Baptist Turned Buddhist Chaplain to Deploy

The Military Times papers have now picked up on the previously noted story about Army Chaplain (Lt) Thomas Dyer, a former Marine and Baptist pastor who converted to Buddhism and joined the Army National Guard (as published in the Tennessean).

The most recent article did have some interesting (and sometimes controversial) comments.  For example, despite the accusations that Chaplains can never evangelize, the article does provide the qualifier: 

While they can share their faith with the willing, they are not allowed to push their faith on those who are not interested…Chaplains can’t try to persuade people to change their faith.  But they can try to convert the unchurched, provided that a soldier lends them a willing ear. (emphasis added)

The reporter accurately acknowledges that a Chaplain (of any faith) can share their faith with a military servicemember who expresses interest.  In addition, a Chaplain recruiter notes that the tales of coercing Chaplains may be overstated, because such a person wouldn’t “last long” as a Chaplain:

Chaplain Steve Blackwell, a Tennessee native who now serves as an Army chaplain recruiter in Los Angeles…said a chaplain who pushes his faith too hard will eventually fail.

“I am as evangelical as they come,” he said. “And I am not going to shy away from the chance to lead someone to Jesus. But if someone comes in and they see every soldier as a potential convert, they are not going to last long as a chaplain.”

The article also plays some fun with numbers when it cites the number of Chaplains representing a Protestant Christian denomination, and compares it to the number of Chaplains of other faiths.  The comparison is disingenous because the military doesn’t actively recruit individual Protestant denominations as it does with other distinct faith groups.  It is also notable that the article cites a lot of comparative demographics but fails to say how many Buddhists are in the military.

The military is understandably in a difficult position when recruiting Chaplains.  The “problem,” though, is not necessarily that the military is hiring specific Chaplains as much as it may be that those are the Chaplains who are volunteering.  Just recently the Air Force started offering to pay Catholic Chaplain candidates (but no others) in order to mitigate the extreme shortage of priests, and the shortage still exists.  It is a challenge, no doubt, and it will continue to be so.