November 29 2006
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Supporters of increased religious freedom for military chaplains gained at least a partial victory before Congress went into recess for the November election.

The Senate and House of Representatives agreed on their last night in session on legislation directing the Air Force and Navy to rescind regulations issued early this year in favor of previous guidelines that are considered less restrictive, particularly on evangelical Christian chaplains. The provision was part of a conference committee report on the National Defense Authorization Act that was approved in a 398-23 vote by the House Sept. 29. The Senate followed several hours late with agreement by unanimous consent. (BP Press-Baptist Press)

partial cover of gun totin chaplain, says Gun Totin Chaplain, release date: December 27, 2006
Memoir of Army Chaplain-Publication Date: Dec. 27
When I was a civilian pastor, we had a little joke: "Preachers preach more about praying than praying about preaching." Prayer is always a fascinating subject and there has always been a little consternation on the public aspect of prayer and the military.

Traditionally, military chaplains have always been part of the various ceremonies of the military, i. e., change of command (when a commander relinquishes his command to another) which calls for either an invocation or a benediction. Graduation ceremonies, for instance, have always been an occasion where the chaplain is included as part of the official ceremony.

I was the chaplain at a military service school once where I had to pray at three or four graduations a week. I affectionately called them, "nods to God." My prayer modus operandi was something like, "Dear God, bless us in our endeavors and thank you for the goodness of life." I always ended it with a simple Amen or "in God's name, Amen." Amen, by the way, translated from the original Greek, means, Let it be so.

Military chaplains throughout history have had little or almost next to no complaints until recently. I think what has happened in a sense is the same thing that has happened in the country. Division. And, this is not only very sad but could be detrimental to the great service that chaplains render.

The chaplain is the poor man's psychiatrist, the first line of defense when the soldier finds himself emotionally spent. The chaplain is the comfort, the eyes and ears in a larger sense of what is important even in times of war. His presence is no small thing in a unit. And, the chaplain can't depend on the commander or even the "higher ups" in terms of line officers or even other chaplains to understand his worth. He has to know and feel it himself.

The chaplain is often marginalized by the system for various reasons which narrowly put him or her into a position where the influence is relegated strictly to religious activities or within the confines of narrow definitions. When this happens, all lose, not the least of which is the soldier. Thankfully, it doesn't happen very much.

All of these issues would have merely been a recurring nuisance had not some chaplains raised the issue of being able to pray "in Jesus Name." And, the larger "cultural" wars so to speak seem to have permeated into the chaplaincy with very conservative chaplains chafing over the very traditional way chaplains have always operated. It became political with chaplains writing letters to their congressmen; and of course, various divisions surfaced among chaplains. I have commented on it often.

I think pretty much the recent congressional action(which made prayer less restrictive) took away the controversy on whether chaplains could pray "in Jesus Name." Simply removing language or implied language or being told that chaplains can not say things like, "in Jesus Name," even though non-Christians were present, was a good idea. Or language stating you can say certain phrases like "in Jesus name" is not good. Although as a rule, I would prefer that Congress butt out; in this case, the less restrictive policy works.

The attempt to narrow a focus was stupid. One of the reasons that the chaplaincy has worked from the earliest days of the country is because chaplains have ministered from a broad perspective and not a narrow one of a specific church or denomination. Having been a church pastor for over twelve years in addition to almost thirty in the military, I can unequivocally endorse the idea that the military chaplaincy offers more freedom than the civilian parish.

So, let this idea of praying "in Jesus name" rest and stay at the Chaplain's business of serving soldiers. Amen

J. H. L.

Related Articles : Have Military Chaplains' First Amendment Rights Been Violated?

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