What Princeton Seminary Could Learn from the Pentagon

Peter Berger notices a sector of American religiosity where true inclusion and diversity reigns — the military chaplaincy:

One particularly interesting development is that the military chaplaincy, in its Protestant group, is increasingly filled with Evangelicals, who feel more at home in the military than among largely liberal mainline clergy, whose concerns over gender and multiculturalism Evangelicals don’t resonate with. Some years ago I presided over a seminar dealing with whatever issues members of the seminar were concerned about. One of the seminar students was an Evangelical Air Force chaplain. This was the issue she wanted to think through: She served on a small base in the Arctic where she was the only Protestant chaplain. Of course she was not expected to perform religious services that did not agree with her own beliefs. But she was expected to facilitate services for any group of Air Force personnel. A group of Air Force women wanted to perform the rituals of Wicca, which defines itself as a modernized version of the old witches’ Sabbath. How, she asked, could she help organize a worship service of the devil without betraying the core of her Christian faith? I tried to convince her that the devil part was not to be taken seriously, that Wicca was a rather harmless form of nature worship—dancing naked in the moonlight and showing respect for menstrual blood. She said that the way I spoke about this showed I did not take the religious beliefs of this group seriously. I’m afraid she was quite right. In the end she had no choice unless she wanted to resign from the chaplaincy—so the would-be witches did their thing as facilitated by a nonsectarian Evangelical minister. (Religious freedom bears strange fruit, including the struggle of conscience of an Evangelical pastor ordered to go against her conscience by her commanding officer.)

Here’s the thing: if NAPARC communions and the PCUSA wonder about the fit between Tim Keller and a liberal Presbyterian seminary, why are those same NAPARC communions willing to send their pastors off to work not only with ordained women but even witches? I keep asking. I’m still not hearing many answers.

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3 thoughts on “What Princeton Seminary Could Learn from the Pentagon

  1. The pastor of a Southern Baptist church (of which I was a member long ago) decided to become a reserve chaplain. During his training he became so impressed with the gifts of his fellow chaplains who were female that he took up with one, leaving his wife and children.

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  2. This is an excellent point that needs far more discussion. The chaplaincy in the military is largely devoid of any theological integrity, Reformed or otherwise. The type of pastor the chaplaincy attracts is, in general, exactly as described in the article: too liberal and unmoored from any theological system to provide any real biblical counsel on anything. My experience with chaplains is that they served more as life coaches and provided a shoulder to cry on rather than acting as true spiritual guides. I don’t think I ever encountered a Reformed chaplain – or anything close to it – in my time in the military. I’m sure they are out there, but they are few and far between. And the article is also correct that they are required to “facilitate” other religious practices. I saw a Lutheran chaplain help set up a Wiccan circle through gritted teeth (literally).

    The question at the end is an excellent one: should Reformed denominations keep sending their pastors to the chaplaincy in the current environment? On the one hand, sending more Reformed chaplains might actually help improve things theologically. Maybe. On the other, can a Reformed pastor in good conscience help set up a pagan ritual? Can he simply view it as a military duty rather than a pastoral duty? Can he make that distinction? I don’t think I could if I were a pastor. It’s one thing to eat meat served to idols. It’s another to set up the altar for the sacrifice and polish the statue.

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