Before I go into this topic I should share two things: 1) I am a Christian, and 2) I am a military chaplain. Based on this you may be able to guess my answer to the above question.
Having said that, I have been challenged on this both directly by friends and indirectly in books. Sometimes the focus is on Christians in a combat role and other times the criticism explicitly includes military chaplains.
For this argument to make any sense it must assume that Christianity requires pacifism. I would want to question that assumption. I will do so in a future post. But for the sake of argument, let us go with the idea that Christians should be pacifists when looking at the issue of military chaplaincy.
There are two questions that need to be asked: 1) should Christians minister to the military, and 2) should that ministry take place by Christians in uniform?
I have actually heard of Christians questioning whether or not it is appropriate to minister to veterans or people currently serving in the military. Why would this even be a question? For those Christians who are strongly pacifistic, those who are in the military would have completely opposite values. Also, anything other than convincing them to leave the military could end up helping them to become better soldiers.
I find this argument hard to take. The same Christians who question ministering to the military would not hesitate to minister to prostitutes and drug addicts. They would never worry about that ministry condoning the actions of those they are ministering to. In addition, there is no hint in the Bible of anyone standing outside the right to be ministered to.
So let us now assume that ministry to the military is acceptable. Should that ministry take place inside or outside a military context? I do believe that local churches need to reach out to those in the military. Particularly because of experiences in Afghanistan, the military needs us more than ever.
But that ministry should take place in partnership with military chaplaincy. Incarnational ministry has proven itself to be one of the most effective means of ministry. This is the model that Jesus has given us. How much more incarnational can we get than putting on the same uniform as the soldiers we are trying to minister to? Chaplains receive military training (except for weapons training) that creates a bond with the soldiers. Military chaplains have opportunities for ministry that Christians outside of the military do not have.
But what if Christians are supposed to be pacifists (which I do not believe)? The good news is that chaplains do not handle weapons and will never be allowed to fight in a combat situation. At least in the Canadian military, chaplains are the only ones who are not allowed to carry weapons. A chaplain could be a pacifist as long as they were still willing to minister to soldiers.
Should Christians serve as military chaplains? Perhaps not every Christian should take on this role, but a Christian surely can serve and minister as chaplains without compromising their Christian faith.