Future NCMAF President Endorses Hostile View of Chaplaincy

The Reverend Sarah Lammert, the next President of an overarching group of US military chaplain endorsers, the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, has endorsed a surprisingly hostile article on the role of military chaplains.

OutServe — the homosexual advocacy magazine focused on the US military — recently published an article questioning whether military chaplains were “force multipliers” or “force distracters.”  The author, a reserve US Army Lieutenant Colonel and homosexual, centered much of her discussion on a quote from a “code of ethics” for military chaplains.  In particular, she returned to:

When conducting services of worship that include persons of other than my religious body I will draw upon those beliefs, principles, and practices that we have in common.

Through several paragraphs LtCol Vicki Hudson ultimately seemed to distill her displeasure down to chaplains praying, and she said: 

Bottom line, prayer must not include phrases that while significant in the faith of the speaker, offend some of the listeners…

I’ve listened to and taken part in prayers led by a unit Chaplain…only to have a phrase end the prayer that clearly does not include me, as it is representative of a specific faith group yet offensive or counter to my faith’s beliefs…[M]y personal experience [is] a visceral, physical response deep in my body. I was in tune and part of a group and then experienced a psychic, violent ejection from that group.

She then says she wishes she knew then what she “knows” now [formatting original]:

If only I had known to draw the Chaplain to his own branch code of ethics to counter the inevitable response, one that was usually along the lines of, “Well, Chaplains have to stay true to their faith group.”

Really, Chaplain? Staying true to your faith group even when that means acting in a manner that violates the code of ethics of the military chaplain? To me, that just means a Chaplain who is failing the Chaplain mission…

LtCol Hudson then goes a step further, saying a ‘good’ chaplain can “leverage” prayer so it includes everyone — even atheists — and chaplains who do not do so are endangering the lives of their troops:

A force multiplier Chaplain knows how to leverage the power of prayer…in a manner that includes all, even those that may not have any divine belief; the force distracter Chaplain will pray a unit prayer using phrases that reject members of the unit, indicating only some receive divine protection and hope. Leaving Soldiers spiritually behind before the battle even begins reduces their intrinsic chances for returning because sometimes what is in the heart, mind, and memory makes all the difference in the world.

The argument defies logic.  The “code of ethics” does not require chaplains to pray in a specific manner.  In fact, other parts of that same code may very well protect a chaplain who feels led to pray in a certain way.  The chaplain isn’t “violating” something just because someone doesn’t like what he’s doing.

In addition, it requires untenable mental gymnastics to assert a prayer can “include” (using her connotation) atheists.  And it is outrageous to assert that chaplains who pray with troops before they go on a mission — but rely on the tenets of their faith when they do so — makes it less likely troops who do not share their faith will come home alive.

Another problem with the argument is it fails to acknowledge its own logical conclusion.  The essay spends much time on the torment of not sharing the specific faith of a chaplain — apparently oblivious to the atheists standing around who share that offense but believe LtCol Hudson doesn’t go far enough.  After all, if a chaplain using a specific phrase can cause a “psychic, violent ejection” from the unity of a team, how much more so the mere presence of a chaplain does that, according to some atheists.

If it isn’t clear, it should be:  Prayer is an inherently religious exercise.  For the government to dictate the content of prayer is to either establish religion or inhibit its free exercise — phrases that should be familiar and instantly recognizable as forbidden.

If a Jewish chaplain rises to give a prayer, an average, reasonable observer expects to hear something Jewish.  Expecting anything else is ludicrous.  It is expected that a faith leader will pray consistent with the tenets of his faith, regardless of the religion of the chaplain, whether Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, or otherwise.  While some phraseology may be common, each faith is unique in its beliefs and may express those beliefs uniquely.  There’s nothing wrong with that.

In truth, it is probably unlikely that a chaplain in the stories above said something that was actually offensive to other faiths.  More likely, the chaplain said something that was exclusive to his own faith, and LtCol Hudson was personally offended.  The distinction is not semantic.

It is cliché that the exercise of liberty results in offense.  The US military generally protects the religious freedom of its troops.  Yes, that means a Soldier may hear his commander say something about his church service, or an Airmen may have to attend a formation where a chaplain gives a prayer, or a cadet may attend a ceremony with an invocation or benediction.  Rest assured, one does does not have to be in the military long before a chaplain will fill one of those roles while not sharing a faith — no matter what one’s religious beliefs are.

What is the proper course of action for those who do not share the praying chaplain’s faith?  Demonstrate respect.

No member of the military is required to participate in any chaplain-led prayer (and no, mere presence is not participation).  All you have to do is show respect to the exercise of religious freedom, let the moment conclude, and go on about your business.  If a servicemember is so hypersensitive he cannot stand to be in the mere presence of other religious expressions, the problem is his own — and it is a problem that probably needs to be resolved before he deploys to a region where he’ll see even more such expressions from US allies.

Like some atheists (or anti-theists), LtCol Hudson appears to be offended (viscerally, even) by religious expression, and she appears to be so intolerant of those beliefs she believes the expression must be stopped.  It is no more complicated than that.  Lost in the discussion is the concept of protecting liberty — even if one disagrees with the content of someone else’s practice of that liberty.

LtCol Hudson says she was formerly a Company and Battalion commander, so her misperception is certainly relevant, as well as making for an interesting discussion on the chaplaincy.  A comment on the blog, however, is potentially more relevant:

Sarah Lammert: As an Endorser of military chaplains, I endorse this!

Lammert, as you may recall, is the Unitarian Universalist endorser who has indicated she is in line to be the President of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces. The NCMAF is not part of the DoD, nor are its politics necessarily binding on chaplains, but that isn’t to say it doesn’t have influence.

After all, the code of ethics cited above — and illogically misconstrued to say chaplains are ethically bound not to say certain words when they pray — comes directly from the NCMAF website.

To be clear, then, the self-described next President of the NCMAF “endorses” a hostile misrepresentation of her own organization’s code of ethics.  That can’t bode well, either for her term in office or the influence of the NCMAF during that time.