In light of events at Fort Hood, pretty much everybody from President Obama in his remarks about the murders and the role of religion in them, to an earlier posting of mine right here on Windows and Doors, is talking about faith and the armed forces. So I ask, does God have a role in the military? Here’s my response.
Recent events should not alter the military’s policies on faith among the forces. God should be welcomed into the army, whether as Adonai, Lord Jesus, Allah, or any of the other names by which God is known. So should the presence of those who believe that God does not exist. And all should play by the same rules.
First, the individual religious beliefs of service personnel are just that, individual beliefs. Were that not the case, we would probably need to examine Christians and the role of faith among the increasing numbers of them who commit domestic abuse.
Admittedly, most of them do not invoke Jesus as they beat their wives and children, but many of them do attend church and then go home and do so. Bottom line, there is no reason to pay special attention to the practitioners of any particular faith. Especially in the most recent case, there is no evidence at this time, that Maj. Hasan was part of any larger conspiracy, religious or otherwise.
Of course, the behavior of those who invoke their faith to justify hostility to our nation or those who do not share their faith should be scrutinized even if doing so strikes some as less than politically correct. That however, is a matter for Military Police, the FBI and other federal agencies to pursue on a case by case basis, not a religion by religion basis.
Second, military chaplains should continue to serve the needs of all personnel regardless of the faith they follow, including those who follow no faith at all but turn to them in a time of need. The test of a good chaplain is NOT their ability to serve those who share there faith, but rather how effectively they can draw upon their particular faith as an effective tool to meet the spiritual needs of all personnel.
This rule assumes that proselytization is generally wrong, at least when done by chaplains taking advantage of a soldier in need by suggesting that he/she will never be really happy until sharing the chaplain’s faith. And while there are certainly exceptions to the norm, the vast majority of military chaplains honor this approach with great diligence and humility.
The abuses in this area are typically found among officers who marry their religious zeal to their faith. That is an ongoing challenge to which the military could respond more effectively.
Finally, we should recall that faith continues to be an important part of life for many members of the military, sustaining them through challenges which I hope many of us never have to know. Assuming, either because of our hostility to one faith in particular, or all faith in general, that we would be better served by discharging God from the military, flies in the face of everything we know about how religious faith works in the lives of so many people serving our country.
Like all deployments, we need to move forward assuming the best about those who move with us, preparing for the worst because sometimes it happens, and creating practices and policies which nurture the former rather than giving in to our fears of the latter.