Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Important News about U.S. Military Chaplains

Two important articles emerged this week about military chaplaincy. First, the Associated Press reported that the Rev. Tim Vakoc, a Catholic priest from Minnesota who lost an eye and was severely brain damaged by a roadside bomb in Iraq five years ago, has died.
    "A man of peace, he chose to endure the horror of war in order to bring the peace of Christ to America's fighting men and women," Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a statement. "He has been an inspiration to us all and we will miss him. We ask everyone to remember him in prayer."

    The major was hospitalized for four months at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, and was transferred in a near coma to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis in October 2004.

    After many surgeries and infections, he slowly started to recognize friends and family, and began to communicate with squeezes of the hand or slight smiles. In the fall of 2006, he spoke for the first time in 2 1/2 years.

    Vakoc, a Robbinsdale native, served as a parish priest before becoming an Army chaplain in 1996, and serving in Germany and Bosnia. He shipped out to Iraq shortly before his 44th birthday.
We say goodbye, and thank you for your service, Father.

[Image via CaringBridge.org.]

The other article, from Newsweek, offers a strong report on the "problem of an evangelical military culture that sees spreading Christianity as part of its mission." Here's a snippet filled with some good information:
    [This culture] is influenced in part by changes in outlook among the various branches' 2,900 chaplains, who are sworn to serve all soldiers, regardless of religion, with a respectful, religiously pluralistic approach. However, with an estimated two thirds of all current chaplains affiliated with evangelical and Pentecostal denominations, which often prioritize conversion and evangelizing, and a marked decline in chaplains from Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches, this ideal is suffering. Historian Anne C. Loveland attributes the shift to the Vietnam War, when many liberal churches opposed to the war supplied fewer chaplains, creating a vacuum filled by conservative churches. This imbalance was exacerbated by regulation revisions in the 1980s that helped create hundreds of new "endorsing agencies" that brought a flood of evangelical chaplains into the military and by the simple fact that evangelical and Pentecostal churches are the fastest-growing in the U.S.

    The chaplains minister to flocks that are, on the whole, slightly less religious than the general population and slightly less evangelical. According to a 2008 Department of Defense survey, 22 percent of active-duty members of the military described themselves as evangelical or Pentecostal (although the actual number of evangelical-minded believers is likely higher when encompassing personnel who follow more evangelical expressions of mainline Protestant denominations, as well as a sizable percentage of the additional 20 percent that describe themselves simply as "Christian").
We have two students in our program who are military chaplain candidates, but all kinds of chaplains and other clergy should definitely read the article in full here.

[Image via Newsweek.]

No comments:

Post a Comment