NYT reported There were personal testimonies about Jesus from the stage, a comedian quoting Scripture and a five-piece band performing contemporary Christian praise songs. Then hundreds of Air Force chaplains stood and sang, many with palms upturned, in a service with a distinctively evangelical tone. It was the opening ceremony of a four-day Spiritual Fitness Conference at a Hilton hotel here last month organized and paid for by the Air Force for many of its United States-based chaplains and their families, at a cost of $300,000. The chaplains, who pledge when they enter the military to minister to everyone, Methodist, Mormon or Muslim, attended workshops on "The Purpose Driven Life," the best seller by the megachurch pastor Rick Warren, and on how to improve their worship services. In the hotel hallways, vendors from Focus on the Family and other evangelical organizations promoted materials for the chaplains to use in their work.
Were evangelical organizations the only vendors present, or just the only ones that the NYT thinks are "fit to print".The event was just one indication of the extent to which evangelical Christians have become a growing force in the Air Force chaplain corps, a trend documented by military records and interviews with more than two dozen chaplains and other military officials. Figures provided by the Air Force show that from 1994 to 2005 the number of chaplains from many evangelical and Pentecostal churches rose, some doubling. For example, chaplains from the Full Gospel Fellowship of Churches and Ministries International increased to 10 from none. The Church of the Nazarene rose to 12 from 6.
This is good. There are evangelicals in the service, and they should have chaplains familiar with their faith.At the same time, the number of chaplains from the Roman Catholic Church declined to 94 from 167, and there were declines in more liberal, mainline Protestant churches: the United Church of Christ to 3 from 11, the United Methodist Church to 50 from 64.
The Catholic Church has seen a significant dropoff in new priests, so it is not surprising that the number interested in being chaplains has dropped off also.Other branches of the military did not make available similar statistics, but officials say they are seeing the same trend. The change mirrors the Air Force as a whole, where representation is rising from evangelical churches. But there are also increasing numbers of enlistees from minority religions as well as atheists. It has all created a complicated environment and caused tensions over tolerance and the role of the military chaplain.
As indicated above, they "pledge when they enter the military to minister to everyone, Methodist, Mormon or Muslim"Some conflicts have already become public. A Pentagon investigation into the religious climate at the Air Force Academy here found no overt discrimination, but it did find that officers and faculty members periodically used their positions to promote their Christian beliefs and failed to accommodate non-Christian cadets, for example refusing them time off for religious holidays.
Some faiths have a LOT of holidays; should they get a lot of time off because of that?Other conflicts have remained out of the public eye, like the 50 evangelical chaplains who have filed a class action suit against the Navy charging they were dismissed or denied promotions. One of the chaplains said that once while leading an evangelical style service at a base in Okinawa he was interrupted by an Episcopal chaplain who announced he was stepping in to lead "a proper Christian worship service." There is also a former Marine who said that about half of the eight chaplains he came into contact with in his military career tried to convince him to abandon his Mormon faith, telling him it was "wicked" or "Satanic."
That is not proper, but it is also an unattributed anacdote.Part of the struggle, chaplains and officials say, is the result of growing diversity. But part is from evangelicals following their church's teachings to make converts while serving in a military job where they are supposed to serve the spiritual needs of soldiers, fliers and sailors of every faith. Evangelical chaplains say they walk a fine line. Brig. Gen. Cecil R. Richardson, the Air Force deputy chief of chaplains, said in an interview, "We will not proselytize, but we reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched." The distinction, he said, is that proselytizing is trying to convert someone in an aggressive way, while evangelizing is more gently sharing the gospel.
Hugh Hewitt blogged The New York Times has its latest installment in the "Drive Evangelicals from the Military" series.