KSL's "Faith on the Frontlines"

On April 5th, 2015, Easter, the Salt Lake NBC affiliate, KSL ran a documentary about soldiers and faith.  This was one of a handful of documentaries to run during the halftime show between their broadcast of two LDS General Conference sessions.  Three of the interviewees are LDS and then there is me -- an evangelical Christian pastor.

With our permission, they brought cameras into our home and church.  They filmed our prayer time and school.  They interviewed me and asked me questions about the war, my family, the pastorate, and my faith.

Obviously there is a risk when you do these things.  Editing can make the program go any number of ways.  I could have ended up looking either LDS or crazy.  But I don't feel that's what KSL did.  Keri, Eric, Doug and the crew did a wonderful job getting at their topic; and although KSL is an LDS owned company, they were more than fair.  I wish I would have had more pictures to supply of the 3d Armored Cavalry and might have been able to give the Brave Rifles a bit more of a shout out but I just didn't take many photos in that first year of the war.

I really enjoyed KSL's work and I hope you enjoy the documentary.  (It's 22 and a half minutes long, but if you'd like to jump the the bulk of the stuff featuring me, my family, and Redeeming Life Church, you can click this link.)

Me and the Army Chaplaincy

"For God and Country"
August 2, 2013

There's a lot of chatter these days about military chaplains and how they live out their faith in uniform, as well as talk of atheist chaplains living out their belief that there is no god.  This post however is not about either of these controversial and sensationalized topics.

I am asking for your prayers. 

At 37 and a very different man than I was at 19, I am hoping and praying to make a return to the uniform.  This time as a chaplain, to serve God and minister to soldiers in the Utah Army National Guard.

This really shouldn't come as a surprise.  Shortly after my deployment with the 3d Armored Calvary Regiment to Iraq in 2003-2004, I started hearing the call to ministry.  In 2008, I finally answered that call.  Originally I thought I would go to seminary and return to the military full-time as an Army chaplain.   I wanted to faithfully serve like the chaplains in the video below. (In this particular video, the chaplains are the ones with the symbol of the cross on their uniforms. SGT 'Cross' is not a chaplain.)

I enrolled at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and began the process of applying for the Chaplain Candidate Program with the Army.   Quickly, I realized that God had other plans and his timing was not my timing.  So I joyfully finished seminary and entered the pastorate at Risen Life Church in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Army chaplain (not a candidate) is generally required to have completed an M.Div or equivalent theological degree, be ordained and endorsed by a government approved endorsing agency, have appropriate ministry experience, and meet the age requirements and physical fitness standards.  I earned an M.Div at LBTS, am ordained, and am presently in the process of being endorsed by the North American Missions Board (NAMB), which is the Southern Baptist Convention's church planting and chaplain endorsing body.  Please pray that I will be approved for the work of this ministry and endorsed.

I am working on my physical fitness and striving to get back down to 'fighting weight.' I can attest that it was much easier when I was younger, but I'm enjoying the process none-the-less.  I could use your prayers in this area too.  Additionally, I do meet the ministry experience requirements, but I am light in two specific areas: weddings and funerals.  I'm praying for opportunities to officiate more weddings and funerals so I might grow and gain some more experience in these areas.  Please pray with me.

If God opens doors with both NAMB and the Utah National Guard, I could be back in the military serving as a chaplain with the next couple months.  I'll serve the typical one weekend per month and two weeks a year, and initially I'll have about 12 weeks of special training to complete, broken up into phases.  I believe this is a great ministry opportunity to serve soldiers and their families and the additional money and access to insurance will greatly aid me and my family as we continue to serve at Risen Life Church.

I was previously an Army Reservists and for a brief time was cross-leveled into a regular Army unit.  I selected the Utah National Guard for this go-round however, for two specific reasons.  First, I like the idea of serving locally.  The soldiers I may minister to live in my area.  At times, we may be called upon to serve the state in our community, in addition to national conflicts at home or abroad. The UNG also has a good program to help me pay down my student loan, which will be a huge blessing for my family. 

I'm struck by the path God has used to get me to this point.  While I may not get into the military again, I have learned a great deal since applying for the chaplain candidacy program in 2009.  This season has been invaluable in giving me greater clarity of my calling, teaching me much about life and ministry, and showing me the amazing glory and power of our sovereign Lord.  In addition, I've had repeated opportunities to see how remarkable team ministry truly is.  Risen Life Church highly values team ministry and without it, this venture into the Army chaplaincy wouldn't be possible.   

So I ask again for your prayers.  Please pray for me and this ministry opportunity.  Please pray that I will be faithful to follow Christ in whatever venture he sends me and my family.  And please, please pray for our troops.

Soli Deo gloria!
Bryan Catherman
"Salty Believer"

[UPDATE: August 27, 2013.  My experience with NAMB was remarkable and they endorsed me for service in the chaplaincy.  Unfortunately, the recruiter suggested that I enter the military under less than honest conditions.  Apparently, having had back surgery tends to prohibit military service.  My back surgery was a part of the conversation from the very beginning, but the recruiter mistakenly thought I'd be okay to lie about it.  God has closed this ministry door.] 

Seminary vs. the Pastorate

I get many questions about attending seminary from potential students and pastors trying to weigh out the options.  Which seminary? On campus or on-line? What courses should I take and where should I put the bulk of my attention?  In the end however, the answers all depend upon calling and circumstances.

I selected to remain in the mission field and attend seminary through distance education options, partly so I could remain in ministry where I'd be serving post-seminary.  It worked well for me, but this is not to say that it's the best answer for everybody.  I selected Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (LBTS) primarily because at the time they had the best distance education options, but this is changing at a rapid rate and now there are many good seminaries embracing the value of distance education for ministers.

Jared Jenkins, a friend I work with, went to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) on campus.  One of the earliest Salty Believer Unscripted episodes was about our seminary experiences. He had just graduated and entered the pastorate with me in Salt Lake.  At the time of the video, I had a single semester remaining and had been on staff for a little over a year (a part-time intern for about 9 months and 3 months full-time working officially on staff with Risen Life Church.) You can listen to that podcast here or watch the video below.


A year later, we recorded another podcast about seminary and the pastorate. After working with people, teaching, preaching, and serving in the ministry setting far removed from seminary, our thoughts were a bit different.  In what areas do we feel we were unprepared?  What might we have done differently?  What surprised us or did we not expect?  If you're in seminary or thinking about attending, or even if you're simply a "man or woman in the pew" and curious, I think this is worth listening to:  Salty Believer Unscripted - Seminary vs. the Pastorate One Year Later

I'm happy to chat with you about seminary.  If you're considering attending and have some questions, please don't hesitate to contact me.  In addition, here are some related posts that may help you pick a seminary or guide you along your journey while in your formal studies:

Choosing a Seminary
LBTS, Post Dr. Jerry Falwell
Thinking of Enrolling in Seminary? 

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

*Photo by Mbiama Assogo Roger is registered under a creative commons license and is used by permission

Scriptures to Know

A couple of my Bibles have notes written inside the covers. These notes are reference lists of Scriptures to know and seek in times of discussion and need. I have decided to consolidate these lists in once source that is easy to access and easy to continually add upon. I also believe it is a list that should be shared. I have only just begun to organize and add verses to this this list and I pray that it will become a fantastic "work in progress" that I and others are able to turn to as necessary as we learn, study, and memorize God's Word.

Click here to download a copy of the list, "Scriptures to Know". This list will be growing and developing over time, so occasionally check back and download it again.

* Other resources, includes reading lists and videos are available here.

Called to the Chaplaincy?

August 3, 2010.

I noticed an area of great need while I was serving in the military, especially when I was in Iraq: good chaplains.  From what I saw, there was (and still is) a shortage of them.

I have been out of the military and home from Iraq for six years, but it was about three years ago when I stopped saying "somebody really ought to do something about that," and started saying, "maybe I ought to do something about it."  Up to that point, I had never seen myself as a minister, pastor or in professional ministry (before the war I wanted to be a rich lawyer), but the chaplaincy was something I could see myself doing.  I wanted to have a dirty boots ministry, that is, I wanted to be in the mud with the combat guys most in need.  

Investigating the requirements, I found that as a chaplain candidate I would need to earn an M.Div at an accredited seminary, get an ecclesiastical endorsement from an official endorser (recognized and approved by the US Government), gain ministry experience, go through the various military officer and chaplain schools, and eventually be selected as a chaplain through a board selection process.  I looked into my seminary options and chose Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, although at the time I didn't consider myself baptist.

My next step was the ecclesiastical endorsement.  My local church was not heavily connected with their denomination, to the extent that I had attended there for 2 years and had no idea with who they were affiliated (this is not uncommon in Utah).  With the help of my pastor, I started working through what would potentially be a six year process to obtain a full endorsement from this denomination.  However, as I was working though the material they sold me and reading the books they recommended, I ran into some theological issues.  No-Go's might be a better word.  Taking these to my pastor was informative but didn't help me rectify my problems.  Informing the endorser, he had me talk with people in upper leadership throughout the denomination in an attempt to convince me of their doctrinal positions.  In the end, I came to realize that there was no way I could sign the required doctrinal statement.  I also figured that with these difficult theological differences, it might be best for my family to seek out a local church of a different denomination, or no denomination.

Finding a new church community in Salt Lake City is hard.  It's even harder when that church must also be associated with an organization approved to endorse military chaplains.  After a while. I gave up trying to find a church community that could serve as an endorser and sought out a low-support, doctrinally weak, on-line endorser.  Passing their assessment and paying their fees, I was endorsed.  This freed up one one requirement, I we could fellowship with any group of believers.  (It was in this time that Lisa and I hung out with some church planters from Portland.)  But now, six years later, we've settled in a great church close to our home called Holladay Baptist Church.

Now it was time to apply for re-entry into the military.  This nearly year-long process became grueling given the mountain of paperwork and my post-war counseling.  Through the process of appeals I was eventually allowed to go through the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) where potential soldiers are screened.  At an out of fighting-shape 34, this screening was no picnic, but I managed to pass.  However, after finishing at MEPS, I learned that the rest of my paperwork was "stale" and we'd have to start over.  I was already starting to see that I was old by Army standards and would not likely be able to hang with the young bucks I wanted to serve.  And three years of fighting through the challenges felt like I had my foot jammed in a closed door.

Through many other things which may be a topic of another discussion, I decided it was time to give up this effort.  However, over the course of the three years, I started seeing myself as a pastor or professor or a servant in just about any professional or volunteer ministry.  I love seminary and am learning so much.  We've found an amazing church community.  I feel deeply grounded in my theology.  And it might be that I was never called to serve as an Army chaplain.  But that's okay because the process has greatly developed and shaped my thinking about God, myself, my family, ministry, and calling.  And now it seems that something else might be on the horizon. We'll see.

There's still a need for good chaplains in the military.  I am praying that I can still serve veterans in some capacity and I'm also hoping to see a flood of young guys go to seminary and become the kind of chaplains that can minister in the mud where they are needed most. As for me, I'm simply waiting on the Lord (or at least trying to).

*Both photos are in the public domain.

Christians Converge

As the the Southern Baptist Convention is about to converge on Orlando, I can't help but think about the large gatherings of Christian for conventions.  Each year, hundreds of Christian conventions happen all across the country--some for denominational business, some for training. Pastors, church planters, chaplains, professors, and often scores of laypeople come together for a variety of purposes in a variety of places  in a variety of ways. 

From the attendees' perspective, the convention might be about great training or corporate worship of God.  Or it could be about developing the future of the denomination or dealing with pressing church business or assessing new church planters or chaplains.  Although sadly for most (sometimes myself included), it is about a vacation and seeing big-name speakers so the attendee can go home and say, "When I was at the convention, I saw  __________ (Fill in the blank with Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan, Matt Chandler, Ergun Caner, James White, John Piper, Sam Storms, Wayne Grudem, Rob Bell, Tullian Tchividjian, Beth Moore, Ed Stetzer, Don Miller, Greg Laurie, Tim Keller, Jack Hayford, James McDonald Daniel Wallace, or any other popular pastor, author, or professor.)

From the city's perspective, these groups represent dollars to the community; everything is measured on economic impact and hotel sleeping room count.  (I know because I work in the industry in Salt Lake City.)  Most conventions will generate anywhere from $600 to $1,200 per attendee, which quickly adds up to a good infusion of dollars into the city.  But is this where it should end for the city?

I've seen Christian conferences come to Salt Lake City--a community were only 3% of the population can be found in a Christian (non-LDS) church on any given Sunday--to serve and evangelize the community (in addition to their meetings).  And I've seen other Christian conferences come and be served by the city, making their convention all about themselves, church business, training, vacation, or rest.  Some groups plan for opportunities to feed the local homeless, open their doors for public events, or even engage with people in the surrounding area.  I remember an EFCA youth conventionin 2008 that gave opportunities to the youth to go to the local restaurants, buckets and mops in hand, and ask if they could clean their bathrooms.  Talk about a conversation starter and an interesting witness.

But service to a community (rather than from it) doesn't require planned opportunities from the convention (although I believe convention planners should work to build these opportunities into their conventions), it starts with each individual attendee.  Even before you arrive at your hotel, you come in contact with airline service people, restaurant servers, cab and shuttle bus drivers, and other travelers; and once at your hotel there are even more people you will meet.  Think about the perception of the young woman making thousands of coffee drinks in the hotel Starbucks.  Will she see anything different about your group of Christian convention attendees compared to the commercial or business convention that was there the previous week?  Will the differences be positive or negative?  What are you saying to the host community of your next convention?   

Meeting planners, I am happy to share with you ideas from events I've seen that have made positive attempts to reach and serve their host city.  If you'd like to chat, please feel free to contact me.

*Photo of 2004 EFCA Challenge 2004 at the Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City, Utah is registered under a Creative Commons License. 

Choosing a Seminary

Assuming you've reached the point were you know seminary is the right direction for you (I might even go so far as to say you're called to something that requires a seminary education), it's now time to select a seminary.  For some, this is an easy choice because of denominational ties, location, or something else; for others this decision is not so easy.  In what follows, I'd like to offer a discussion on some of the many factors that go into finding the right seminary for you.

I should probably get my biased background out of the way first.  At the time of this post, I am 9 classes away from graduation with an M.Div from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.  I am not a member of a Baptist denomination and I'm going through the Distance Learning Program (DLP).  I'll get into more details as we move through some of the various aspects of the decision making process, and I'll discuss some of my experiences; but in no way should these influence your decision.  In fact, I encourage you to carefully weigh out the choice before you, seek guidance in prayer, and attend the seminary that's the best fit for you.

There are many seminaries. They are not all the same nor are they all equal, but they each serve a specific purpose, uniquely fulfilling a role.  Finding the one that will best move you in the direction you need to go is an important step in your educational process.

Theology and doctrinal beliefs.  Obviously, you should attend a seminary that shares the doctrinal views to which you hold.  Some seminaries hold extensive doctrinal positions and require complete agreement by all faculty and students. Other schools only provide loose boundaries and students need only agree with "a majority" of the doctrinal statement.  Some schools only identify requirements regarding specific major doctrines, leaving the minors up to the students--e.g., charismatic gifts or the means of baptism.  When I was applying for seminary at Liberty, I was required a to sign a statement stating that I agree with the school's doctrinal statement of faith.  With a couple of points, I was still on the fence and with one I wasn't sure if I could fully agree.  Contacting the seminary, I was able to discuss my positions and write a memo explaining why I could not firmly agree with the nuances of the doctrines which I was still wrestling with.  I was admitted. In addition, they granted me wide room on the matter and I have since wrestled with issues and firmed up my doctrinal positions.  

Seminary will likely shape your theology as well as your philosophy of ministry, so if you attend a school that is in disagreement with your denominational beliefs, you should ask yourself if you are prepared to leave your denomination based on your convictions. You should also be aware of the theological and doctrinal requirements placed upon the faculty.  Some schools require specific beliefs of their professors and other seminaries leave that wide open. These requirements allow for some diversity, but you should have some idea of the extent.  Personally, I would find it extremely difficult to study under professors that hold to a position of open theism, for example, or teach that the Bible is not inspired or trustworthy and contains serious flaws.

Denominational ties. I discussed the important matters of denominational ties above; however, some denominations require that in order for you to receive ordination or even employment with a church of that denomination, you attend specific schools.  This might be worth considering.  For many, this is not an issue.

Focus: academic vs. pastoral.  There are schools that generally produce more academically minded theologians and there are schools that tend to graduate more pastorate minded individuals.  By this I mean some graduates of specific schools typically land in fields where they continue to publish weighty academic material or go on to teach in the academic setting.  These students tend more often to be the authors of commentaries and study bibles. Some become professors.  Other schools produce more graduates that become pastors, chaplains, worship leaders, and missionaries, maybe publishing little or nothing.  And if they do publish, they tend to write for the laymen rather than the academic.  Academic schools often place a greater focus on the biblical languages, theology, and history while the other schools place their focus on things like missions or church planting or counseling.  Most seminaries have a full range of classes, it's just that often schools place more focus in one area over another. This is not to say that there is not cross over, it's simply that the pastors that come from the schools more academically driven, tend to be more academic pastors, and the opposite might be true of the pastoral schools producing professors.  This might be something to think about, especially if you plan to go on to earn a Ph.D or have hopes of teaching at a Bible college or seminary.  If you find academia rather dry and dull, you may want to consider a pastoral-minded seminary, although you still won't escape academic writing and reading, theology and history.  

Reputation.  Seminaries tend to earn some kind of reputation (although there are some schools that nobody has ever heard of).  This reputation could heavily play into your future, especially if you have a desire to go further in your education or if you need to be able to lean on that reputation.  In academia, reputation is extremely important, which is why you see some schools listed after contributor's names in commentaries and study Bibles more than others.  Some schools gain a reputation as "liberal" schools while others are seen as "conservative." It seems the presidents of the Evangelical Theological Society tend to come from specific types of schools, whereas the pastors of mega-churches and church planting networks generally come from others.  If you are called to be a missionary, which schools are producing the best missionaries?  If you're a preacher, which schools produce the kind of preacher you are called to be? Who is generating the leading theologians?

Looking at seminaries, I was concerned about the public reputation of both the school founded by Dr. Jerry Falwell (Liberty University) as well as the man, who was well-known for his cable-news sound bites.  I knew I would find myself under that cloud, but I wasn't sure to what extent.  It comes up from time to time, and on occasion people will make an incorrect assumption about me based on the seminary I attended.  Even as I write this, the president of my seminary is mixed up in something that could be problematic and hurt the reputation of the seminary.  How the president and the school handle it could help or hurt the seminary's reputation in the short and long run.  And at times, the actions of the students and alumni can positively or negatively impact the school's reputation for years.  But I have to remind myself that for most people, the reputation of their seminary is fairly irrelevant shortly after graduation. 

Delivery method. It seems these days, delivery method is rapidly becoming a primary talking point.  Brick-and-mortar or on-line or a combination of both?  Some seminaries now offer a limited selection of Master's degrees entirely on-line.  If you can't move AND if reputation is not a necessity, on-line may be a valid option for you.  This is not to say you should attend a school that only provides education on-line, rather, you might consider a traditional seminary that also delivers its educational instruction on-line.  I selected this option because I work full-time and have a wife and two children.  There is no seminary in my area and a moving was not a good choice given my circumstances.  Liberty's Distance Learning Program (DLP) offers both on-line courses and intensives, that is, courses where the reading is done in advance and then the student goes to the campus to sit in day-long lectures for a straight week. Prior to applying, I researched this program to determine how well it would work.  What is the content delivery system like? Are there lectures and how do I watch or hear them?  How will I test and turn in assignments?  Will there be feedback on my work? Will I interact with other students? Who will teach my courses?  (Please feel free to contact me if you have specific questions about this program.  I'm happy to chat with you.) 

Taking courses on-line, however, is not an exact substitute for attending classes on-campus.  The brick-and-mortar setting has much to offer, and it's still a necessity if you are looking for an academic future.  Each delivery method has its advantages and disadvantages.  You should carefully consider your needs and options before simply jumping into an on-line program or ruling it out.

Location.  Should you desire to attend classes on campus, you aught to consider location.  Are you willing to move if there is not a seminary in your hometown?  Will you have access to library materials?  Will you need to get a job while in seminary, and if so, is the school located in a strong job market?  What is the cost of housing? If you are married or have children, will this move be problematic or positive for your family? Although rather obvious, location is something to consider.

Cost. I'm not sure if I even need to discuss cost.  It was a rather large deciding factor for me, as it probably is for you.  There is a wide range of tuition rates among the seminaries, and it is not always the case that you get what you pay for. 

Accreditation. Accreditation boards exists to ensure that the quality of the education meets a minimum standard.  Schools that meet these standards are considered "accredited."  Various state, regional, and federal departments of education approve and recognize accrediting bodies (or don't). Generally, if a students wishes to transfer credits to another school or pursue a degree beyond the masters he or she earned in seminary, it is important that he or she earned a degree from an accredited seminary.  In addition, many ministry positions such as a military chaplain, missionary, or teacher often require a degree from an accredited school.  There are regional accrediting bodies and national accreditation institutions, as well as discipline-specific accreditation bodies.  The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) is one example, as is the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE). The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) is an example of a regional accreditation body.  It is highly recommended that you attend an accredited seminary. 

You have many things to consider before settling on a seminary, but the time and effort will be well worth it.  Finding the right fit could mean the difference between a successful seminary experience and not.  Best of luck with your selection.  Again, please feel free to contact me if you have questions about Liberty, one-line studies, or anything else. God bless.

If you have specific questions about Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, please check out "LBTS, Post Dr. Jerry Falwell."

*Photo of Dr. Eugene H. Peterson taken by Wikimedia Commons user Clappstar, at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Washington sponsored by the Seattle Pacific University Image Journal.

Chaplains on Mission

Here's a short AP video about three aspects of the Army chaplain's duties: Nurture the living, minister to the dying, and honor the dead. 

I'm in the process of applying for the Army Chaplain Candidate program.  (This ordeal has hit some bumps; in fact, it has been a bumpy road from the start, so your prayers are greatly appreciated.)

On occasion, I find myself sitting across from a pastor that has no idea what a military chaplain does. I enjoy trying to explain what I know (although admittedly my knowledge is limited to my observations while I served in the Army, my reading, and my classes).  This video paints a nice picture of some of the aspects of the chaplain's combat-zone mission.  What it does not show is the chaplain's effort to visit and minister to soldiers in outlying areas (Forward Operation Bases, FOBs) or the garrison mission, that is, the mission on a post or fort.  This video also neglects the chaplain's mission in military hospitals and the military prison duties.   

In addition, here's a good interview with CH (LT) Anthony T. Carr by Timothy Dalrymple, titled "Finding God at Gitmo."  Chaplain Carr is a chaplain is serving US sailors detailed with guarding detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Although Carr says "no matter the location, my role as a chaplain would be the same: to provide spiritual support to the sailors around me," he has a unique opportunity to minister sailors facing problems unlike what their counterparts on ships might see.

Army Chaplain: Worship, Counseling, Visitation, and Wartime Readiness

             Just before entering the Promised Land, Moses preached to the Israelites in Arabah.  Among Moses’ many directives were instructional laws for warfare.  He said, “And when you draw near to battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: Let not your heart faint.  Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the LORD your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you victory” (Deut. 20:2-5, ESV).  Priests spoke first, then the commanders.  At Jericho, the priests blew the trumpets that led the people to shout and bring the wall down (Josh. 6).  These are but two examples of how God used priests among the Israelite warriors.  The chaplains of the modern American Army are not used in the same manner as the Israelite priests, but they still play a vital role to the force through offering worship services, counseling, visitation, and wartime readiness preparedness.  

            The mission of the Army Chaplaincy, in part, is to “Provide religious support to America’s Army across the full spectrum of operations” (U. S. Chaplaincy Corp 2009, Sec 2:1).  It is for this reason that the chaplain prepares worship services in both peace and wartime, in the garrison and on the battlefield.  On occasion, the chaplain must work outside what would be considered typical for clergy.  Rabbi Max Wall serves as a great example, having provided an Easter service in Bavaria at the conclusion of World War II (Bergen 2004, 210-211).  Indeed, in an Army rapidly growing more religiously diverse and serving in atypical missions throughout the world, the ability for a chaplain to remain flexible without violating his or her own religious tenants is paramount. 

            In recent years, counseling has moved up to a top priority of the chaplain corp.  Army Chief of Staff, General George Casey Jr. says,
After seven years of continuous combat however, our Army is out-of-balance.  The stress on Soldiers and Families has had an impact across the force.  Yet our Values remain non-negotiable.  Precisely for this reason, the Chaplain Corps’ mission of providing spiritual, moral, and ethical counseling is critically important (U. S. Chaplaincy Corp 2009, Sec 1:i).
In an effort to keep “spiritual, moral, and ethical counseling” in a position of high importance, the Army Chaplaincy Strategic Plan 2009-2014 requires the strengthening of existing support programs and the creation of more of them; in addition to recruiting higher caliber chaplains and opening more opportunities for soldier and family counseling.  Chaplains regularly find themselves counseling wounded warriors and their families, soldiers transitioning out of the Army, and career soldiers enduring multiple extended deployments.  Suicide rates are higher among soldiers than the rest of the population, and chaplains are serving on the forward front in efforts to prevent future suicides as well as other physical, mental, and spiritual hardships of the suffering soldier.

            Finally, to accomplish the first two primary areas of the Army chaplaincy—worship and counseling—the chaplain must put a greater effort into visitation.  It is the ministry of presence that allows the chaplain to serve the soldier’s needs, psychically, morally, and spiritually.   Hospital visits are just as important as meeting each solider on the battlefield as is time with the troops in garrison and training.  Presently, the chaplain must go to the soldier, no matter where his or she is, because it is becoming increasingly unlikely that the soldier will come to the chaplain.

            And through out all of the chaplain’s efforts, the reality of war must remain in the forefront of planning and training.  Not only must Army chaplains help prepare soldiers and their families for wartime, they themselves must be ready.  The Army Chaplaincy Strategic Plan 2009-2014 has come to realize that chaplains too must be ready to go anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice, at any time.  Without a doubt, in the face of a changing world, the Army chaplaincy must be changing too.

Reference List
Bergen, Doris L. The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplain from the First to the Twenty-First Century.  Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 2004.

U. S. Army, Chaplain Corp. 2009.  The Army Chaplaincy Strategic Plan 2009-2014. http://www.chapnet.army.mil/ (Accessed February 28, 2009)

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website. 

Morality: The Chaplain is On Point

             As I'm getting closer to raising my right hand and re-entering the Army as a chaplain candidate, friends and family with little military background or understanding have asked what a chaplain does.  As I share my understanding of the answer with them, there is a bit of a surprise.  It seems many people feel the chaplain is just in the Army for the Sunday service and funerals.  It's much more.  I wrote a brief discussion on this for a chaplain course in seminary and felt it might be insightful.  
          The United States Army has every expectation that its personnel will act with high integrity and moral fortitude.  However, both of these terms are ambiguous and somewhat undefined by the military.  How then is a soldier, noncommissioned officer, or commander to know what is required of him, her, or the unit?  To assist in this area, the Army has placed some of the responsibility with the chaplain.

            Of the seven Army Values, two specifically deal with morality: Integrity and Personal Courage.  The definition of integrity, according to the Army, is, “Do what’s right, legally and morally” (GoArmy.com 2009); personal courage means to, “Face fear, danger or adversity (physical or moral)” (GoArmy.com 2009).  A third Army Value is Respect, instructing soldiers to “treat people as they should be treated” (GoArmy.com 2009).  Another example of the need for interpretation of morality includes the Noncommissioned Officer’s Creed, which states in part, “I will not compromise my integrity, nor my moral courage” (NCOCorps.net 2009).  Yet, these values and creeds don’t go into any further detail as to what is morality.  Because most people believe that morality find its roots in religion, it only make sense that the chaplain would be the person to teach the soldiers and advise command on it. 

            The chaplain is a staff officer, and as such, has “direct access to the commander” (AR 165-1, 4-5a 2004, 8).  In addition, Army Regulation dictates that, “Chaplains will advise the commander and staff on matters of religion, morals, and morale” (AR 165-1, 4-5a 2004, 8).   Therefore, it is safe to assume that the chaplain is expected to be the interpreter of situational events dealing with morality.  Commanders and soldiers alike should be able to approach the chaplain for moral advise, but in order for the individual to trust the chaplain, the chaplain must be credible, him or herself living a life of example in the areas of morality, integrity, and respect.

            In addition to being an advisor, the chaplain is also a watchdog.  Anne C. Loveland explains the chaplain’s moral and humanitarian responsibilities:
The chaplain manuals issued in 1984 and 1989 extend the chaplain’s purview to include illegal, immoral, or inhumane practices during combat.  Not only was he supposed to aid the commander in preventing such practices, but he also was specifically directed to report to him possible violations of the laws of war, as well as such practices as ‘dehumanizing treatment of friendly troops, enemy prisoners of war (EPW), or civilians; violations of codes of morality; illegal acts, desecrations of sacred places, and disrespect for human life (Bergen 2004, 242-243).
Anne Loveland’s statement clearly points out that the chaplain is not simply a provider of Sunday services or an administer of the sacraments.  The chaplain is also expected to provide advice to soldiers and commanders regarding the morality of their actions and behaviors.  And when soldiers and commanders exercise behavior that does not demonstrate the moral strength expected of them, regulation requires that the chaplain report the violations.

            War has a tendency to bring about some of the world’s worst atrocities.  When America commits these atrocities—such as the My Lai massacre or the torture and inhumane treatment at Abu Ghraib Prison—America looses credibility among the other nations of the world.  In addition, American soldiers could live the rest of their lives with the guilt of their behavior brought about from war.  For some, this proves too unbearable and they resort to drugs, alcohol, or even suicide.   And often the quality of life for the surviving victims of war crimes is greatly reduced.  The chaplain is not only responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of individual soldiers of his unit (or parish), he or she is also responsible for providing sound advice to the commander and seeing that the unit performs its mission with high moral standards.  When the chaplain fails in this particular role, little good can come from the remainder of his or her religious duties.           

Reference List
Bergen, Doris L. The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplain from the First to the Twenty-First Century.  Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 2004. 
GoArmy.com. Soldier Live: Living the Army Values. http://www.goarmy.com/life/living_the_army_values.jsp (accessed February 19, 2009).
Headquarters of the Department of the Army. 2004. Army Regulation 165-1: Chaplain Activities in the United States Army (March, 25). By Order of the Secretary of the Army, Peter J. Schoomaker.
NCOCorps.net. U.S. Army NCO Creed. http://www.ncocorps.net/more/us_army_nco_creed.htm (accessed February 19, 2009).

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.
**Photo Info: "Staff Sgt. Miguel A. Martinez-Velazquez, chaplain's assistant noncommissioned officer in charge, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, shelters 3rd BCT Brigade Chaplain Maj. Paul Jaedicke from incoming fire during the role play training for chaplain and chaplain's assistants Aug. 3rd at the Joint Readiness Training Center. The chaplains and thier assistants are training for an upcoming deployment in support of the war on terror. (U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Kimberly Cole, 40th Public Affairs Office) This photo is registered under a Creative Commons license: http://www.flickr.com/photos/soldiersmediacenter/ / CC BY 2.0

Pluralism: Less Polemic Within the Military

Certain debated concepts often get packed into a single word that is armed, thorny, and filled much like a Trojan horse ready to let open the gates to outside attack. In Christian conversation, the word pluralism has been modified to be just such a fully loaded word, and unpacking it sometimes takes a skilled explosive technician. However, when pluralism is used to describe how multiple religious systems operate in the same the military community, the word retracts its claws and speaks of mutual respect and opportunity.

In its most basic form, pluralism is, “a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization” (Merriam, “pluralism”).  Those Christians using the term as a debate weapon have added their interpretation of some Biblical concepts about living among and adapting to the practices of non-Christian societies and beliefs[1] and blended in “syncretism.”  Syncretism is, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice” (Merriam, “syncretism”). While it is not my purpose to argue in favor or against the present use of the definition of pluralism, I do argue that the military’s use of the word is strictly in its most basic definition.

While the Army is vague on its exact definition of pluralism, it does provide some conceptual guidance. A requirement of entry to the Army Chaplain Corps is a signed Memorandum for Record (MFR) that reads in part,
While remaining faithful to my denominational beliefs and practices, I understand that, as a chaplain [or chaplain candidate], I must be sensitive to religious pluralism and will provide for the free exercise of religion by military personnel, their families, and other authorized personnel served by the Army.  I further understand that, while the Army places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religions, accommodation is based on military need and cannot be guaranteed at all times and in all places.
I also recognize the importance of a diverse Army Chaplaincy representing all faiths, genders, and ethnic backgrounds.  I fully support the diversity of the Corps that enables the branch to minister to the plurality of America’s Soldier (Blackwell, 2008).
In addition to the MFR for entry, Army Regulation 165-1, 3-3a states, “The Army recognizes that religion is constitutionally protected and does not favor one form of religious expression over another.  Accordingly, all religious denominations are viewed as distinctive faith groups and all soldiers are entitled to chaplain services and support” (U.S. Department of the Army 2004, 5).  And the chaplain is required under 4-4b of the same regulation to, “...minister to the personnel of the unit and facilitate the ‘free-exercise’ rights of all personnel, regardless of religious affiliation of either the chaplain or the unit member” (2004, 6).

Soldiers, according to Army regulation are “entitled to chaplain services and support” and chaplains are to “facilitate” the right to worship but are not required to deviate from their denominational beliefs or practices.  What this regulation does not say is that chaplains are to accept or adopt the belief of the soldier. Therefore, pluralism allows each soldier the right to worship (or not worship) in his or her own distinct manner with the support of a chaplain, all inside the single community of the military.  In no way is syncretism required. Instead, a mutual respect and understanding is expected.

Chaplain Joseph F. O’Donnell, C.S.C. best describes the spirit of pluralism while explaining the first of three qualities important to every chaplain.  He writes, “As a chaplain, I must realize that no matter how firm I feel about my own approach to God, I cannot have the last word for anyone else” (Bergen 2004, 222).

Reference List
Bergen, Doris L. The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplain from the First to the Twenty-First
     Century.  Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 2004.
Blackwell, Steve CH (CPT). 2008 Sample MFR sent to author electronically. October 31.
Headquarters of the Department of the Army. 2004. Army Regulation 165-1: Chaplain Activities
     in the United States Army (March, 25). By Order of the Secretary of the Army, Peter J.
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. s.v. “pluralism,” http://www.merriam-
     webster.com/dictionary/pluralism (accessed February 15, 2009.)
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. s.v. “syncretism,” http://www.merriam-
     webster.com/dictionary/syncretism (accessed February 15, 2009.)

[1] Concepts from passages of Judges, 1 Peter, and Colossians for example.

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.
** Photo is registered under a Creative Commons License: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tim_ellis/ / CC BY-NC 2.0

Geneva Convention Today: The Chaplain as a POW?

            In the unlikely event that two nation-states were to go to war with one another and abide by the provisions set forth in the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of August 12, 1949 (III), there is a possibility that one or more chaplains would be captured.  However, this possibility is remote considering the rapid changes in modern warfare; and more significantly, the likelihood that an enemy nation would abide by the rules agreed upon in 1949.  As odd as it may sound, World War II might have been the last “civilized” war. 
            Reading the Geneva Convention articles regarding Prisoners of War (POW) rules and operations paints images of “The Bridge Over the River Kwai.”  We see captors abiding by the rules and chaplains moving about, ministering to soldiers and providing religious services.  History however, shows us something different.  The Korean and Vietnam wars were simply treated as “conflicts” or “actions,” and neither nation abided by the Geneva Convention.  During the 1991 conflict in Iraq, the US didn’t experience any POW situations, although it is not a stretch to think Iraq would not have honored the Articles of the Geneva Convention.  In early 2001, a C-130 Hercules aircraft went down in China and the Chinese government held the American crew captive.  As no deceleration of war were pronounced, the Geneva Convention remained unnecessary.  In the present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is unlikely that any American soldier would be afforded anything resembling the Geneva Convention protections, just as the United States has also declared the Articles irrelevant to the War on Terror.
            Yet, despite the lack of respect for the Geneva Convention rules, it is valuable for a chaplain to understand that the participating nations believed chaplains were to be afforded specific rights that insured the protection of religious activities, even in a prisoner of war camp.  Chapters IV and V specifically deal with the role of the chaplain.  Article 33 dictates that the chaplain is not technically a prisoner of war and may not be forced to do detail labor.  More specifically, they are to continue in their duties as religious leaders.  Article 34 guarantees the prisoners the right to worship and attend services.  Article 35 gives the chaplain the right to move about the camp, or even between camps, in the exercise of ministry.  Article 36 gives fellow soldiers the ability to minister to one another in the absence of an official chaplain.  And Article 37 gives the prisoners the ability to actually appoint a person as their chaplain in the event that a chaplain is not available.  Religion and faith were important, even in war, in 1949, and just because nations do not honor these articles today does not reduce the importance of a chaplain captured with his or her fellow soldiers.
            Chaplains should continue to be aware of the Articles pertaining to their rights and duties as a POW chaplain.  Even if a chaplain is treated like any other POW, he should remember that he is first, a chaplain.  If detail labor is assigned, the chaplain should still try to find ways to minister and care for his fellow POWs.  Even if soldiers are not afforded the right to worship, the chaplain should remain strong, standing up for the soldier’s right to worship and gather for services.  If the chaplain is not allowed to move around freely, he should still attempt to visit with soldiers in anyway he can, even if it means meeting with the men as they do detail labor or conversing through the use of the Tap Code as did the men and women in the POW camps during the Vietnam War.  And in the terrible event that the chaplain is executed, he should be mindful of the martyred apostles and remain faithful.
            While the face of warfare may have moved beyond the Geneva Convention, the duties of the chaplain remain much the same, whether protected by agreed upon and ratified “rules” of war or not.  The chaplain should diligently keep the spirit of the Geneva Convention even if his captors choose otherwise.

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.  

Nazi Chaplains: Christian Service Under an Anti-Christian Regime

           During World War II, chaplains of the German military found themselves in a difficult position.  Having no support from their government, they served soldiers who were often hostile toward Christianity, in an environment where they could jeopardize their own lives by protesting mass killings or stand by and do nothing, tainting the perception of the Christian faith.  Yet, their legitimacy as chaplains came not from the Nazi party, but from God, through their actions and services preformed under extremely difficult circumstances.
            The challenges were many.  German chaplains were intentionally viewed as less manly in a society that perpetuated a masculine image.  Many of the soldiers held a poor perception of Christianity and its connection to the Jewish people.  The number of chaplain positions was kept low and vacancies remained empty through out the war.  No chaplains were allowed to serve in the SS or Luftwaffe, the branches closest to the fighting and likely the most in need of a chaplain’s services.  Most, if not all of these efforts to weaken the chaplaincy came from the upper echelon.  “Hitler and his inner circle expressed in private, if not publicly, their contempt for Christianity,” states Doris L. Bergen, “a religion they considered nothing but diluted Judaism propagated in a conspiratorial effort to weaken the so-called Aryan race” (2004, 174).  Even Hitler’s private secretary, Martin Bromann, once said that, “National Socialist and Christian concepts cannot be reconciled” (Gunter 1964, 253).
             Even more challenging were the occurrences of genocidal killings.  Often, chaplains stood by at these events, all but legitimatizing the practice.  Bergen argues, “Merely the presence of chaplains, at sites of mass killing in Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece, Byelorussia, and Ukraine, offered Germany’s warriors the comforting illusion that despite the blood on their hands, they remained decent people, linked to a venerable religious tradition” (2004, 166).  This comfort may have, in fact, increase the ease and comfort in these slaughters.  However, had a chaplain voiced his concerns or even taught counter to the mass executions, he likely would have found himself staring into his grave just before being shot.  But by taking no action, the chaplains ended up representing Christianity to the German soldiers as a religion that would permit this type of military behavior.
However, the lack of government support and the anti-Christian atmosphere only resulted in sharper chaplains who had to work that much harder to defend the faith and then win over the trust and heart of the soldier.  Bergen shares an account of German Chaplain Hans Leonhard.  After entering a hospital, a soldier makes a statement attacking the chaplain and his faith.  The chaplain then returns the soldier’s comments, being fully accustomed to the challenges (2004, 165).  But more significant than the hostility of the soldiers, the lack of governmental support that exposed the chaplaincy to vulnerability may have actually provided the chaplains a greater encouragement to view their role as being in the service of God’s Kingdom and their local countrymen rather than keeping strong allegiances with the governing Nazi party.
Additionally, the harsh circumstances of the German warfront not only forced the chaplains to serve the Kingdom of Christ at a higher capacity, but also prohibited a behavior likely more readily found in the Allied Forces chaplain corps—the use of Christianity as propaganda.  With the regime more concerned about carefully eliminating the chaplaincy all together, they did little to require the chaplain duties to include morale building or favorable message crafting.  If anything, the propaganda was pointed at the chaplaincy.
While the case study of the Nazi party dictatorship serves to demonstrate the possible outcomes of a chaplaincy under an anti-Christian regime, it also acts as a guide for those who may presently or one-day serve under a government that is hostile to the Christian chaplaincy.  We in America are blessed to have the prospect to serve with support from both the government and the soldiers; however, just as in Nazi Germany, we may not always be afforded such an opportunity.
Reference List
Bergen, Doris L. The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplain from the First to the Twenty-First Century.  Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 2004.

Lewy, Gunter. The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1964.

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website. 

American Civil War Chaplains: Finding Purpose on the Battlefield

            Reading Janie Blankenship’s VFW Magazine article (2008), “Chaplains Provide Spiritual Comfort on the Battlefield,” a hopeful chaplain candidate might be led to believe that the estimated 4,000 chaplains that served in the Civil War were not only heroic on the battlefield, but served in a well-defined position within their units.  Gardiner H. Shattuck, Jr. also shares a story of a heroic Civil War chaplain; except unlike Blankenship, he suggests that the heroic Civil War chaplain tales are far more the exception than the norm (Bergen 2004).  Often, the chaplains who served during the American Civil War struggled to find purpose on the field of battle.
            According to Blankenship, “There were 157 chaplains who were killed or died during the war on both sides (44 Confederate)” (2008).  As evidence of bravery among chaplains, Blankenship discusses the three chaplains who were awarded the Medal of Honor.  “Methodist Rev, John Whitehead of the 15th Indiana Volunteer Infantry received the nation’s highest honor for carrying several wounded and helpless soldiers to the rear while taking enemy fire at Stone River Tenn., on Dec. 31, 1862” (Blankenship 2008).  The second was Reverend Francis Hall, with the 16th New York Infantry, who “...voluntarily exposed himself to heavy fire during the thickest of the fight and carried wounded men to the rear for treatment” (Blankenship 2008.)  And the third was Presbyterian Reverend Milton Haney of the 55th Illinois Volunteer Infantry who voluntarily carried a rifle, provided whisky to the men, and became an active combatant in the Battle of Atlanta, “further deepen[ing] the respect of the men around him” (Blankenship 2008).
            Gardiner too shares a chaplain’s story of battlefield bravery.  During the Battle of Gettysburg, chaplain William Corby “...exposing himself to enemy fire, stood up and pronounced the absolution of sin on every man he saw” (Bergen 2004, 112).  A statue honoring Corby’s bravery was later erected on the Gettysburg battlefield.  However, even among the great wartime revivals, church services, and occasional anecdote of a heroic chaplain, Gardiner argues that most chaplains failed to find purpose on the battlefield, and sometimes even among the soldiers during garrison periods.
            Baptist minister Frederic Denison “not only conducted worship services, prayed, preached, and counseled his men,” according to Gardiner, “but he also cared for the sick and wounded, buried the dead, guarded prisoners, delivered the mail, chronicled the activities of the regiment, functioned as its librarian and treasurer, taught freed slaves how to read and write, and even assisted officers as an aide-de-camp” (Bergen 2004, 106.)  Yet, even having these great service opportunities, Denison believed most chaplains were completely useless on the battlefield, specifically after he encountered a small group of chaplains who were “bewildered” and “distressed” having been separated from their unit (Bergen 2004, 107).  This was likely the case for most of the chaplains serving during the Civil War.
            However, the lack of battlefield purpose was not entirely the fault of the chaplain corp. According to Gardiner, “Since they had received no clear instructions about their responsibilities, most never really knew what was expected of them in the field” (Bergen 2004, 107).  Today, every position in the American Army, including the chaplain, has a wartime mission.  Had this been true for the Civil War chaplain, they might not have felt like, as Denison described, “a kind of fifth wheel to a coach, being in place nowhere and out of place everywhere” (Bergen 2004, 107).
            Despite the great advances of the chaplaincy in the garrison environment, most chaplains were unable to find their proper place in the fight during the Civil War. Despite the small handful of heroes, most chaplains were indeed the “5th wheel” and Denison believed.

Reference List
Bergen, Doris L. The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplain from the First to the Twenty-First Century.  Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 2004. 
Blankenship, Janie. 2008. "Chaplains Provide Spiritual Comfort on the Battle Field." VFW Magazine, November.

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.   

Church Planting in Downtown SLC

January 6, 2010

Yes. A new team  is headed our way  to plant a church in Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake City (proper) has some great Christian churches, but too few of them.  A survey from SugarHouse to the Avenues, the University to Rose Park, 2100 South to Temple Square, will turn up lots of good people but only a hand full of Christian churches.  Salt Lake City is a dry part of the vineyard. 

Ever since packing up our moving truck in Twin Falls to come back to Salt Lake, Lisa and I have been praying for Salt Lake City. We watched our friends plant a church in the South end of Seattle, a plant we thought we were going to be a part of before God called us back to SLC. I often wondered why our path did not take us with them. However, God's sovereign providence is remarkable and through a three year connect-the-dots process, I've come in contact with a church planting team headed to Salt Lake in less than a month. Lisa and I are excited for the potential of this group to join the mission of bringing Light to the city.

No.  If we get involved with this group, this does not mean we're staying in Salt Lake forever.  God willing, I will eventually serve with the Army again, this time as a chaplain. 

Thanks to the Burnside Writer's Collective (which I've written articles for) and the Mosaic: Holy Bible (which I contributed to), I connected with Kyle Costello and Kevin Rogers.  I was in Chicago on business when Kevin and I started a rapid-fire conversation via Twitter, which eventually turned into an hour-long phone call.  Last week I met Kyle and Howie (another guy coming on the plant) at Salt Lake Roasters. It was a great meeting. Kyle, Kevin, Howie, their families, and a handful of others are from Imago Dei in Portland.

I've had many people asking me for details about the plant itself; but the truth is, I really don't know much.

Here's an interview with Pastor Rick McKinley and the some of the various church planters coming:

Salt Lake City church plant from Imago Dei on Vimeo.

If you'd like more info, please don't hesitate to contact Kyle or Kevin.  And please be praying for this church plant in SLC.

The Seeds of the Chapliancy

It is doubtful that marine Chaplain (1LT) Carey H. Cash reflected upon the early beginnings of the chaplaincy as he moved across the Iraqi desert with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment; however, much of his duties today found their birth in the armies of the first through sixth century Roman empire. By examining the pre and early chaplaincy of this period, we find what might be considered the foundation of the chaplaincy as it exists today. 
Ralph W. Mathisen argues that religion was primarily a state function in the first century, often carried out by the Emperor and military commanders through a variety of ceremonial acts. “As pontifex maximus, or chief priest” states Mathisen, “the emperor had supreme responsibility for maintaining the pax deorum (peace of the gods) and ensuring that the gods who oversaw the welfare of the state continued to do so.”[1] While the role of religion by modern government officials and commanders is not as supreme as it once was in the Roman empire, and many of the religious duties have been delegated to the chaplain, we still see officials presiding over, or consuming an important role in ceremonially religious occasions, most prominently as key participants and speakers at military funerals.[2]

The third century saw the adoption of other popular cult religions among the regular soldiers of the Roman empire. With these new systems of faith came requirements for priests to perform specific ceremonial duties. Early on, these priests were civilians traveling with the military. Occasionally, soldiers performed religious duties for fellow soldiers, although these duties were not their primary military role.[3] It was this period when ideas of being close to the front lines and caring for the diverse religious needs of individual soldier started to develop.

But nothing more deeply planted the seeds of the modern chaplaincy than Constantine’s famous vision to paint a cross, a symbol of Christianity, on each soldier’s shield before entering an important battle. Michael McCormick states, “It is clear that Constantine connected his commitment to the new God with this and subsequent military successes; that commitment launched the Christianization of the empire as a whole, and the Roman army in particular.”[4] Constantine called upon priests to perform specific duties as members of the military. From this point forward, we observe priests entering the military in what may be seen as the dedicated role of the Christian chaplain.
Examining the present century, we find that the chaplain, as both a member of the military and as a religious cleric, is serving the needs of the soldier on the battlefield in an official capacity. Chaplain (1LT) Cash writes this of his 2003 experience in Iraq:
I was in the section called the “combat train.”  We were fifteen vehicles strong and consisted of the battalion’s surgeon, medical corpsmen, ammunition and food re-supply personnel, vehicle maintenance personnel, nuclear/biological/ chemical experts (NBC folks for short), and the battalion’s chaplain and RP.  The combat train’s job was simple: follow directly behind the lead combat elements of our battalion with ready re-supply materials.  It was the perfect place for me to be.  I was almost always within sight and sound of our front-line troops, yet back far enough to monitor the situation on the communication channels and able to drive immediately to any platoon or augmenting unit that needed me.[5]
Clearly, Chaplain Cash’s opportunities as a chaplain today grew from seeds planted by the pre-chaplains and chaplains of the Roman Empire.

[1] Doris L. Bergen, ed., The Sword of the Lord  (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 2004), 29-30.
[2] See Hamza Hendawi, “Emotional memorial for victims of Chinook downing.” The San Diego Union Tribune (November 7, 2003) http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/world/iraq/20031107-0226-iraq-remembering.html (accessed January 17, 2009).  Notice CSM Caldwell’s taking Role Call and the COL Teeples’ position as speaker; neither of which are chaplains or religious clerics.
[3] Bergen, 31-39.
[4] Bergen, 48.
[5] Carey H. Cash, A Table in the Presence, (Nashville, Tennessee, W. Publishing Group, 2004), 12.

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.