Should Military Chaplains Have To Believe In God?
...Jason Heap, a 38-year-old graduate of the University of Oxford, and of Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. Heap was born in Houston and raised in Philadelphia as a devout Christian; he was licensed as a Christian minister in Texas, and, ultimately, lost his faith.Heap is applying to become the first humanist chaplain. These chaplains are also assigned to the pastoral care of Marines. But this leads to the inevitable question: What would you do, on the eve of battle, if a grunt asked you to pray with him?
"As a pastoral caregiver, I wouldn't lead a prayer with that particular person, but I would help them with it," Heap says. "Having come from the background of Christians, I would understand what sort of things to help the person speak about. I am very familiar with the Bible as a scholar. If they are a humanist or an atheist, even Wiccan or pagan, it would be on the sort of terms where I would be able to work more with them philosophically."
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives an instructing the armed forces to only allow religious organizations that believe in a higher power to endorse chaplains. And so far, the Navy has not indicated whether it will accept the Humanist Society as the endorser of Jason Heap.According to current Pentagon records, about 1 percent of active duty military in all four services checked boxes for "agnostic" and "atheist" as their religious status. That's more than 13,000 soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors. This is, incidentally, more than all the Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims combined — and they each have their own chaplains.
But some traditional chaplains, such as Ron Crews, will have none of it. Crews, a retired Army chaplain with 28 years in uniform, is director of the advocacy group Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty.
" 'For God and country.' That is the motto of the chaplain corps," he says, "and someone who comes from a humanist freethinker position could not ascribe to that motto. So it's by definition of who a chaplain is."