When I tell people that I am a military chaplain, there is one concern that is frequently bought up.
Am I forced to compromise my Christian faith?
I would respond with an emphatic “no” and yet when I describe my duties, some might interpret it as a “yes.”
I am only speaking about military chaplaincy in Canada. I have no experience with the United States or other countries, although I would love to hear from other chaplains.
The Chaplain Branch is not a Christian ministry. We have a number of Jewish and Muslim chaplains in addition to the Catholic and Protestant chaplains. When we do services, such as for Remembrance Day or other special commemorations, they are done in a non-sectarian way. That is, they are not specifically Christian and are done in a way to be as inclusive as possible. When we pray, we do not conclude the prayer with “in Jesus’ name” (although I have done that and no one complained).
More importantly than this, military chaplaincy does not include proselytization. When a Muslim soldier comes to me for help, I do not attempt to convert them to Christianity. I do not walk up to random soldiers and try to convince them that Christianity is the one true religion (even though I do believe that Christianity is the one true religion).
Having read these statements, I can see how some would think that Christian chaplains are forced to compromise their faith. But this is based on a misunderstanding.
My job with the Canadian Armed Forces is as a military chaplain and not as a Christian evangelist. This is no more a compromise than a Christian doctor who treats diseases rather than attempting to convert patients. As a chaplain I have a very specific role.
My job as a military chaplain is that of “ministering to our own, facilitating the worship of others, and caring for all.”
What that means is that I am understood as a Christian chaplain and one ordained by a Baptist denomination. I am never asked to do something that conflicts with my tradition. I can speak freely with other Protestants and minister to them in a fully Christian context with lots of Jesus talk.
It also means that I must be a support to those of other traditions. I am not a Catholic, Muslim or Jew, but I can find soldiers of those traditions the religious resources they need. I can point them to other chaplains or civilian clergy/religious leaders. This does not compromise my faith in any way.
I also provide care for every soldier that I interact with. When there is a soldier in need, it does not matter if they are evangelical, Muslim or atheist. Emotional needs are emotional needs and religious beliefs do not interfere with my ministry to them.
What about my Christian witness to the soldiers? Although my role is not evangelism, I hope that the way I carry myself is a positive witness for Christianity. I am allowed to speak about my own beliefs. I have been asked about why I left atheism or what I think of the Bible and I am completely free to give honest answers to those questions. I would love for the soldiers to see something attractive in Christianity, but I will never endanger my ministry to them by forcing my beliefs upon them.
I am an evangelical Christian. I am a Christian military chaplain. My job is not to be a missionary to the armed forces, attempting to convert every soldier I meet. That is no more a compromise than any other job where people have specific roles. My job is to care for the needs of the troops, providing spiritual and religious care as needed and requested.
While I can see the frustration of those who see military chaplaincy as being an evangelistic opportunity to convert the army, I see military chaplaincy as an opportunity to be a Christian presence while fulfilling the role assigned to me by both the Chaplain Branch and the Canadian Forces.