The Army has disciplined a military chaplain for making references to the Bible during a suicide-prevention seminar last month.
…The chaplain, Capt. Joe Lawhorn, conducted the training session on suicide prevention Nov. 20 at the University of North Georgia. During the session, he shared his personal struggles with depression while an Army Ranger.
What upset the atheist group is that Lawhorn explained how he learned to conquer adversity by following the example of Israel’s warrior king, David, one of the great heroes of the Old Testament.
A week later, on Thanksgiving, Lawhorn received a letter of concern from Col. David Fivecoat, commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Fort Benning, Ga.
Fivecoat’s letter faulted Lawhorn for “using Christian scriptures and solutions”….
The letter, described as “administrative in nature,” also issued a stern warning to Lawhorn to be “careful to avoid any perception you are advocating one system of beliefs over another.” It will remain in the chaplain’s file for up to three years.
—Kelsey Harkness, “Military Punishes Chaplain For Referring To Bible In Seminar” (UPDATE 28 Dec 2014)
The Chaplaincy has become an inside joke and was so when I was at Ft. Bragg while assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division as an airborne infantry trooper. They serve no purpose other than to report to the Battalion Commander that the men’s morale was high and that they were willing to fight!
That is not the question here. That a chaplain cannot refer to the Christian faith is a radical turn in the restriction of religious liberty not only among military chaplains but beyond the military as well. There seems to be an attempt by militant atheist groups within the military to exclude Christianity and to silence Christian chaplains.
Out of curiousity, when were you at Bragg? Did you ever speak to your Chaplain? Ever go to chapel? How do you know that’s all that your Chaplain did?
I am curious because that has not been my experience over the last nine years.
At issue here may be conflicting Army and Department of Defense (DOD) regulations, regulations that permit freedom of expression of one’s personal experiences and regulations which protect soldiers from undue influence (esp. political and religious) from superiors. Not an easy case in this situation since the training the chaplain provided was mandatory, so the soldiers had no choice but to be there. And the back of the chaplain’s handout of “LOCAL COUNSELING REFERRALS” was titled, “COMING OUT OF THE CLOSET TO GOD: FOLLOWING THE PATTERN OF DAVID,” which included admonitions and Scriptural references to the Gospel, Hebrews 4:14-16, to Jesus, Matthew 4:1-4, to “Our identity in Christ (see Ephesians 2:4-6)” and more. In other words, if a solder wanted a list of referrals to help with suicide prevention (the subject of the training), the soldier had to also take the gospel information since the chaplain printed it on the back. This may be the key issue–not that the chaplain related his personal appearances, which is fine and good and clearly permitted by Army and DOD regulations, but that he used mandatory training to specifically present the Gospel in a written handout. Now all who know me know I am for proclaiming the gospel, but as an officer conducting mandatory Army training it is generally unwise–not the time nor the place. Otherwise my commanders and their representatives, superior officers, could have also used their influence over me to encourage me to give up my Christian faith and replace it with their atheism, or any other religion which denies the Gospel. It is one thing to relate our personal experiences and beliefs in Christ Jesus–it is quite another thing to use mandatory training to present objective religious or atheistic claims.
Thanks Daniel for the background. It’s hard to determine from news stories exactly what’s happening. I understand your concern. It seems quite reasonable but how is the inclusion of Christian references coercion? This may get to Richard’s complaint but if they don’t want explicit religious content in mandatory settings, why do they assign chaplains to lead the sessions? Why not assign a psychologist or physician?
I don’t see it as coercion but coming from a superior officer who is a representation of the command some subordinates may take it as undue influence, not explicit but implicit. So the military, with a mandate to preserve religious liberty, prohibits objective presentations of religion in mandatory settings. For example, a Muslim commander, and their representatives, may not use their formal position to promote Islam. The same goes for atheism, Christianity and others. Imagine if the same type of handout with atheistic, or Muslim, or Roman Catholic principles came to you in a mandatory setting. Some would then question whether embracing those tenents could affect thier career. The distinction here is of free expression (clearly permitted by Army and DOD regulations) and establishment (commanders AND their representatives are not permitted in mandatory formal training settings to favor one religion over another). I would not want them to have the authority to press their non-Christian beliefs on me in the course of mandatory military training. Of course I can’t speak to why the particular chaplain was assigned to do the training; perhaps he could have volunteered?
Thanks Daniel. I appreciate the insight into military culture. I can imagine a Christian (or a non-Christian) wondering about the implications of being handed material based on the Qur’an or the Hadith.
“That a chaplain cannot refer to the Christian faith is a radical turn in the restriction of religious liberty not only among military chaplains but beyond the military as well. There seems to be an attempt by militant atheist groups within the military to exclude Christianity and to silence Christian chaplains.”
“So the military, with a mandate to preserve religious liberty, prohibits objective presentations of religion in mandatory settings.”
Hence my observation back in the day when I was at Ft. Bragg and Iraq. The truth is, from my discussions with the chaplain’s assistant (troopers assigned to protect the chaplain – they were armed), I grew to understand what the chaplain’s job was and where he was oftentimes (mostly in the “rear” and useless! How does one even define a “mandatory setting?” This is ridiculous beyond belief. Many of these chaplains (at least the ones I came across in Ft. Bragg) knew more about Army regulations than about theology and/or salvation. I was under the impression that the chaplaincy was there to support the needs of soldiers going into combat.
Since the chaplaincy is no longer exclusively Christian then we cannot expect them to serve the needs of all of the soldiers in the unit. There should be imams for the Sunnis, Protestants for the Protestants (and that will be a problem), Buddhists for the Buddhists, and Hindus for the Hindus and heaven help us if we don’t have someone representing the Moonies! This is laughable!
Lastly, you don’t go to a chaplain when you are having girlfriend problems! The chaplaincy was for the help of soldiers facing their imminent death! The faith of the chaplain is paramount. However, if he is less than orthodox what’s the point? This whole discussion is moot – in my sincere opinion.
When we crossed into Iraq I had to encourage some of the soldiers around me. The chaplain was nowhere to be seen! One NCO was so afraid of what would happen to him – how was he to behave in the midst of a firefight. My response was, brother, since we are Christian men, let us not fear death which has no sting, the Father has chosen us, the Son has saved us, the Holy Spirit will keep us! We are immortal till the moment of our falling asleep (death where is your sting?)! Where was our chaplain – NOWHERE!
“There should be imams for the Sunnis, Protestants for the Protestants (and that will be a problem), Buddhists for the Buddhists, and Hindus for the Hindus and heaven help us if we don’t have someone representing the Moonies! ”
I’m sure someday there will.
While I’m truly saddened that you had to deal with an unhelpful or incompetent chaplain while you served, it may not be wise to generalize your personal experience to the entire chaplaincy corps.
It does seem that the chaplaincy is irrelevant element in light of our pluralistic culture, irreligious population, and technology. It is far better for a soldier to have video chats or the ability to see a live service (even though not desirable) than be with an ignorant chaplain. Whatever necessary things chaplains do, it does seem that non-religious positions could fill the void. I would like for President Obama to begin phasing out chaplains because it’s not going to happen under a conservative/Republican government (maybe a Libertarian would?); I doubt however that he would be willing or even consider it. Maybe it would require an agnostic/atheist, anti-religion person, or a die-hard 2k guy (the kind that likes to stir up controversy and get on everyone’s nerves) to do it?
The wisdom associated with entering the American military is another important subject (notice I didn’t say it was an unbiblical to be in the military), though that discussion is for another time and post.
Speaking for myself, as a Chaplain, my experience has been completely different from what is described above. I was with my Soldiers on convoys and visited them in the towers. Protected eaches 2nd ammendment right to worship as they saw fit, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Wiccan, and Buddhist. As the Chaplain, I was the only one who they could come to in order to seek out this kind of help.
Granted, by law and Army regulation, the commander is responsible to see that every Soldier has time to worship as the Soldier faith and conscience guides them, mission permiting. But it is the Chaplain who sees that this is carried out.
I cannot speak for the Army or for each particular Chaplain. Sometimes the Commanders do not want the Chaplain “at the front” because he is one less trigger puller. Perhaps they want to prevent what happened with the 3rd ID task force as it drove up to Baghdad, where a Chaplain who was a previous Infantry Officer led a unit in combat (that is not our job as non-combatants). Sometimes commanders want to keep the Chaplain close by. Every unit, mission, and command is different.
One other thing that the Chaplain and Chaplain Assistant have that no other people in the Army have is absolute confidentiality. Soldiers and come and talk to us about anything and not fear recrimination, harrassment, or reprisal. Again, I can only speak for myself but plenty of Soldiers have come to talk about boyfriend, girlfriend, or spousal issues. About their family struggles and relationship problems within the unit or their own chain of command.
Far from being irrelevant, I see that as being an asset. Your own experience may vary based on the Chaplain you have assigned to your particular unit.
Regarding the above article, the place where the Chaplain stepped out of line, in my opinion, was offering all of the info, secular and religious, on one sheet. I have always splint mine into two and let the Soldiers take none, one, or both. Also, I leave the end of the brief open for those who would like to talk personally about their struggles, feelings, and faith regarding suicide. That is where I point to the power of the gospel. The prevention brief is about teamwork, the personal time is about faith.
Again, I can only speak for myself and I do not speak on behalf of the DoD or the Army.