Terrorism Prompts More Adventists to Join the Military

Source: Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries

[March 5, 2007] War hardly seems the likely venue for encouraging spiritual ventures, yet conflict can spawn great good. The unCivil War Between the States helped birth the Adventist Church organization. World War II brought Medical Cadet Corps and military chaplains to denominational awareness. Adventists responded to the Korean and Vietnam conflicts by volunteering for Operation Whitecoat. The Global War on Terrorism has prompted increasing numbers of Adventists to join the Armed Forces and over 100 ministers to serve as military chaplains. What motivates Adventists to voluntarily perform public service during times that could possibly place them in personal danger?

Adventists are citizens of two kingdoms. Natural birth bequeaths citizenship in the homeland of one’s parents, whereas citizenship in God’s heavenly kingdom comes with the new birth experience. Both kingdoms require allegiance and place demands on the individual. How do dual citizens prioritize loyalties, especially when situations cause a choice between expectations? When pressed to choose, most Adventists would readily acknowledge their first allegiance should be to a heavenly kingdom, but would also admit feeling torn by a sense of duty to their earthly homeland.

This dilemma can be resolved by exercising a practical faith that fulfills spiritual responsibilities to God by serving one’s fellow man. Such faith operates on a horizontal as well as on a vertical azimuth; it balances the objective with the subjective. Warped faith becomes so heavenly oriented it is no earthly good. Adventism advocates a balanced, holistic lifestyle that endeavors to prepare people for meeting Jesus Christ.

When called to serve their earthly kingdom, Adventists around the world have found ways to honorably serve God and country. John Weidner saved over 1,100 Dutch and French Jews from Nazi concentration camps. Walter Loge’ treated wounded Wermacht soldiers on the Eastern Front during WW II. Keith Argraves, Desmond Doss and many other servicemen who should be named endured POW camps, wounds and hardships while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during all the conflicts of the past sixty years. Some Adventists like Jack Pomeroy in Vietnam lost their lives in the process of saving life. Public service often demands personal sacrifice.

Besides being conscripted, Adventists serve in the military for a variety of reasons. Patriotism and a sense of belonging appeal, while the liberal benefits are attractive. Some seek adventure, vocational training, or a job. Others join to practice the helping professions. Some personnel convert to Adventism and continue serving in the military. Adventist ministers wear the uniform for some of those reasons, but primarily to insure thousands of church members can freely “exercise their religion.” These clergy ambassadors enter circles normally closed to denominational influence and represent Adventism by their ministry of presence.

Currently, 50 Adventist chaplains serve on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States. Another forty belong to units in the Reserve Components, and over twenty volunteer in the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the U. S. Air Force. Since 2002 several Adventist chaplains have been deployed in Afghanistan and over a fourth have served in Iraq. One Adventist chaplain has been awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received from enemy fire. Many of those who have been deployed overseas are chaplains assigned to one of the Reserve Components like Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Keith Mattingly, U. S. Army Retired, who teaches at Andrews University and Chaplain (Major) Juan Borges, secretary of the Southern New England Conference who recently returned from a year of duty with the Army in Iraq.

Contrary to one popular misperception, ministers do not leave the ministry when they become chaplains. All chaplains are pastors, but not all pastors are called to be chaplains. Much like their civilian peers, military chaplains provide worship services, sacraments, religious education, and pastoral care for Air Force, Army and Navy personnel and their family members. But chaplains do more. They are advisors to commanders on matters of morale, morals and religion. They conduct leadership training, marriage and family seminars, singles retreats, suicide prevention classes and numerous other events and programs that promote spiritual well-being. When their unit deploys or their ship sails, they accompany it in peace and war. Through ministry of presence the chaplain endeavors to bring men and women to God and God to those who must do their duty during difficult times. Spiritual readiness contributes to moral ascendancy and moral ascendancy is the basis for victory. Before the battle chaplains prepare the living. During battle chaplains nurture the wounded and minister to the dying. After the battle chaplains honor the dead. Chaplains must be courageous in spirit and compassionate in service.

Few ministers are acknowledged to be a person’s pastor who is not the pastor of that person’s church or does not belong to the same faith. Yet, routinely service members of all faiths or even no faith readily say with some enthusiasm and pride, “That’s my chaplain!” Chaplains minister in a religiously pluralistic setting to enhance the faith of those they serve, rather than impose their own faith on the service member. The focus of ministry rests on the service member instead of building a religious kingdom on earth or the chaplain’s ego. That requires a high degree of professional, personal and spiritual security. Chaplains benefit from extensive periodic training and schooling. Most chaplains have additional degrees beyond the M.Div. Many are specialists in marriage and family therapy, healthcare or prison ministries, world religions, etc. Chaplains represent some of the brightest and best clergy of their endorsed faiths. They are an excellent asset and resource to their denominations.

Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries (ACM) fosters and oversees all types of chaplaincies for the denomination: campus, corrections, healthcare, military-related and workplace. Presently, the ACM Department serves both the General Conference and the North American Division. The directors wear two hats. Nearly 350 Adventists express their ministry as chaplains in North America. In the other twelve divisions of the world Church, the concept of chaplaincy is catching on. Nearly 300 persons are engaged in chaplaincy type ministries. ACM seeks quality rather than quantity. Chaplains must give evidence of their calling to this specialized expression of ministry. They remain accountable to and must maintain ties with the Church. ACM provides endorsement, resources, training and other forms of support to Adventist chaplains.

During the two World Wars of the Twentieth Century Adventists drafted into the military often experienced opposition for living their faith. Some were court-martialed and imprisoned. Since the Church has endorsed chaplains, those kinds of occurrences have become rare. Adventist chaplains resolve most conflicts around accommodation of religious practice behind the scenes at the lowest levels. In 1984 Congress enacted legislation that mandated the Department of Defense recognize and accommodate, with certain caveats, religious practices such as dietary requirements, observance of holy days and the Sabbath, wearing of religious apparel and medical treatment. Department of Defense Directive 1300.17 requires each of the services to follow suit. Adventist members in uniform who logically, sincerely and consistently practice their faith are valued by commanders and seldom experience conflicts over religious practices. These service persons are contributing to their commands, communities and chapels. They are not causing commanders problems like so many non-members do with alcohol misuse, family disturbances and minimal duty performance.

Though chaplains must be cognizant of religious pluralism, they are not required to violate the tenets of their endorsed faith. Chaplains are free to preach, teach and practice their own faith, in so far as distinctive faith services and observances are advertised as such and participation is voluntary. Chaplains can pray anywhere, anytime, in any manner; however, when invited to pray at events where attendance is mandatory and the audience is comprised of many faiths or no faith, Christian courtesy and respect would dictate the prayer be faith neutral. By Geneva Convention, all military chaplains are noncombatants and do not bear, train with or use weapons.

Within a relatively short span Adventist chaplains have been promoted to the highest leadership levels of the military chaplaincies. Barry Black served as the Navy’s Chief of Chaplains before becoming the Chaplain for the United States Senate. Chaplain (Colonel) William Broome is the Pentagon’s pastor, while Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Jonathan McGraw serves in a key position as the only chaplain in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel (also in the Pentagon). Chaplain Dave Girardin was recently promoted to Captain in the Navy and serves as Chief of Pastoral Care in a large naval hospital. The Deputy Command Chaplain in Iraq is Lieutenant Colonel Steve Torgerson, USAF. Whether in supervisory, leadership positions or just beginning their first tour of duty, Adventist chaplains are making a credible difference as positive witnesses for the faith and pastors to our members. They are “Telling the World” and baptizing scores of adults.

One other thought bears mentioning. Adventist chaplains frequently assist local conferences in which they are assigned as church elders, interim pastors, supply preachers, subject matter experts, etc. The denomination benefits from their services and saves over four million tithe dollars* annually, if their employment were paid by the Church instead of the government.

More than 5,000 clergy from nearly 200 faiths are chaplains in all elements of the U.S. Armed Services. So how does a minister become a military chaplain? The U. S. Government establishes requirements for age, education, physical condition and security, but leaves to the various faith groups to determine who is clergy. Faiths recognized by the Department of Defense can endorse their spiritual leaders for service as military chaplains. Ecclesiastical endorsement is a pre-requisite to becoming a chaplain. Even after appointment as a chaplain, endorsement is mandatory for continual service. All three military services require a minimum of two years of experience as pastor-in-charge-of-a-church. Adventist pastors interested in the military chaplaincy should contact Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries (ACM) and check out the Internet web site of the military branch chaplaincy that interests them.

The military services enable seminarians to examine the chaplaincy through the chaplain candidate program. While studying as full-time students and during intern years, candidates can attend the officer basic course at the chaplains school of their respective service and train up to 45 days annually under the supervision of an active duty chaplain. Today, twenty Adventists are chaplain candidates including recent graduates like Ensign Adrienne Townsend, U. S. Navy. They believe themselves called to this expression of ministry and are exploring its possibilities as they prepare for service.

Seminary graduates face a major challenge. There are more of them than opportunities for denominational employment as pastors. Some conferences are also reluctant to hire graduates who feel called to chaplaincy ministries. So where does someone who has committed seven or more years of their life in school and tens of thousands of dollars to prepare for the ministry, obtain the pre-requisite pastoral experience essential for a chaplaincy ministry? “I hope greater numbers of conference leaders recognize the validity of chaplaincy ministries and their contribution to the denominational mission,” says Gary Councell, Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries associate director. “I have faith that arrangements can be made for seminary graduates to obtain pastoral experience even if they cannot be employed as full-time pastors. There are ways to achieve professional proficiencies by alternative tracks as outlined in the North American Division Working Policy. That kind of help by Church leaders would open the door for those who are called to chaplaincy ministries, but do not get hired as pastors. It’s a win-win for the denomination and graduate.”

*Figure is based on average denominational pay for ordained ministers.

NOTE: This is the first in a series of coming articles about Adventists and military service. Watch in coming months for others on the pros and cons of enlisting and personal experiences by Adventists in the military.

For more on this topic visit Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries.