Unitarian Chaplains Multiply in US Military

An article at the Unitarian Universalist website notes an increase in Unitarian military chaplains and chaplain applicants after decades of under-representation.  The article reports the denomination now has 10 chaplains, with 7 more applying.  While a significant increase from the “one or two” chaplains before (including Army Chaplain Rebekah Montgomery), it still isn’t a high number.  The reason for the low interest?

It’s no secret that for many years after the Vietnam War many UUs harbored some hostility toward the war and the politicians who promoted it. In some cases veterans themselves were treated distantly in our congregations, even shunned.

One UU chaplain said they are needed to balance out “evangelicals”: 

[The military] needs liberal chaplains to balance the overwhelming number of evangelicals within chaplaincy. When we, as a denomination, walked away from the military after Vietnam, the vacuum was filled by others.

In other words, when a group abandons the military because it disagrees with something about it, it also abdicates its ability to minister, serve, and influence.  Given current events, that sounds like a decent lesson.

Unitarian Universalism is generally considered one of the most liberal faith groups that describes itself as Christian — so much so that atheists have even proposed UU chaplains should be the designated “atheist” chaplain.  Still, guess what even the head of the UU chaplaincy considers the military?  A fertile mission field:

[The Rev Sarah] Lammert said any denomination that wants to attract people who are unchurched or that cares about diversity has to be involved with the military…”This is a great example of the potential of Congregations and Beyond to reach people we have wanted to welcome…but who are generally beyond our walls.” Congregations and Beyond is a UUA initiative that invites congregations to consider new ways of reaching people who might not otherwise find the denomination.

Of course, increasing congregation size does not necessarily mean unity in belief.  Notably, the UU church prides itself on its “theological diversity,” meaning its congregants are free to believe just about anything they want.  As an example, there’s even an officially recognized group of Unitarian Universalist pagans.

Indeed, their religious leaders apparently also participate in whatever means they feel they should, taking the concept of “supporting” religious needs to an interesting level.  In fact, UU Chaplain (1LT) Chris Antal’s story of praying with a pagan is referenced yet again in this article:

Antal…emphasizes the importance of having religiously liberal chaplains in the military. Partly it’s about those soldiers who might be unchurched or hold beliefs that are out of the mainstream, including those who are pagan. “Soldiers have told me, ‘You are the first chaplain who would ever pray with me,’” Antal said.

He’s talking about pagan soldier who asked Antal to pray with her; Antal said

Of course I will, but you’ll have to show me how…

The military does not require that chaplains perform religious rites outside of their own faith group.  If chaplains did, they’d probably lose the support of their congregants and the required endorsement of their sending agency.  That’s why you won’t likely see Rabbis on rugs praying toward Mecca or Imams preaching an Easter sunrise service.  What you will see is those chaplains providing those who request such services access to the resources they need to obtain them.

For Unitarians, it is unlikely they’d be fazed by their chaplain praying with a pagan.  But Unitarians fall under the broad category of “Protestant” chaplains, meaning they could just as easily preach at a general Sunday morning chapel service.  Most non-Unitarians probably would have a problem with their pastoral leader participating in Earth-based prayers.  That’s where knowing the denomination of one’s chaplain is useful; it lets you know what to expect of their theological beliefs.

For her part, Lammert has never served in the military, though she is slated to become the President of a lead-chaplaincy group, the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces.  Said she:

“The fact I am being put forward indicates a commitment to plurality and diversity.” She noted that in this position she will be “a voice for everyone serving in the military, including LGBT folks.”

Her error belies her experience on the chaplaincy board.  If there are “T folks” in the military — that is, those who describe themselves as “transgender” — they are serving illegally.  Chaplains can certainly counsel all who wear the uniform, including those who are serving in contravention of military policies and the law.  But “transgender” individuals don’t need “a voice.”  They need a discharge.