VIDEO: A conversation on Southern Baptist military chaplains

By Thomas Willis
Sep 19, 2013

A recent editorial at Associated Baptist Press criticizes the North American Mission Board for its newly published guidelines pertaining to Southern Baptist military chaplaincy. The author, Tom Carpenter, charges the newly-minted regulations made by NAMB in the wake of the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act force Southern Baptists to violate their orders as military chaplains.

Russell D. Moore and Andrew T. Walker respond:

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1 On Sep 21, 2013, at 5:50pm, Brian Smith wrote:

In no way does the standards and Biblical Obedience of the North American Mission Board compromise the mission of chaplains.  The stated standards protect chaplains from persecution as they seek to obey God and lead soldiers in spiritual development.  Chaplains perform within their personal convictions and the standards of their endorser.  They provide alternative options for soldiers who are not within those standards.  Just as it would be unethical for a Southern Baptist Chaplain to lead a Roman Catholic Service, it would be unethical for a Southern Baptist Chaplain to provide services to soldiers practicing acts contrary to the Bible.  You can reference 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.  The statements of the North American Mission Board reflect limiting services that support the immoral acts listed in the Bible, yet call chaplains to focus on redemption ministries supportive of v 11 from the above reference.

2 On Sep 23, 2013, at 10:22pm, Dave wrote:

Okay SBC Chaplains, if you take Uncle Sam’s $$, do the job he asks.  If you cannot, have the integrity and honesty to find a group you can live with and move or have character and resign and go back to the SBC civilian congregations!  Stop playing chaplain!  BE a chaplain—or go home!!!!!

3 On Sep 24, 2013, at 10:57am, Jason Torpy wrote:

Chaplains are in fact part of the military. They hold commissions as military officers and must first meet all the requirements of being a military officer before being considered for chaplaincy. They have rank, are within the command structure (though they don’t command), and have all the privileges and responsibilities of officers. They must continue to meet those requirements and should their endorsement as a chaplain be revoked for any reason, their first option is to simply seek another endorsement, and if not, to consider service as a non-chaplain officer in another military occupation (DoDI 1304.28). If they were solely denominational representatives, their only option would be to leave the military.

4 On Sep 24, 2013, at 11:09am, Jason Torpy wrote:

Fortunately for SBC chaplains (Waggoner and now several others), they are officers first. The Dutch military, among others, has contracted chaplains who are more beholden to their denominations and not so much to the military command. Dr Carlos Bertha among others has suggested a civilian contracted chaplaincy, which SBC might be suggesting. But today, chaplains are not ‘sent by’ the denomination or ‘technically paid’, they are military officers first and they happen to hold an additional endorsement by their denomination.

5 On Sep 24, 2013, at 7:46pm, Paul wrote:

Doctors in the military practice medicine according to their medical training.
Lawyers in the military practice the law according to their legal training.
Licensed Engineers very out their projects according to third industry standards.
Chaplains carry out their duty to God serving their country according to the tenants of third faith. Isaac Backus (18th century Baptist preacher) paved for way for us to have free exercise of faith. Talk with a chaplain about their work and ministry to see that this supports many who by their own conscious follow the BFM and are faithful servants. Many faithful servants about our Father’s business need prayers and support. Thank you NAMB chaplain staff for all you have done over the years in support of those who serve.

6 On Sep 25, 2013, at 10:17pm, William wrote:

So, if a gay service person dies, in combat or otherwise, will NAMB-endorsed chaplains administer the same compassionate love and understanding to the deceased partner/spouse as they would to a heterosexual spouse?  Will they, in any way, denigrate or devalue the relationship?

7 On Sep 26, 2013, at 10:01am, Keith wrote:

That is a great question William.  The Bishop of the Archdiocese of Military Services put out guidance for Catholic priests which mentions funerals.  Much of the decisions should be made based on a funeral being seen as a religious ritual or a civil ceremony.  For all chaplains, compassion is always meted out equally at the time of grief.  The only limitations are based on the fallen’s religious background and the survivor’s wishes.  Catholic Chaplains are provided for Catholic soldiers and families and Protestant Chaplains are provided for protestant soldiers and families (Note: Baptist are Separatists but are placed under the Protestant banner.)  If a family requests a chaplain, all considerations would be given by the Casualty Affairs Office.

8 On Sep 26, 2013, at 10:36am, William wrote:

I am not a Baptist and not trying to get into Baptist policy, but as an American, I believe any chaplain, no matter who endorses them, should provide grief and crisis support equally to all regardless of race, denomination, orientation, etc.  If they cannot do this, either by conscience or institutional policy, then, I agree, they should resign their post.  It doesn’t make them bad Christians or poor Baptists.  But it does make them unable to provide the most essential services that our military chaplains provide.

9 On Sep 26, 2013, at 10:47am, Keith wrote:

Continued response to William:  For religious ceremonies, the Chaplain is the officiating party to determine the appropriate parameters for that denomination’s religious beliefs.  A Lutheran Chaplain from the Missouri Synod would be required for a soldier who is from the Missouri Synod due to that denominations ritual beliefs.  And by rite, a Missouri Synod Chaplain would not reside over the funeral of someone outside of the Missouri Synod due to the Sacred Rites of that denomination.  The Chaplaincy system works very well to “perform” sacred rights within their denomination and in respect to the First Amendment while respectfully providing religious support to all groups by coordinating chaplains support for that individual within their own group.  Many heterosexual couples are turned away for marriage officiating by chaplains when the couple does not meet that chaplain’s denominational requirements for marriage.

10 On Sep 26, 2013, at 2:03pm, Keith wrote:

William, It will take time to work through this cultural shift, but you are talking about two different things.  For crisis and grief intervention, no chaplain would refuse compassion to people in need.  At the point of grief, ministry is provided in the form of humanitarian comfort at minimal, and religious support is offered.  If the family has a special need, such as Buddhist or Muslim, then the chaplain arranges the needed service.  People often have their own faith leader they turn to for continuing coverage.  The moment of crisis is punctiliar.  Funerals are well planned and thought out.  Planning for appropriate coverage is part of the process to best provide for the families needs.  Families usually prefer a chaplain who is from their own religion or culture.  Chaplains and the Chaplains Corps have operated very well for over 300 years in North America.  It will work through this new paradigm and continue to be a Force Multiplier for the Army.

11 On Sep 26, 2013, at 3:12pm, william wrote:

Keith, I thank you for your patient and informative explanation.  I have neither a deep understanding of military protocol in this matter nor denominational policy.  But having been a recipient of ministerial care myself in times of crisis by people who acted simply out of a Good Samaritan’s heart, I would hope no military nor denominational policy would be prohibitive of such…in any manner.  Being non-denominational myself (I am not anti-denominational) I don’t have much interest in the theology or beliefs of anyone who will express God’s love and compassion to me, in good times and bad.

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