The 2016 AFRC Chaplain Corps Conference Disaster

conferencev2by Sonny Hernandez

On April 18-21, 2016, the Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) Chaplain Corps Conference commenced in Chicago, IL. The theme of this aforementioned conference was “soul care” and “moral injury.” The keynote civilian speakers for this event were: Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock and Dr. Jonathan Shay, who were publicized as being world renowned experts in the field of moral injury. Unfortunately, there were Air Force chaplains that left the conference who experienced “moral injury” after being forced to listen to the diatribe of theological degradation from both speakers who propagated messages that were antithetical to the Christian faith, while Air Force Reserve chaplains were mandated to be in attendance. The purpose of this cogent article is to help Air Force chaplains to carefully ascertain Air Force Chaplain Corps mandated events, and also to encourage chaplains to promote future events that do not continue the practice of inviting speakers that denigrate Christian orthodoxy, which will be discussed further in this article.

In a conference with a vast populace of clergy, there were many chaplains that expected to be galvanized into action or adjured to be faithful and persevere. Instead, the two civilian speakers’ messages were far from being faithful, but rather frivolous. This is why conservative, Bible-believing chaplains need to carefully ascertain Air Force Chaplain Corps mandated events, since most Chaplain Corps events I have ever attended have fostered a homosexual agenda, emboldened anti-Christian rhetoric, and omitted Scripture and Christ’s Name in prayer.

The conference speakers were unavailing choices to promulgate messages to Air Force chaplains. First, Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock’s oration was irreconcilable to Christian orthodoxy because she used her emotions, personal anecdotes, and eisegesis as the ultimate test of truth which is why her message was nothing more than psycho-babbling, parochial claptrap. In my opinion, Dr. Nakashima Brock’s message stupefied her audience with anti-church rhetoric, which should not be perplexing since she has historically stated that “she would never belong to a church that didn’t have a gay or lesbian pastor.”[1] In addition, Dr. Nakashima Brock has a historical record of fatuous, anti-Christian rhetoric that is disconcerting to any conservative, Bible-believing chaplain who would be mandated to attend any conference with her as a speaker. Dr. Nakashima Brock’s quotes will elucidate my point, because according to the testimony of Scripture, they are far from being holistic, but rather heresy:[2]

“Christianity is not other-worldly. It is a life-affirming faith concerned about human life in the present, not about personal salvation in the afterlife.” (Chalice Introduction to Disciples Theology, Ch 10, pg. 105)

“Focusing on the crucified Christ does not enable us to resist the vast forces of colonialism and economic exploitation that harm so many in our world.” (Ibid.)

Brock was a poor choice to speak to a room full of (largely) heterosexual Christian pastors – the very people and beliefs she has routinely denigrated.

Second, Dr. Jonathan Shay delivered an elongated colloquy that was disjointed and incoherent as he attempted to speak on moral injury. As a retired Department of Veteran Affairs Staff Psychologist, he did not appear to possess an intellectual acuity that his audience was military chaplains because he used an obscenity (vile speech), abused the Lord’s Name in vain (blasphemy), and even used racist comments that offended several chaplains in attendance and placed them in an invidious position. Several Air Force Chaplains that were in attendance contacted me directly to digress about Dr. Shay’s illustrations where the “n” word was used.

If the Air Force chaplaincy is going to conduct an event on moral injury to a multitude of chaplains, then it would be incumbent upon them to not recruit unprofessional (Dr. Shay), anti-Christian, homosexual activists (Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock) to help their audience inculcate a deeper understanding.

Lastly, I would like to personally encourage chaplains to consider inviting conservative, Bible-believing speakers who possess ministerial acumen and are not ashamed to be heralds of Scripture, where there will be no worry of anti-God rhetoric, vile speech, or racist remarks.

To my fellow Air Force chaplains who are Gospel-centered:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

[1] Retrieved on May 21, 2016 from YouTube (see 1:48-1:58).

[2] Retrieved on May 21, 2016 from the Chalice Introduction to Disciples Theology.

*Photo Caption: Conference attendees Maj Gen John Flournoy, Commander, 4th Air Force, AFRC; Chaplain (MajGen) Dondi Costin, Air Force Chief of Chaplains; Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock; Dr. Jonathan Shay; Chaplain (Col) Gary Califf, Command Chaplain, HQ AFRC; Maj Gen Stayce Harris, Commander, 22nd Air Force, AFRC.

Chaplain (Capt) Sonny Hernandez is a US Air Force Reserve Chaplain assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. In April 2015, he was selected as the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Individual Mobilization Augmentee Company Grade Officer of the Year, and in May 2016, he was selected as 445th Airlift Wing CGO of the Quarter, first quarter. Hernandez earned a Doctorate from Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The opinions expressed here are solely his and do not necessarily represent the views of any government, military, or religious organization. Sonny Hernandez wrote this article as a civilian on his own time on an issue of public interest.



  • Ch Hernandez has an important voice in any conversation regarding the role of the chaplaincy, but he’s under the mistaken impression that only his voice (and those identical to his) are welcome in the conversation. In so doing, his voice actually runs counter to the voice of Christian Fighter Pilot, who repeatedly–and correctly–suggests that every voice should have an equal right to speak, even (perhaps especially) those with whom we disagree.

    Because Ch Hernandez’s voice seems so out of touch with CFP (although, undoubtedly, CFP and Ch Herndandez are on the same page theologically), I’m continually surprised that his guest articles are featured so prominently here. This from one (me) who actually agrees with Ch Hernandez on nearly every theological point.

    In many ways, Ch Hernandez seems to imply that the Air Force Chaplain Corps should operate as if it were the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. And while I would never feature either Dr Shay or Dr Brock in the pulpit of my church or my denominational conference, they weren’t invited to speak about Christian theology. They were invited to speak about the very cutting-edge issue of moral injury. These two are the reigning experts in the academic field, which is (I presume) why they were invited. In the arena of ideas, mature professionals–and mature Christians–should be able to evaluate ideas from across the theological spectrum, ingesting the good and discarding the bad. A conference of military chaplains representing the entire spectrum is not Sunday School, nor should it be. Again, Ch Hernandez’s voice is important to this conversation, but his perspective demonstrates a decidedly inaccurate view of military chaplaincy.

    Finally, it’s disappointing that Ch Hernandez had to revert to views Dr Brock had previously written to make his “homosexual agenda” point. It’s disappointing because he essentially makes the same mistake Mikey Weinstein has previously made with him…by using sermons from his civilian church in an attempt to illustrate Ch Hernandez’s alleged homophobia and consequent unfitness for the chaplaincy. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if Dr Brock’s presentations were laced with pro-homosexual rhetoric or not. (I doubt it since Ch Hernandez had to quote from a previous writing on another subject.) If so, she should have understood her audience better and stuck more closely to the topic (which I assume she did). If not, she should have been given the same professional courtesy as any other conference speaker: evaluate their views based on words spoken in that context, take the good, leave the bad, and incorporate as much of their presentation as possible into your own ministry. That’s what professionals do.

    • @AF Chaplain
      Some context was necessarily left out of the article above. Suffice it to say “more than one” chaplain was disturbed by the way the conference occurred, so the opinion above might be shared by a few others.

      As to why they were disturbed, you’re right that the concept of moral injury has been the focus of Brite Divinity School, with which both Brock and Shay are associated, for a couple of years. But it is not a new concept, nor has it been limited to them; in fact, it was mentioned here in 2010, before Brite’s “Soul Repair Center” even existed. There are a great many people who could have spoken intelligently on the topic — to a group of chaplains. Given that, the decision to invite those particular two carries meaning, even if unintended.

      Something worth noting here is that this was presented as military training, which means, rightly or wrongly, the speakers carried some imprimatur of officiality. (That’s in contrast to, say, USAFA’s character symposium, at which speakers are invited from across the ideological spectrum and from which attendees can pick and choose to listen for their own edification.) Perhaps that presentation was unintentional, and the conference leadership might have done a better job of “disclaiming” the speakers. Still, that makes the paradigm from which they are presenting that training (their background) somewhat more relevant than the civilian sermons of an award recipient. Even so, point taken.

      Of the two highlighted speakers, one presented a viewpoint from an admittedly liberal theology (in a manner with which conservative chaplains might take issue). The other spoke brashly, and allegedly used language that would have gotten any of the chaplains in attendance tossed out on their ear had they spoken similarly. A fair question might be when the Air Force is going to present a conference with speakers from the other end of the spectrum. The implication above is that’s unlikely to ever happen, and that is apparently part of the issue.

      Appreciate your articulate and reasoned response.

  • AF Chaplain

    If the speakers were not invited to speak on theology but solely on moral injury, why did they (Brock) speak on theology? Brock’s message clearly espoused an anti-Christian worldview. Also, Shay should have known his audience better, when referring to vile speech and racist’s comments to a room conglomerated with chaplains. I listened to the conference, how about you? This was a mandatory event for Air Force Reserve Chaplains. This is the point of my article.

    As far as “mature professionals-and mature Christians” being able to evaluate ideas from across the theological spectrum, I agree with you, that is why I wrote this article. If you are implying that I should just ingest good and discard bad; sorry, but I am not willing to say anything is good after listening to blasphemy. You can, but I will not! Therefore, you certainly do not agree with me on every point.

    My point in making a quick excerpt on Brock’s previous writings was not to bear a false witness and say this was her message at the conference. My point was this (my opinion): Brock is a homosexual advocate who espouses anti-Christian beliefs that I am not willing to ever listen to, and several chaplains that night felt the same.

    The opinions expressed here are solely his and do not necessarily represent the views of any government, military, or religious organization.

  • Here’s a somewhat more objective article on the event:

    Moral injury is a reality. Veterans and service members deal with guilt and shame as a result of things done and undone in combat. Chaplains have to be involved in healing, in helping them find grace and forgiveness. That’s what the Soul Repair Center promotes. Dr. Brock and Dr. Shay have been writing and speaking a lot. Their views and attitudes can readily be found in their books.

    • @bc
      That’s the same article that’s already linked above. In fact, that’s where the picture came from. This was not written in a vacuum.

      Moral injury is absolutely a reality. I posit that it has become more pronounced in recent years because we as a society and as a military have, in an effort to be “fair” about religion and ensure “separation of church and state,” neglected the spiritual side of man. Reference the other link above, in which a Soldier with a moral injury begged a chaplain to reassure him that what he was doing was just and right — and the chaplain refused.

      It may be a stretch to say the Soul Repair center “promotes” grace and forgiveness. The closest they come to that is their training about

      ancient wisdom from religious and ethical traditions on spiritual formation, conscience, ritual, and soul repair

      Grace and forgiveness could be included in that vague, post-modern reference to “religious and ethical traditions,” but that could just as easily cover Buddhist meditations and secular psychology.

      To rephrase the same question again: When is the military going to present a speaker who could talk to the chaplains about the “religious” ways to help Soldiers of faith cope with moral injury?

      The need has been clearly identified, and former Army Chief of Chaplains (MajGen) Doug Carver even spoke at just such an event in 2014 — an event that was organized by civilians, not the military. With people like Chaplain Carver available, why not have him come speak in addition to Brock and Shay?

      Brock and Shay aren’t the only ones talking about this. More breadth in those presenting for Air Force “training” would not only mitigate the criticism above, it would also better equip the chaplains to do the very thing they’re supposed to be getting trained to do.

  • “The closest they come to that is their training about” …

    I guess you’ve never gone to one.

    • @bc
      That statement is their own (public) description about what they do. If you have something that says differently, do tell. If their public statements are different than their actions, then that’s a problem they need to fix that might mitigate some of the criticisms.

      Even so, the question about inviting speakers/trainers from across the ideological and theological spectrum remains valid.

    • #BibleBelievingPreacher


      Would an atheists be a good fit to speak to a Christian on truth? Of course not!

      The same way a homosexual activist, anti-Christian speaker (Brock), along with a psychologists who references vile speech and racists comments (Shay) are not the best speakers for military chaplains either.

      If Brock was going to speak solely on moral injury, I would argue that she cannot justify anything moral because she has no justification for moral absolutes of any kind since she obviously does not believe in the infallibility of Scripture, since her anti-Christian beliefs were noted.

      Also, please explain how Shay can help anyone with moral injury? Will vile speech and racists comments help someone overcome their adversity? How about you send an email to the Air Force Chaplain Corps leadership and ask them to explain Dr. Shay’s reference of the “n” word.

  • Interestingly, one of the articles to which you linked in your 2010 post on moral injury was written by Dr Brock. Again, I’m no particular fan of either Drs Brock or Shay, but both have been writing on this topic for well over a decade and have helped advance the moral injury cause with respect to modern warfare.

    To JD’s point that this is not a new topic, both ground their work in ancient writings, especially Dr Shay, who ties his insights to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. If I were planning a conference on moral injury, I may not have picked them. But in light of their relative prominence in the field, picking them was not unreasonable. (Whether conference planners could have–or should have–foreseen Dr Shay’s language is another matter.)

    To SH’s assertion that educated adults exercising critical thinking to ingest the good and discard the bad is akin to promoting blasphemy in this case, I got nothing.

    • @AF Chaplain,
      Precisely — and it was noted she spoke from a psychological, not theological, position, and that she wasn’t the only one speaking on the topic.

      Again, the larger question isn’t necessarily “pick[ing] them,” but an apparent trend of picking only them (or people ideologically like them).