The Air Force issued new directives yesterday that limit the expression of faith by its officers, while seeking to maintain the spiritual life of its academy and forces. However, the guidelines are rife with contradictions, and are unlikely to be unworkable in the highly charged military environment.
The military pays for chaplains from more than 100 denominations and faith groups. The evangelicals have made it a priority to provide chaplains to the military, and as a result their numbers have grown. However, the number of mainline Protestant and Catholic clergy has sagged, because of the declines of available clergy in those groups. There are smaller numbers of non-Christian clergy available to troops.
The new orders are a response largely to vocal 1977 Air Force Academy graduate Mikey Weinsten, and a desire for political correctness that is seeping into the military from the larger culture. This has resulted in a push for vapid generic faith that contradicts decades of military tradition and is unsatisfying in the life and death realities of war and preparations for war.
The tradition of chaplains in the U.S. military goes back to George Washington, who first sought a minister for his Virginia regiment in 1756. In the early days of the republic, commanders simply chose a chaplain who shared their beliefs. But with the expansion of the military in World War II, the armed services set quotas for chaplains of various faiths, attempting to match the proportion of each denomination in the general population.
There’s great irony in the new set of guidelines:
The guidelines discourage public prayers at official Air Force events or meetings other than worship services, one of the most contentious issues for many commanders. But they allow for “a brief nonsectarian prayer” at special ceremonies like those honoring promotions, or in “extraordinary circumstances” like “mass casualties, preparation for imminent combat and natural disasters.”
Inherent in this directive is recognition that in extraordinary circumstances, and there are many when our armed forces are in harm’s way, there is a desire to turn to God for help or solace. The tidy boxes that officials can put God in for military ceremonies and friendly events are naturally ripped open when soldiers are bleeding, dying, afraid, or grieving.
Regardless of the limitations military brass may put on their forces, there have never been and never will be atheists in foxholes, and our men and women in uniform will continue to be politically incorrect in their search for vibrant faith as they fight our battles and risks their lives.
As one soldier preparing to go to Iraq, Spec. Scott Higgins, 20, said in an interview:
“God will definitely help out, especially if he’s deployed to a battle zone. It’ll help me cope with what I’ll see on a daily basis.”