Chaplains Serve Soldiers

Chaplains are in the military to serve the spiritual needs of our service men and women. They are not imposed … Continued

Chaplains are in the military to serve the spiritual needs of our service men and women. They are not imposed on those who do not choose to avail themselves of their services. No one should have the religion of another imposed upon him or her involuntarily. Saying prayers at meals that are mandatory is an imposition. This would be especially true if the prayers assume a particular view of God, which all prayers seem to do. The ACLU is absolutely correct to make this request.

America was founded on the principle of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. Yet in many parts of America the majority religious viewpoint of the community was imposed upon the public schools and its symbols displayed in public places. Majority religious traditions are delusional in their understanding of imperialism regarding religious truth. That is how we get claims of inerrant scriptures and infallible popes. Given that attitude they feel attacked by “the devil” when prayer and Bible readings are outlawed in public schools, when active proselytizing is stopped at the Air Force Academy and now when prayers are requested to be removed from mandatory meals at the Naval Academy. Each of these initiatives is, however, not only correct, but each brings practice into conformity with the Constitution. I rejoice in this decision.

John Shelby Spong
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  • Dave L

    Hello Bishop Spong,I don’t know if you will read this, but here it goes. I had a question that has nothing to do with this post. Are retired bishops, like yourself, invited to the Lambeth Conference, or is it only bishops who are active in their diocese?Cheers,

  • garyd

    Mr. Spong they volunteered for it knowing that there would be mandatory prayer time. If they were willing to bow there heads as others prayed they should not have volunteered..

  • The Moderate

    “Majority religious traditions are delusional in their understanding of imperialism regarding religious truth. “”Imperialism…” Pretty lurid interpretation of some old and long standing traditions. Would a less fundamentalist line be more productive John? Perhaps the people who are there could work out a solution among themselves? Perhaps a rotation of before meal observances among Christians, Wiccans, Jews, Moslems, and Atheists? Might that help people to understand and respect each other better than excluding the majority again? Are politically correct, secular fundamentalist, and exclusionary practices the only way?

  • Paganplace

    So, Gary, you think Christians ought to get better *food,* as well as a captive audience, too? You think non-attendance at a prayer meeting doesn’t open one up just as much for potential harassment as not bowing one’s head to another’s God? As for the idea of rotating religions, Moderate, well, that may be a little better, but the fact is Pagans, for instance, don’t have a single chaplain in all the armed services, (and imagine the uproar if we did) despite having more numbers than some other religions that have several. Even then, it would probably be more divisive than educational to have such a practice. Wiccan religion doesn’t actually have any such agenda about getting others to pray to our Gods, anyway, but even if we were proportionally-represented, most Wiccan soldiers would probably be far from the nearest Wiccan chaplain. It’s not ‘politically-correct exclusionary practices’ to *not* turn a mealtime into a divisive exercise in public piety.

  • Possum:

    Bishop Spong: Bravo! GaryD:Moderate: “Perhaps the people who are there could work out a solution among themselves”

  • Freestinker

    Moderate:What’s wrong with absolute government neutrality (i.e. complete silence) on matters of religious opinion?What fault do you find with a completely neutral stance by the government on all matters of religious opinion?Who is harmed by leaving these matters to each and every individual soldier to decide?

  • ender

    Complete BS preach. The new military culture has Chaplains serving the military to keep our young people fighting in an illegal and immoral war of aggression being fought to steal resources from a nation. Because our soldiers are put in positions often where they must kill non-combatants to survive, they are often unsure whether the group they are attacking was even fighting them or some other group and have been doing so for a longer period than most soldiers that served in WWII.If the clergy wants to benefit the soldier they should suggest they put down their weapons and refuse to fire another shot in the crime against humanity that is the war against Iraq.

  • Paganplace

    Human beings are involved. Human beings are a lot better at dealing with uncertainties and grey areas than any authority gives us credit for. A studiously-neutral stance is called for *now,* …this doesn’t mean it has to be absolute and forever.

  • The Moderate

    Hi FREESTINKER:”What’s wrong with absolute government neutrality (i.e. complete silence) on matters of religious opinion?”Your idea sounds exclusionary of the majority of opinion. Neutrality can be achieved by being inclusive as well as by being exclusive. Many in the military will be faced with difficult decisions about how to treat others on the battlefield and in the service. A balanced but inclusive approach to principled consideration of the sacredness of human life can help these people through difficult times they are sure to face. Excluding such discussion will weaken the bonds of humanitarianism. “Who is harmed by leaving these matters to each and every individual soldier to decide?”We are told by the press that some of the kids in Iraq had only the popular culture morons like the script writers of 24 for exemplars. That is the natural result of an exclusionary policy, and is simply not nourishing enough to sustain people through difficult times and decisions.So I suggest a balanced and inclusive approach under which each religion, including Atheism, would have its time to speak and be heard on the subject of virtuous living and action is superior. Mutual respect and understanding will result.Pagan Place:Yes, I know that minority religions are on an uphill climb, but they are making progress and that will continue over time.

  • The Moderate

    Possum:”…and the others are free to not be required to show mandatory respect to a religious ritual that may in fact be counter to their own beliefs.”The military has a history of mandatory respect. Perhaps you remember President Truman requiring that blacks be integrated into the regular forces? Respect was mandatory; and rightly so. This was one of the great advances for America to become what she should truly be. Is it possible that similar growth could occur for tolerance in ethics and various approaches to religion?

  • Freestinker

    Moderate,Yes, considerate voluntary free exercise must always be honored. On this we do agree. However, free exercise ceases to be free and quickly becomes coercion the moment rank or authority becomes part of the equation and this is exactly the case 24-7 in the military. The balanced solution you suggest may be noble but it is totally unworkable given the rank and file nature of the military and their current pattern of abuse. “Balanced discussions” as you put it just can’t happen in this environment without complete respect for individual religious liberty and men are certainly not angels.But with official government silence on religious matters, informal voluntary “balanced discussions” may be possible and are more likely to be both voluntary and balanced. What I advocate is a gag rule for those who are speaking in their official government capacity just like the prohibition we have in the civil service against partisan politics in the workplace.

  • Possum

    Moderate:”Is it possible that similar growth could occur for tolerance in ethics and various approaches to religion”The best way to show tolerance for all religions, and lack thereof is to stop treating any belief system any differently than the other. Since it is not possible to give equal time to all possibilities at a mandatory lunch prayer, we should just do away with the practice. Now we just have mandatory lunch. No religious lessons or rituals required, each of the adults is treated religiously equal. They are adults, mostly young ones to be sure, but they are certainly old enough and responsible enough to pick and celebrate their own religion without a comissioned officer steering them into one direction or another.

  • The Moderate

    Dear Possum:Brad Hirschfield, a Rabbi on the blog next door relates the following:”I know of no group of clergy that take more seriously the need to balance membership in a particular religious group with the obligation to meet the spiritual needs of any person who comes before them, and to meet those needs on the terms of that person. Is the system perfect? Of course not. But I will never forget speaking with an Evangelical minister about his challenge in providing a meaningful burial to a Wiccan soldier. The fact that he had a million problems with Wicca was simply trumped by his duty to honor the spiritual needs of the man before him. If that isn’t a model for religious openness without the surrender of religious integrity, I don’t know what is. Let’s try and address the prayer question in that spirit — no pun intended.”If Brad speaks truly, there is already a lot of progress towards the kind of inclusive balance that I was talking about. I am sure that an interfaith group can do a much better job on this problem than the ACLU. People need spiritual communities to nourish them, and exclusionary legalistic, and politically correct policies exclude this aspect of human life. I am not sure we want a military that lacks this kind of grounding when the going gets rough, and hard ethical choices have to be made in split seconds.The ACLU answer always seems to be to banish religion from the public square. I think mutual respect and acceptance is a much more productive goal. Perhaps an interfaith council of chaplains could make additional progress on the matter.