A Military at an Impasse: Chaplains or Social Workers?
USAF Chaplain School
In the height of the Cold War and in the wake of Vietnam, the military went to great lengths to recruit Christians. Our leaders promoted the Cold War in terms of our Christianity in contrast with the cold, murderous Atheism of the Soviet Union. It was not uncommon for recruiting magazines to portray outstanding Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who were outspoken evangelical Christians. I know, because I received those publications during my high school days.
The Christian answered the call: they would go to West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs; they would enlist and become Rangers and Green Berets and Pararescuemen; they would become Air Force pilots, Naval Aviators, Marines, missile launch officers, combat infantryman, aircraft mechanics, medics, and sonar technicians.
Ten years after the fall of Saigon in 1975–when military morale was low–the American military had literally remade itself into the fighting force that won the Cold War. The Christian played an integral role in that turnaround.
This is not surprising, as Christians have always been the spiritual backbone of the Armed Forces.
Prior to the rescue of the Cabanatuan POW camp–where the 6th Ranger Battalion rescued 508 Allied POWs who survived the Bataan Death March and were marked for extermination–Col. Henry Mucci warned those who wanted to fight: “There will be no atheists on this trip.” He forbade any Ranger from participating the mission unless they had met with a chaplain and prayed about it. After the mission, Col. Mucci was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross.
Fast forward 70 years…
On November 20, 2014, at a suicide prevention class for the 5th Ranger Training Battalion, Chaplain Joseph Lawhorn–a rare chaplain who also wore the Ranger Tab and who himself had suffered depression–provided Biblical resources for dealing with depression. During the Cold War, this would have been quite welcome, and Lawhorn would be a front-page champion for the Army: the Ranger who promotes the highest virtues as a Chaplain.
Unfortunately, someone in the class barked at the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, and, as a result, Lawhorn received a “Letter of Concern” from Col. David Fivecoat on Thanksgiving Day.
So let’s get this straight: we’ve gone from a culture where a Ranger Colonel excludes atheists from a major rescue mission–demanding that they meet with a chaplain and pray about it first–and gets a Distinguished Service Cross, to a culture where a Ranger Chaplain provides Biblical resources for suicide and, for doing so, gets a career-threatening “letter of concern” from a Ranger Colonel?
Vietnam veteran Col. Ronald D. Ray (USMC, Ret) has been following this decline over the last three decades. From his defense of Michael New, who rightly refused to wear United Nations insignia, to his defense of Virginia Military Institute, which came under attack for their pre-meal prayer, Col. Ray is not surprised by the recent developments.
“None of our founding fathers would have supported this. Our military was founded to uphold our highest virtues. What else is a Chaplain supposed to do? This is a suicide prevention class and a chaplain provides Biblical references. He was doing his job.”
Our military is at an impasse. An institution that once reinforced the best of American virtues is turning chaplains into a secular social workers; an institution that, for 200 years, enthusiastically welcomed the Christian is now pushing that very Christian out of the service.
This is out of character for a military that has a time-honored track record of supporting the Christian consensus that made America exceptional. At First Principles Press, we have amassed a collection of prayers and exhortations by our Founding Fathers, military leaders, and Presidents: Endowed By Their Creator.
Here is an example of a prayer from that collection, that was once a part of the West Point Prayer Book:
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage;
We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a
people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land
with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save
us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance,
and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one
united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds
and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy
Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be
justice and peace at home, and that, through the obedience to thy law,
we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In
the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the
day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail, all which we ask
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Even the hardest of hardcore Generals, Lt. Gen. George Patton, provided similar leadership in prayer:
God of our Fathers, who by land and sea has ever led us on to
victory, please continue Your inspiring guidance in this the greatest
of our conflicts.
Strengthen my soul so that the weakening instinct of self-
preservation, which besets all of us in battle, shall not blind me to
my duty to my own manhood, to the glory of my calling, and to my
responsibility to my fellow soldiers.
Grant to our armed forces the disciplined valor and mutual
confidence which insures success in war.
Let me not mourn for men who have died fighting, but rather
let me be glad that such heroes have lived.
If it be my lot to die, let me do so with courage and honor in a
manner which will bring the greatest harm to the enemy, and please,
O Lord, protect and guide those I shall leave behind.
Give us the victory, O Lord. Amen.
At the end of World War II, Gen. Douglas MacArthur–a Five Star General–called on Americans to send Christian missionaries to Japan.
In other words, at this time, a Ranger chaplain is under assault for providing counsel that is totally in line with the heritage of The United States Military Academy, and the spirit in which great generals–from Washington to Patton and MacArthur–led our Armed Forces to their greatest victories in the worst of conflicts.
Reclaiming that heritage from a small, but noisy and well-funded cadre of scoffers, will be key to American survival.