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    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




The Changing Military

Chaplains eye ministry opportunities within evolving culture

 

By John W. Kennedy
Nov. 10, 2013

Women in front-line combat roles. Benefits extended to homosexual partners. Attempts to curb religious expression. A growing problem with sexual assaults.

The evolving U.S. military in the 21st century represents a massive departure from the past. Along with new challenges, however, Assemblies of God chaplains believe there are fresh opportunities to put faith in action.

Scott McChrystal, AG Chaplaincy Ministries military and Veterans Administration representative and endorser, says the armed forces have improved in many ways since his days as an infantry officer and then an active duty Army chaplain.

Whether women have the strength and endurance to handle infantry and special forces fighting positions will be revealed when restrictions are lifted in 2016. Yet McChrystal views the overall expanding presence of women in the military as positive because they bring equal intelligence and abilities as men. McChrystal has no doubt the military will succeed in assimilating more females in the ranks.


PROMOTING EQUALITY

James T. Denley, an AG Navy chaplain who began active duty in 1991, says sailors living in close quarters must rely on each other, whether male or female.

“At sea, sailors depend on each other for the basics of life,” says Denley, who has been a permanent member of a cruiser, an amphibious ship, and an aircraft carrier.

Priscilla Mondt, a VA chaplain who spent 31 years in the Army, believes the military is one of the most egalitarian institutions in the nation because every participant is valued.

“The military is the best representation of what the apostle Paul said Christianity should be,” Mondt says. “There are no class, gender or ethnicity distinctions.”

“This is a place women can go far and shatter the glass ceiling,” says Alison L. Ward, who became an active duty military chaplain in January at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Ward, as a young, female, African-American chaplain, believes her gender works in her favor in counseling.

“Male soldiers feel they can talk to me and not have to worry about their ego,” Ward says. “They can talk to me as a sister, and not feel as though I’m judging their manhood.”

Ward says anti-sexual harassment measures that have been put into practice lately, especially regarding computer use, have been helpful to morale. One of every seven soldiers in Ward’s unit is female.

Mondt, chief of chaplain services at the Fayetteville (Ark.) VA Medical Center, has seen plenty of gender progress. When she first enlisted, women were segregated from men in daily operations and had to wear separate uniforms. Now women are expected to perform at the same level as men and they receive the same pay.

“When people are hurting bad enough, they don’t care who you are,” Mondt says. 

However, while women always have maintained an image as nurturers, they have had to overcome a prejudicial perception they don’t understand the rigors of war, Mondt says. Because she is a veteran of Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, having earned a Bronze Star in combat and the Legion of Merit, Mondt is able to quickly dispel notions she is unable to understand trauma when visiting wounded veterans.

While the Army is a leader in many venues, Mondt says the number of women in the ranks lags, compared to some other parts of society.

“The younger generation believes women can do anything because they see women CEOs and company presidents,” Mondt says. “But when they join the Army, women are underrepresented.”

That can send the wrong message, according to Mondt.

“The role of women is a visible sign of diversity,” Mondt says. “If younger people don’t see women represented, they don’t think the younger generation or ethnicities are being embraced.”

McChrystal notes the military has led the way in career advancement for minorities.

“If it works in the military, which it usually does, it will be implemented in society at large,” McChrystal believes.

Ward thinks the Army provides a microcosmic model for the nation, and she says personnel of various races interact well where she is stationed.

“People realize blatant prejudice and narrow-minded opinions regarding someone’s nationality or creed won’t be tolerated in the military,” Ward says.

Scott F. Norman, an African-American AG chaplain at Fort Campbell, Ky., is a native of Virginia who has witnessed various forms of discrimination in the past. But he says the pluralistic environment of the military is a breath of fresh air.


EXPRESSING SPIRITUALITY

McChrystal concedes there have been increasing pressures in some quarters to suppress Christian freedoms in the military. But he says Congress, interest groups, and denominations — as endorsing agencies — have done a good job making sure religious rights aren’t curtailed.

“Many worry about the future of the chaplaincy, but I don’t think we need to worry,” McChrystal says. “Commanders, by and large, recognize the value of chaplains. But we do recognize ongoing attempts by the liberal agenda to diminish some forms of religious freedoms for chaplains.”

The mission of the 194 AG military/VA chaplains and their 6,000-plus counterparts (in all services) is to provide care for all those in uniform and their families, regardless of their spiritual beliefs — or lack of them. As the war on terror continues and multiple deployments become more frequent, problems of suicide, domestic violence, depression and sexual assault in the military have grown, leading to a greater need for chaplain involvement.

“To date, there has been no successful effort to change existing policies and guidelines,” McChrystal says. “AG military/VA chaplains in the field report that ministry continues to be strong.”

Norman has been a chaplain for two years, following nearly two decades in other ministry.

“I’ve never experienced the freedom that I have being an army chaplain, not even close,” Norman says. “This is a time when chaplains have the opportunity to be a light.”

“One of the great things about the AG is our commitment — from Sunday Schools to world missions — to love people to Christ,” says Denley, who has been director of policy and strategy with the Navy Chief of Chaplains Office at the Pentagon since 2011. “So as a chaplain I can be that witness of Jesus’ love and an instrument of the Holy Spirit wherever I go — from the flight deck with the airmen, to the bowels of a ship’s engine room with machinist mates.”

Chester C. Egert says if a soldier is open to ministry, then he as an AG chaplain is able to share the gospel as well as to address personal problems. Egert can provide crisis or marriage counseling to troops of various religious backgrounds.

“I’ve seen positive growth in terms of chaplains who have a true heart and mind to really care about soldiers and have a real burden for the Great Commission,” says Egert, who has been an Army chaplain for 28 years in 13 locations.

Few restrictions on religious expression exist, according to Egert, who now is stationed at Fort Lee, Va. There is no official Army policy prohibiting chaplains from offering prayers in Jesus’ name, he says, and only rarely does a local commander request that a generic prayer be recited.

Likewise, Egert says the Army doesn’t require a chaplain to perform a task — such as officiate a same-sex wedding ceremony — that violates his or her conscience.

Egert says Pentecostal chaplains have gained the respect of soldiers because they don’t sit in an air-conditioned office all day.

“We go where the troops are and get our boots muddy,” Egert says.

Ward says she understands there will be soldiers with different religious views from her beliefs, but she never has had trouble being able to minister in a pluralistic environment. She says the apostle Paul’s encounter with the altar of an unknown god in Acts 17 inspires her in counseling situations.

“Soldiers know I am a Christian chaplain, and that is my perspective in addressing their issues and concerns,” Ward says. “I find ways to share my faith clearly and in a manner productive to bridging that gap, while at the same time being true to my God and respectful of their personhood.”


JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

 

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