Christian military chaplains are often misunderstood. Some people think a Christian military chaplain is a pastor serving in the military. While that might be part of who we are and what we do, it certainly does not capture the full picture.
First, military chaplains, in general, are “inherently governmental”. There are actually very few jobs in the military that are “inherently governmental”, but a chaplain is one. We are “inherently governmental” because we provide and provide for the free exercise of religion for all Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines as guaranteed in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Therefore, our role is not one the military can choose to do without because we help Military Commanders provide and provide for a constitutional right for every one of his or her troops.
Second, military chaplains are military officers who possess rank without command authority because we are “noncombatants”. As noncombatants, our role is a support role. Still we are military officers, and are held to the same standards as our counterparts in the combatant world. We train the same, wear the same uniform, and require the same respect for the service we perform. In the past, both chaplains and others have misunderstood this dimension. The phrase, “He or she is just a chaplain” was used often. This phrase dismissed us, and caused us to lose respect among the troops, thus losing a bit of our voice. Yet, as visible reminders of the holy, our voice is critical, and we cannot let anything take that voice away. It is up to us to maintain the standard, and change the perceptions of others. We must meet the standards and similarly hold others accountable in order to fulfill our role as military officers. We must uphold the standard because we not only speak pastorally to the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines, but we also advise leadership. Leadership will not listen if we do not command their respect, therefore we must take our role as military officers seriously.
Third, military chaplains, in particular Christian military chaplains, are invited to represent Jesus in a pluralistic environment. In that environment, there are certain rules of engagement we must observe in order to continue to engage. We must respect others and provide for the free exercise of all religions, while also not seeking to establish any particular religion. Therefore, when we pray in public forums, where members of many different faith groups are present, we are mindful to pray in such a way that respects everyone. Also, because Christian military chaplains represent Jesus, in my opinion, we should not do anything that might hinder an opportunity for meaningful engagement with those we are called to serve. Ultimately, I believe God is in control, and as I trust Him and pray for opportunities, God will open doors and bring people to Christ, as I bring Christ to people through the Holy Spirit who lives within me.
I hope this helps you understand the unique calling of a Christian military chaplain, and encourages you to pray for us as we seek to serve those who serve. If you have questions or comments, I invite you to share them in a post or send me a personal message. I will do all I can to respond to every inquiry I receive.
Thank you for reading my thoughts, and for your partnership in the gospel, as we journey together along the way ...