Friday, February 10, 2006

Air Force Issues Revised Guidelines on Religion

Christianity Today Magazine:
Air Force Issues Revised Guidelines on Religion
Interpretation varies on what one-page "interim" document means.

by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

"The Air Force issued revised guidelines on religious expression Thursday, reiterating its official neutrality on matters of belief but making subtle changes in language that drew both criticism and praise from disparate groups.

Religious activists gave diverse interpretations of whether and how the guidelines address some of the most controversial issues, such as whether Christian chaplains can evangelize and say public prayers "in Jesus' name," as many are accustomed to doing.

"We will respect the rights of chaplains to adhere to the tenets of their religious faiths and they will not be required to participate in religious activities, including public prayer, inconsistent with their faiths," the new document reads...."

I was a military dependent for 20 years, and my family lived on base while my father was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany. The housing area chapel alternated between Protestant and Catholic services, and Jewish services were held in the chapel at the other housing area. The chaplains were Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish, respectively. It seemed to me, and continues to make sense, that this is entirely appropriate, where the people attending services are there by choice, and are presumably of the same religion.

I suppose where the problem lies is not with base chaplains, but with unit chaplains, who might be called upon to minister to military personnel who may not be of the same religion.

It is hard for me to say what the issues are here as the rhetoric from both sides sounds a little suspect to me, but on the face of it, the statement seems to be fair to all sides while preserving the idea that minsters should be allowed to ... minister.

A similar situation arises in the Boy Scouts of America, where many, if not most units are composed of boys and leaders who represent a range of religions. In the troop where my son is a scout there are Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish families represented. One of my roles in scouting is that of a trainer, and we emphasize that religious services should always be provided when activities involve Sunday morning, and that such services need to be non-denominational when there are boys of varying religions. This is entirely reasonable. The Boy Scouts of America has a long history of expecting "Duty to God", but has always recognized that each boy will have his own way of performing that duty.

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