted when I broached the subject of God’s absolute sovereignty. “Calvinists can’t be considered real Christians!” he spat with a sneer.

    Perhaps he would like us more if we had more candles and chanting.

    • Scott,

      This was my experience as well in military chapels–people who were Reformed were regarded as divisive, but everything else was OK. I finally gave up attending General Protestant services while overseas and attended Episcopal services which at least had a coherent Biblical liturgy.

    • I fully grant that the Southern evangelical culture, combined with a focus on happy-clappy youth ministry, is going to cause problems for Calvinists. I can’t honestly say I’ve heard military personnel saying they have had any more objection to being Reformed than has been received by confessional Lutherans or fundamental Baptists.

      I think the things experienced by civilian pastors in the PCA in the South are probably a fair reflection of what military chaplains will experience on the level of actual ministry, with two important caveats:

      1) There are going to be problems sooner or later due to senior-level chaplains who may be either mainline or so broadly evangelical that they object to any group perceived as divisive unless (as is the case for Lutherans) they are such a large number that they have to be tolerated.

      2) Even though the PCS cycle of regular rotations is supposed to promote a common standard, simple reality is that a bad person in senior military leadership can make life miserable for anyone who has to deal with them.

      Of course, some would say that both caveats aptly describe the situation in a number of PCA presbyteries and denominational organizations, so maybe the parallel is closer than would be immediately apparent.

  15. Darrell,

    It’s not the same, trust me, I sat in military chapels for almost twenty years. Evangelical culture in the chaplain corps was hostile to or unaware of the diverse needs of the Reformed. And the evangelical culture had all the marks and shortcomings which David Wells has so excellently described in his earlier works.

Comments are closed.