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Unrepresentative Military Chaplaincy: Is This a Problem?

Last night, the Secular Coalition for America sent us the following statistics as part of its call for an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to provide for the hiring of nontheistic chaplains in the U.S. military:

Religious Preference of Servicemembers and Chaplains

Religious Preference % of all Servicemembers % of all Chaplains
None 25.5% 0%
Humanist 3.61% 0%
Catholic 20.11% 18.4%*
Baptist 17.56% 24.8%

Source: Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute. August 2009.; Defense Manpower Data Center, 2009.; 2012 MAAF Department of Defense Religious Preference and Chaplain Support Study   *Includes contract chaplains and active duty priests

Some say that secular chaplains in the military would be beside the point, that religious counseling for the nonreligious would be like a visit to the doctor for people who believe that medicine is a sin.  Why bother with such an oxymoronic exercise?

On the other hand are those who say that the very notion that chaplaincy must be a religious exercise is set forward in order to exclude the nonreligious.  The SCA argues that when we think about the many nonreligious roles military chaplains play, it is downright discriminatory to require that servicemembers receive them through a religious filter. Another excerpt from the advocacy materials the SCA sent to Irregular Times:

Chaplains do much more than just faith counseling. They handle moral and ethical dilemmas with complete confidentiality not granted to mental health professionals. They listen to everyday fears and concerns, like missing your family. They also control a variety of administrative tasks such as requesting bereavement leave to attend a funeral back home. Still, the prime objective of the Chaplain Corps is to provide for the religious, spiritual, and conscience needs of the servicemembers. How is this possible when almost 30% of servicemembers are being ignored?

What do you think?

5 comments to Unrepresentative Military Chaplaincy: Is This a Problem?

  • I thought the Humanists would have fixed that with their new Humanist Chaplains program.

    http://humanist-society.org/guidelines/

    The Chaplain and Organizer tracks need some finshing, but the Celebrant track is complete.

  • Robert Rich

    I think this is a great article and you have your finger on an important issue.

    I would also add that a lot of the religious leaders support war and what smacks to my mind as imperialism.

    I think there is some sort of stress counseling but it may be confused with the soldier’s psychological record, for example.

    Are there statistics on Wiccans, Jews, etc?

  • Dave

    “On the other hand are those who say that the very notion that chaplaincy must be a religious exercise is set forward in order to exclude the nonreligious.” By that logic, the bowling alley on the Navy base must be set forward to exclude non-bowlers.

    Who knew there are so many nits waiting to be picked?

    • Jim Cook

      Interesting analogy, Dave. As you know if you go into a bowling alley, there are a lot of things many bowling alleys have in them that aren’t just bowling. In some towns, the bowling alley is the only bar, for instance. What would happen in such a town, to make your analogy actually fit, if the bowling alley set a policy so that the only way you could visit the bar would be to buy a round of bowling first?

  • Dave

    I follow your logic, Jim. The SCA website tells of their interest in “expand[ing] the Chaplain Corps” to be more inclusive. They present it as a simple logistical problem, but it would be interesting to know what guidelines they would suggest for the Military in selecting personnel for a job of this kind.

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