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Military chaplains: a rich history of more than just blessing the cannons

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Another interesting example is the case of chaplains in South Africa. Chaplains there were implicated in the apartheid system, and also in the aggressive use of military against neighboring countries. After the war, with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, one of the points of focus was the chaplain in the military.

After World War II ended … when new militaries were established in West Germany and East Germany, the roles of the chaplains were completely revised. In the East there were to be no chaplains; they didn't really fit in [to Communism].

In West Germany, the new role of the chaplain was to be ... a conscience of the military. That the chaplains suddenly were supposed to be available to not only counsel military leaders about the moral right and wrong of their decisions and actions, but also to provide counseling to soldiers, including providing counseling in the ways to be a conscientious objector. Chaplains were supposed to be the outside voice inside the military.

Has the US military chaplaincy been pioneering in any way?

The biggest thing, of course, has to do with the landscape of religious institutions in North America, but especially in the US. There were already a fair number of Christian groups represented [in the chaplaincy] in World War II.

Now, there are literally hundreds of different kinds of religions represented, and the big change has been in the past 20, 30 years, the rise of evangelical Christianity among chaplains. That makes an enormous difference – when suddenly instead of just, to give an example, Lutherans and Catholics, you have Pentecostal and people from the Alliance Church, and people who are actively interested in proselytizing. It gives a very, very different dimension to the chaplaincy.

Why has this happened?

[These are] rapidly growing churches and religious groups, they would obviously want to reach out to these people under pressure, and often, far from home and far from families. So it's very appealing, I think, for them to be present..... What better mission field than the military?

And from the point of view of the military, it's quite understandable if you think about the importance of having chaplains. [For the Catholic Church], it's become increasingly difficult even to fill the positions of parish priests. Hardly anybody wants to go into the priesthood, seminaries are getting smaller all the time. So how are you going to find enough to fill all these chaplain positions?

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