DESERET NEWS – The changing role of a military chaplain


Although the U.S. military’s composition is about 60 percent Christian, with Protestants and Roman Catholics comprising the largest segment of that cohort, there are growing numbers of non-believers and adherents of minority faiths, a 2012 survey by the independent Military Times newspaper reported. According to that poll, nearly 20 percent of service members identified themselves as having either no religious affiliation or as being atheistic or agnostic. […]

A nonsectarian outreach by chaplains […] suits Mikey Weinstein just fine. In fact, the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation would prefer that approach. […] “One of our best chaplains, this is how they proselytize: They go around to their units and drop off a candy bar to let (the service members) know they are there,” Weinstein said, as opposed to perhaps approaching with a religious tract in hand. Weinstein cited the kindly but doctrinally muted “Father Mulcahy” character from the 1970s movie and television sitcom “M.A.S.H.” as the role model. Read more


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  1. Karen

    I suspect we could do with MORE chaplains… of the Capt. Prathima Dharm type, regardless of religious affiliation. I’d like to see Humanist chaplains, too. The not-a-mandatory-reporter bit is key.

    I suffered for years with undiagnosed depression, because I worked for a military contractor and had a security clearance. I believed (rightly or wrongly) that getting help for mental illness would cause my clearance to be revoked and I would lose my job. There were other jobs, even within the same company, but I had invested a lot of myself in the work I was doing, and I wanted to see the system ship out.

    The job stress of an engineer is undoubtedly NOTHING compared to that of a deployed service member, and yet I lost a decade of my life to mental health problems. I only survived because I had one understanding friend who I could talk to without fear that my trouble would become public. For someone in the service, that friend might be a long ways away. back home… but the chaplain is six tents over. S/he needs to be able to listen and encourage and care, not proselytize. Not even to insist that what the hurting service member needs is a stronger faith in their own tradition.

  2. Old_Warhorse

    Unfortunately, chaplains are not necessarily “non-reporters”. To the best of my knowledge, chaplains are required to report violations of the UCMJ/US Code. Back before the repeal of “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell”, chaplains outed gays to the chain of command on a regular basis.

    As for Humanist chaplains, don’t hold your breath. Earth centered religions have been trying for well over 15 years now to get a chaplain in the military and have been unsuccessful to date because the Department of Defense requires the church/religious group to be certified by them as an endorsing organization. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to sign the paperwork recognizing Circle Sanctuary as an endorsing organization in 2002. When serving Christian chaplain CPT Don Larsen converted from Pentecostal Christianity to Wicca while deployed to Iraq in 2006, his sponsor, the Chaplaincy for Full Gospel Churches, pulled their support and Larsen was summarily booted from the Chaplain Corps because the Sacred Well Congregation had not been approved as an endorsing agency by the Pentagon. This is the exact same sort of issue Humanist chaplains will have to overcome and, considering the current supremacy of Evangelical Christians in the chaplain corps and the US military in general, including the Pentagon, we won’t have a Humanist chaplain any time soon either. Mikey Weinstein and the rest of the folks at the MRFF really have their work cut out for them.

    Sorry to be such a Debbie Downer, but it’s the truth. I support MRFF with donations when I can and wish them all the best, but I’m afraid they’ve got a Sisyphean task ahead of them for the foreseeable future. I just hope that MRFF can hang in there until the command climate changes sufficiently for them to actually succeed in the long run.

  3. BC

    “To the best of my knowledge, chaplains are required to report violations of the UCMJ/US Code.”

    No, chaplains have absolute confidentiality (under Title X). Under Title 32, National Guard chaplains not on active duty may be subject to state laws making clergy mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse. But that is it.

    See Army Regulation 165-1, ch 16-2

    16–2. Confidential and privileged communications
    a. Confidential communications. The privilege of confidential communication with a Chaplain is a right of every individual and an essential component of the Chaplains ministry. Confidential communication is any communication given to a Chaplain in trust by an individual, to include enemy prisoners of war (EPWs), if such communication is made either as a formal act of religion or as a matter of conscience. It is a communication that is made in confidence to a Chaplain acting as a spiritual advisor or to a Chaplain Assistant aiding a spiritual advisor. Also, it is a communication not intended to be disclosed to third party persons in any context, legal, or otherwise.
    b. Obligations to confidentiality. The privilege of non-disclosure of confidential information belongs to the individu- al. The Chaplain’s or Chaplain Assistant’s obligation to maintain confidentiality flows from the person’s right to privileged communication.
    c. Privileged communications. Privileged and confidential are often considered synonymous. However, when they are differentiated, privileged communications refer to information which is not admissible in a court or legal action, while confidential communications is a more general concept, referring to information which is protected both in and out of the legal context. Generally, a confidential communication is also privileged.
    (1) Non-disclosure. The privilege of non-disclosure of confidential information belongs to the person, to the person’s guardian or conservator, or personal representative, if the person is deceased. The privilege of confidence extends beyond the death of the person. The privilege may also be claimed on behalf of the person by the Chaplain or Chaplain Assistant who received the communication.
    (2) Release from privilege. Chaplains may not disclose a confidential or privileged communication revealed in the practice of their ministry without the individual person’s informed consent. This consent must be freely given and not compelled, must be specific regarding the information to be disclosed by the Chaplain, and must be granted after the Chaplain receives the communication. Chaplains will not obtain a blanket release as part of the initiation of a pastoral relationship. Whenever possible this consent will be written, include a signature and date, and be witnessed by a disinterested third party. A release from confidential or privileged communication is inapplicable to cases where a Chaplain is bound by the requirements of sacramental confession.
    (3) Privilege in the court system. Privilege cannot be violated by either commanders or the courts. However, if a military judge or other presiding official decides that no privilege exists, a Chaplain or Chaplain Assistant may have a legal obligation to testify. Failure to comply with the ruling of the court may result in disciplinary action under the UCMJ and/or adverse administrative action. Chaplains are strongly encouraged to seek both legal counsel and counsel from Chaplain supervisors in all situations where the existence of privilege may be questioned.

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