[Note: I have written on this before, but I will continue to write on it because it seems to be an on-going topic in our society.]
There are many posts floating around on Facebook, and politicians raising the issue, of “protecting” Christians in the military. The emails give the impression that Christians in uniform are under duress and it is harder and harder for them to practice their faith. I simply want to say that while the worry might be genuine from folks outside of the military reading these articles, or listening to these politicians, from a person who has served in the United States Air Force in ROTC, active duty, and in the Air National Guard since 1986 that I find these emails, posts, and speeches to hurt rather help Christians in the military. How could this be?
The military chaplaincy (and really the practice of any religion in uniform) rests upon the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The government shall not establish a religion or prohibit the free exercise thereof. As long we observe the first part, the second part is guaranteed. Once we ignore the first part, we set the stage for ignoring the second as well. Every time someone tries to force non-Christians to listen to Christian prayers, or have any mandatory gathering of military personnel where Christians in uniform espouse their theology, we set the stage for various groups who want to argue that the government very much is practicing a religion – Christianity. There are folks out there who strongly believe the chaplaincy is unconstitutional and love it when they can highlight instances where Christians in uniform step out of line. What they want is for the military to be a place where no one can talk about their faith at all. Chaplains and chapels obviously do not fit in with their thoughts.
From our perspective as Christians, I understand this is a difficult balance. Christianity, by its nature, is evangelical. Our faith teaches us to share it. But there is a time and a place for everything, and there is also a way of being a good neighbor. Anyone in uniform searching for religious answers can be approached by a Christian where we can share our faith. But it is the unasked for attempts that lead us down the slippery slope. Even the founders of the Christian faith did not hang out in Greek Temples to harang people into seeing things their way. The Christian faith was spread by Christians for centuries by said Christians being astute in knowing when it is a good time to share it, and when it was not. If one feels called to share their faith with no constraints, then not just the military, but any government service (and likely many business settings) would not be for them. If you work for Microsoft, and call together a meeting to discuss programming, I doubt you’d receive a warm welcome if you launched into some Biblical teachings. If you kept doing it, you probably wouldn’t work there very long. And it wouldn’t be a Christian being “persecuted” either.
Chapels are not just ecumenical, they are by their nature interfaith. We expect chaplains of other faiths to treat Christian military personnel fairly and not be urging them to become Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, or Wiccans. Members of those faiths should be able to expect the same from Christian chaplains.
Most of all, I want to express that while there may have been an instance here or there of someone going over the line of telling a Christian what they could or could not do – there is no systematic suppression of Christianity in the US Armed services. Honestly, the whole notion is really strange. Most chaplains are Christians. Most chapels are filled with Christians. Most religious literature distributed in the military is Christian literature. Most prayer breakfasts have Christian speakers. Bibles are distributed frequently. Why? Because this is a reflection of the faith of most military members. Most of our military members, in every branch of service, are Christians. Do we really think Christians in uniform are suppressing Christianity?
The day may come when less people are Christian in the military. Our nation maybe less religious all together as well. If and when those days comes, Christians in the military will be glad that our nation has a long history of being neutral in matters of religion. Christians will continue to be free to practice their faith in uniform.
But, if we try to tinker with it now to “protect” Christians, I honestly believe all we will do is set the stage for having no religion being able to be practiced publicly in uniform.
Our military members need prayer. They need support. They need us to support funding for the VA and other government programs when they come home from war.
But what they don’t need is legislation “protecting” them.
My personal thoughts on the matter.
All the best, and until next time,