Panel addresses the role of military chaplains

Yale panelists discuss military chaplains/ContributedNEW HAVEN – On Friday night retired Louisiana State University Professor Leslie Anne C. Loveland did a good job triggering conversation about the role military chaplains play in today’s Armed Forces.

Loveland, who is writing a book on the history of military chaplains, began this weekend’s Faith and Arms in a Democratic Society: A Working Conference on Religion in the Military program at Yale Divinity School by narrating the cultural transitions chaplains have had to make from 1946 until now.

Loveland said in the late 1940s chaplains began to get involved in character guidance and created their lectures based on biblical scriptures.

“In the 1950s,” she explained, “military chaplains enjoyed more visibility, respect and appreciation than they ever had before.”

However the roles of these military clergymen began to evolve and by the 1960s chaplains were teaching religion, moral and civic values to military personnel, and later became, in a sense, ethical advisers to military commanders.

One official, Loveland said, referred to U.S. Army chaplains as the, “conscience of the Army.”

The chaplaincy continued to evolve and soon the military’s religious leaders were forced to embrace an ecumenical ministry and the armed forces became more religiously diverse.

By 1987, the percentage of military personnel who were of a faith other than Christianity or Judaism, had grown to 13 percent. Loveland noted that the number of people who claimed to have no religion, has also increased.

“All chaplains were expected to be sensitive to religious pluralism,” she said.

However, Loveland added that there is a strong Evangelical Christian population that has been resistant to such changes and considers the recent wars to be holy wars. She said she expects this to become a larger issue in the future.

Loveland said when she first began studying the history of military chaplaincy; she felt strongly that it was an unconstitutional military position. Now however, although she still has her doubts about the lawfulness of the chaplaincy, sees how important it is.

“I think chaplains can be very valuable and important in a combat environment, not just for the soldiers who have a religion, but just to provide words of assurance,” she said.

Yale Divinity School Visiting Fellow Paul Matheny attended the lecture because he wanted to learn more about the issue. He says he comes from a military family and is interested in the military chaplaincy transformations he’s seen.

“I think the military is changing a lot, is having to change, and I’m curious how the military is dealing with it in terms of their own people,” he said.

On Saturday the conversation continues with three panels. At 9:15 a.m., The State and the Church: Constitutional Issues will take place at Yale Divinity, 44 Prospect Ave. Then, at 11 a.m. is, Pastors to Some, Chaplains to All: Pastoral Implications for Chaplains. The panel, presented by Yale Law School and YDS, concludes with a 2:15 p.m. panel called, The Path Ahead for Chaplaincy: Issues for the Future.

For information visit www.yale.edu/divinity/notes/091101/faith.shtml.

What role do you think military chaplains should play?

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