Religion in the Military
Published on: February 23, 2011
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  • Brian Westley

    Your article would have been better without the mocking and belittling tone towards atheists and Wiccans.

  • I’m not an expert on the U.S. armed forces, but from what little I’ve heard I seriously doubt the accuracy of the 3% evangelical statistic used in the first article. Perhaps it is based on actual membership instead of personal beliefs and background. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if well over 33% of servicemembers could be accurately described as “evangelical” in belief and practice.

  • Paul

    I am an Army officer with seventeen years’ service. I, too, very much doubt that only 3% of soldiers are evangelical Christians. I would guess that at least a third of them are evangelicals, at least a third are passively irreligious, and the remainder are either of some other sect (I am Roman Catholic), another religion (whether really, or as a fad), or actively irreligious. As one rises in rank, whether enlisted or officer, I would say that the prevalence of evangelicalism increases.

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  • Joanna

    Yes, I agree with Paul and Stephen. If the Christian Survey’s statistics are from the RIPS 2010 survey, it’s a misprint (0.3%) and they ought to have noted that “Evangelical” was apparently a category _in addition to_ the various denominations. Odd way of doing it…there are evangelicals in almost every denomination. It puts “Baptist” alone at 18%. http://www.deomi.org/EOEEOResources/documents/Training_for_Religious_Awareness_Hunter_and_Smith.pdf.

  • In responding to Stephen, I am an expert on the US Armed Forces, especially the Army and the way it counts religious preference for Soldiers. I’m afraid that the system is quite antiquated and does not offer a true representation of the religious pluralism in the military today. Yes, there are quite a lot of Evangelicals currently in the force (I use the term Evangelical in this case as those Christian denominations represented in the National Association of Evangelicals). Therefore the percentages cited in the Christian Century article are misleading.
    Another item is that while Liberty University has a specialized program for Chaplaincy, so do a lot of other denominational seminaries and this is nothing new, many of these programs were established in the 90s during the Reagan surge in troop strength. In addition, while Liberty may have a thousand students in their program I have it on good authority that many of these are distance learning students and that the Armed Forces accessioning boards avoid candidates with weak resumes except during times of great shortages. Since we once had over 160k troops in Iraq and now we have about 40k you can imagine that many of these students will be disappointed if their direction is only to active duty chaplaincy.
    While many a new chaplain has come into the military with a focus on their mission to change the institution, most soon find (as I understand is true for foreign missionaries, despite the information in their fundraising appeals) that working in institutional ministry requires a healthy dose of tolerance and pluralism if one is to survive their initial assignment.
    Last, let me say a word about comprehensive Soldier fitness. This is a program designed by Brigadier General Ronda Cornum, a prisoner of war survivor, which emphasizes post traumatic growth. The program is based on Positive Psychology as posited by Marty Seligman of UPenn. It is not a religious program in any way but some of the traditional elements of what have been historically called spiritual fitness have been cobbled in to fit under this new umbrella and spirituality is only one, optional, element. Yes even the Army has its fads and it remains to be seen if this one will survive the retirement of BG Cornum and the current Army Chief of Staff.
    In conclusion, the military chaplaincy, not unlike any institutional ministry, is a place where one stands between the institutional clause and the establishment clause of the first amendment. In order to maintain the right to practice your own faith you must defend the faith of everyone. I personally think that is also a Christian thing to do.

  • Mark

    Brian,

    As one of those 1,000 Liberty Baptist Theolical Seminary students in the MDiv Chaplaincy program- distance learning- I take expection to your perception that “we” are somewhat “weaker” candidates. Many of us, icluding myself, have served long and accomplished career (I am in my 17th year of Active Duty). In fact, most of the student in the distance learning MDiv are on active duty. My liason, who is the 06 in charge of Chaplain recruting for the reserves, will always try to hire within the ranks vice commissioning a recent seminary grad with no prior service.

  • Marco

    There is an article from Jeff Brady (NPR), claiming that 40 percent of active duty troops and even 60 percent of chaplains are evangelical (I suppose in the broader sense – NAE, SBC, fundamentalist, pentecostal etc.)
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4772331

    While I could verify the first number with the help of DoDs statistics on the religion of active duty personnel, I have no idea where Brady got his information about the 60 percent evangelical chaplains. Does anybody else have an idea?

    Greetings from Germany..

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