Home Religion Religion in the Ranks: Belief and Religious Experience in the Canadian Forces
Religious Accommodation and the Loss of Moral Consensus
Starting with the British Chaplain Service, a sentiment of Christian supremacy has been present in the chaplaincy since its beginnings. Historically, clergy were present as much to serve the warriors as to invoke victory and even to fight in battle. Evidence of this context is seen in the former chaplains' badge (now the Christian chaplains' badge) that bore the image of a Maltese Cross, a symbol worn by the Templar Knights who guaranteed Christians safe passage as they journeyed to Jerusalem during the Crusades. This badge was adopted from the British chaplaincy and then modified so that the laurel leaves - the mark of victory - were replaced by a wreath of maple leaves. The badge bore the Latin motto In Hoc Signo Vinces ('In this sign you shall conquer'), which recalls the victory of the Roman Emperor Constantine at the Milvian Bridge, a victory that would lead to the Christianization of the Roman Empire. While Canadian military motivation during the First and Second World Wars was more aligned with the Christian notion of 'fighting the good fight'35 than imposing the Christian doctrine, the culture remained strongly integrated with the notion of military power and domination inherent in the British system.36
Administrative practices, government regulations, and court decisions following the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms secularized all Canadian institutions by removing the Christian elements embedded in them. In the CF chaplaincy, which by nature is a religious institution, the Charter has presented a need to become multifaith rather than exclusively Christian. In accordance with the spirit of the Charter as it has been interpreted by the courts, military chaplains of all faith traditions are required to 'accommodate the fundamental religious requirements of [CF] members' (DND 2003g). They do this by offering opportunities for religious worship, performing the Christian sacraments (e.g., marriage, baptism), visiting the sick and imprisoned, offering pastoral counselling and crisis intervention, and advising on moral and ethical matters. As more non-Christians join the CF, the fundamental religious requirements have changed, and chaplains have had to modify a number of their basic beliefs, practices, and traditions. For example, in 2005 senior officials in the Chaplain Branch changed the controversial branch motto noted above to the more inclusive Vocatio Ad Servitium or 'Called to Serve.' Furthermore, while Christian chaplains continue to bear the Maltese cross on their badge, new badges were introduced for Muslim and Jewish chaplains showing symbols more appropriate for these traditions. The Muslim badge bears an image of the crescent moon symbolic of Islam while the Jewish badge depicts the stone tablets of the Torah (the laws given to Moses by God) and the Star of David.
Like the badge, the official hymn of the chaplaincy, Onward Christian Soldiers, affirmed a culture of Christian superiority and was changed to the more inclusive Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee. What is interesting about this change is that it works well for those belonging to Abrahamic traditions. Whether the branch will change this tradition again as other groups join, revert to allowing greater differentiation between the religious traditions (as in the pre-unification era), or drop the tradition altogether remains to be seen.
In other areas, chaplains are making efforts to include non-Christians in events such as Remembrance Day ceremonies, Royal Military College (RMC) parades, and other public military ceremonies. For example, in 2002, officer cadets at RMC held their first-ever official multifaith religious service. Among the participants were representatives from the First Nations, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. Roman Catholic Padre Swavek Gorniak was quoted as saying, 'This celebration reflects the diversity and plurality of RMC and Canada as a nation... The symbolism of this service should extend well beyond RMC's grounds. Without a doubt, the ability of Canadians from all backgrounds to successfully, peacefully and prosperously co-exist within the same borders truly makes Canada a model for the rest of the world' (Dionne 2002). Other formal ceremonies, such as the consecration of the National Military Cemetery, have also involved representatives from the Buddhist, Christian, First Nations, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh traditions (DND 2007a).
In 2003, the Department of National Defence Directorate of Military Gender Integration and Employment Equity published an innovative book that provides information on a number of different faith groups in the CF. Religions in Canada describes 'major religious and spiritual requirements and tenets, including celebrations and observances as well as dress, dietary, medical and health requirements' of 38 different religious groups in Canada (DND 2003g). Twenty-seven of the groups in this book are Christian minority groups and 11 are non-Christian groups including Rastafarianism, Wicca, Native Spirituality, and Zoroastrianism.
A number of interfaith worship spaces have been created on bases across Canada either by modifying Christian chapels or building a separate worship space. In 2006 the Christian chapel at Canadian Forces Base Halifax was expanded to include a multifaith worship space called 'the gathering place' that includes religious imagery, prayer space, and resources for worshippers from a variety of faith traditions. Leaders from the Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Unitarian, Aboriginal, and Baha'i traditions participated in the dedication service. At Royal Military College in Kingston the chaplains have installed a heavy curtain to separate the Christian aspects of the room (statues, a lectern, a cross, etc.) from a section containing no imagery for the purposes of Muslim prayer. Furthermore, they arranged for the installation of footbaths in the washrooms to facilitate ritual washing (ablutions) of the head, hands, and feet before prayer.
Base chaplain Lieutenant Commander Doug Ohs at CFB Shilo in Manitoba was largely responsible for the creation of the first ever multifaith centre (called simply 'The Faith Centre') on a Canadian Forces base in May 2007 (Power 2007). Similar to the Christian chapels, this Faith Centre is a stand-alone facility constructed expressly to accommodate the needs of non-Christian groups. Another first on the base is the Aboriginal 'Circle of Unity Lodge' housed within the Faith Centre, which offers 'sacred sweat-lodge ceremonies and workshops to CF members and their families' (Thiessen 2006). More recently, chaplains at the same base have invited a number of civilian religious leaders including Aboriginal elders, a Baha'i leader, and an imam to revitalize the Second World War send-off ceremony for personnel being deployed to Afghanistan. In the traditional ceremony, Christian chaplains blessed the troops and prayed for their safety and success. In the modern version, each religious leader or community takes a role to add their blessing to the group. Following the service, religious objects such as copies of the Koran and the Bible, as well as Aboriginal smudge kits,37 are made available for personnel to take with them on the mission (Benham Rennick 2006d). Along with groundbreaking efforts such as these, Christian chaplains serving on bases often rely on non-Christian civilian religious leaders to assist them in serving military personnel. For example, CFB Esquimalt in British Columbia employs a local Aboriginal elder to minister to the Aboriginals at that base, and CFB Petawawa in Ontario works closely with civilian Muslim resources (2006d).
As with other organizations, there is a tendency for the institutional leadership to have an impact on the primary projects undertaken within the organization. Under Chaplains General Ron Bourque and Stan Johnstone there was considerable movement towards multifaith ministry. Since then, however, there is some evidence of a return to a more conservative tone in the chaplain branch website, programming materials, and the chaplains being accepted into the branch. Beyond the immediate leadership in the branch there are other factors that might also influence recruitment and retention of chaplains, including directives coming from senior military leadership, religious personnel available and interested in joining the Canadian Forces, the 'word of mouth' accounts of former chaplains, and, of course, the lifestyle involved in military ministry. Furthermore, it is not fair to suggest that branch leadership is the only influence on how more inclusive initiatives are received by the chaplains. Among the lower ranks there is evidence that not all chaplains have valued efforts to update the culture from a Christian men's association to an environment that values pluralism and difference. One chaplain, describing the change to the chaplain badge, said: 'This small change was met with significant opposition from a number of service members, including some chaplains. Critics objected on a range of issues but primarily they saw the change as overzealous political correctness and an unwarranted denial of Branch heritage to accommodate a very small portion of the military community' (Dingwell 2004, 5).
For these dissenters, the exclusion of a few was less significant than the disruption of long-standing branch traditions. Other chaplains suggest that while they recognize the need for cultural changes that accommodate the needs of others, they lack the skills and resources to implement these changes effectively. One chaplain described his frustration in attempting to prepare a multifaith religious ceremony to his religiously diverse unit: 'Since we had at least six different major religions represented in the unit, I didn't want to be explicitly Christian... and the branch manual had a form that they claimed was that [religiously neutral], but all they'd done was taken the traditional service and taken out the name of Jesus. But you had references to God's suffering. Well . . . the suffering God is Jesus!' Another chaplain, following the bombing of the Twin Towers in New York City on 11 September 2001, described his struggle to meet the needs of non-Christians in his care while serving on a tour of duty in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He said: 'The first person to seek out spiritual support . . . [was a devoted] Wiccan . . . How could a Christian chaplain help another from a vastly different faith community struggle with the emotional and spiritual challenges of that moment? Furthermore, three days later, at the request of the Commanding Officer, [I] led a memorial service so that all within the camp, military and civilian, might have an opportunity to reflect and pray. Attending that service were about three hundred people of many religious backgrounds, including a large number of the locally engaged employees. Most, if not all, of these civilian employees were Muslim. This personal example is not unlike the many challenges all military chaplains face each day throughout Canada and around the world, and one can easily predict that those challenges will occur even more frequently in the future' (Dingwell 2004, 2).
As this chaplain suggests, there is every indication that religious diversity has overtaken the Chaplain Branch with its Christian roots and heritage, and chaplains are now scrambling to keep up.
For most of the chaplains I interviewed, serving personnel regardless of their personal spirituality is a natural aspect of the CF ministry, and, in fact, they say that their religion serves them rather than the people to whom they minister. For others, however, the obligation to put individual rights and freedoms before their own religious perspective (about issues such as marrying gay couples, for example) creates problems of conscience and integrity that make it difficult to do the job.
During a conference held in 2005 at the University of Victoria, 'Chaplains in War and Peace: Ethical Dilemmas of Conscience and Conflicting Professional Roles in Military Chaplaincy in Canada,'38 civilian and military personnel gathered to discuss the difficulties of performing religious ministry in an environment that incorporates large numbers of secular and also, to a lesser extent, multifaith members. During the course of discussions, it became clear that CF chaplains have distinctly different challenges from their civilian peers. They cannot count on a consensus of beliefs among the people they serve and they often find their own values at odds with their responsibility to serve all members of the CF. Further, unlike civilian ministers, CF chaplains must not only respect the diverse beliefs of military personnel but also accommodate those needs as much as possible. Retired navy chaplain Bill Howie stated that 'Sometimes it's impossible to do what you're expected to because it is fundamentally opposed to what you believe is right. To cope with this a chaplain has to be firmly rooted in something deeper.' He added that, in the context of current cultural challenges being faced by CF chaplains, 'Change is always difficult - particularly when you value the tradition. Often you have to take yourself out of it, put your opinions aside in order to meet other people's needs.'
For many chaplains, this is not problematic, and numbers of them see the service of all people as a part of their calling as Christian ministers. However, there are those for whom religious accommodation creates serious conflicts of faith and duty, particularly in the face of contentious issues such as the rights of homosexuals within the Christian churches. Up until 1992, the military Code of Service Discipline meant that persons discovered to be gay or lesbian were given a dishonourable discharge (Jackson 2003a, 4). Today, gays and lesbians are free to participate in every area of the military, including the chaplaincy. CF chaplains belonging to the United Church of Canada (the only denomination in Canada to approve gay marraige) may perform same-sex marriages if doing so does not contradict their personal beliefs.
In the same session, former Chaplain General Ron Bourque stated that gay marriage would be 'something of a testing ground for padres.' He said, 'Faced with this expectation, a padre will find out if he or she is well suited to the role. The padre's struggle might not even be in handling the marriage ceremony but in assisting the couple at all during the process. If a padre can't even handle a referral they're in the wrong place. Padres need to balance caring for all with their obligations and duties. They have to consider the chapel-life aspect of the decision they make [with respect to marrying a gay couple in the base chapel] because it could damage the congregational community. It is a military policy that gay and lesbian rights be protected from discrimination and that their rights be respected, but the decision made by the chaplain will still affect the chapel life [and other military personnel attending there]. If the chaplain's church has endorsed gay marriages and the chaplain of that denomination refuses to perform the ceremony because of a crisis of conscience, she or he risks directly disobeying their superior officer. Getting an outside chaplain to come in and perform the ceremony might be a safe option [for addressing this conflict of faith and duty]. A further issue for the couple is that a military marriage is a guaranteed "coming out" and they may not be prepared to deal with that. Chaplains have a "faith and conscience" clause that allows them to make moral decisions based on their personal faith and conscience. Although this doesn't directly address the issues of impact on the congregation or disobeying a direct command from the chaplain general, it will keep more padres in the military in the face of these types of [ethical dilemmas of conscience and conflicts of duty].'
One chaplain writes that chaplains should be 'at the forefront advocating for gender equality and for the right of all to work in a harassment free environment regardless of their race or colour or sexual orientation' (Park 2003, 111). However, chaplains from denominations that do not agree with homosexuality consider this kind of remark an offence against their beliefs. On the matter of homosexual marriage, one chaplain told me, 'Even though I am required to be respectful and to care for homosexuals, I do not support what they do. I believe homosexuality is an abomination in the sight of God. I had a lesbian couple come to me and ask me to marry them and I told them my faith would not allow me to do that. But I am required [by the military] to facilitate their decision so I made arrangements with a civilian minister in the area who was willing to conduct the marriage. I don't agree with what they do, but I can still treat them with respect and kindness as long as they don't expect me to lie about what I believe or act against those beliefs.' Other chaplains may not be so accommodating, however. One homosexual CF member, who had arrived at a new base, described to me how the base chaplain told the chapel community about the person's sexual orientation with the stated intentions of 'protecting other believers.'
For some chaplains the matter of serving others who do not belong to a Christian tradition is more basic than contentious issues like homosexuality. One chaplain described the difficulty of being involved in an interfaith ceremony, explaining that, according to his beliefs, '[I] can't say some of their prayers, or say "Amen" to some of the prayers of other groups. I struggle with the accommodation given to other groups because we [Christians] are supposed to be sensitive to all these other groups yet we're asked to take down our cross in the Christian chapel when they want to use the space in an interfaith way. I feel that non-Christians are not expected to yield in the same way as Christian chaplains are.' A padre from a conservative evangelical tradition told me, 'Regarding ministry to other denominations - I tell people that my beliefs will affect the way I minister to them. If they don't want that, I'll help them find a social worker to work with them.'
Despite different points of view within the branch, all the chaplains I spoke to have found ways to accommodate themselves to their role by relativizing their perspective. One chaplain explained that he does this is by relating to personnel first and foremost as a fellow-member of the CF. He said, 'If I come to them and speak to them like an Anglican priest, they're not going to let me in, they're going to put walls up. But if
I come to them and speak like a soldier, they're going to understand me and relate to me and trust me. I need to be able to speak like a soldier in order to relate to them and gain their trust. This ability allows me to transcend differences I couldn't overcome otherwise. For example, one soldier, a Wiccan, came to me for some help with a personal issue. He expressed his religious identity as "Wiccan" but he was also a soldier. I clearly can't relate to him as a Wiccan because I'm not Wiccan. But I can relate to him as a soldier, because I am a soldier. So we can find common ground that way and I can help him get what he needs that way.'
He continued, 'I accept people as they are and I am very flexible. That can be hard for a lot of chaplains because they are so earnestly trying to "do good!"' He smiled. 'They forget to see the people first! We need to be flexible and open-minded and willing to meet people where they are. To be able to do all that without losing sight of our institutional connection is very tricky. We need a branch that is interfaith and reflects Canadian values, but individuals within that branch should be free to be who they are - very flexible, mind you, but themselves nonetheless and following their own beliefs.'
A female chaplain argued, 'If we're not able to minister in a pluralistic environment where people don't want black and white answers then we're not going to be relevant. If we can't talk about spirituality outside of our religious perspective and realize that there are people with different faith perspectives we will not be relevant. They don't want us to talk about religion, they want us to journey with them as they find ways to make meaning out of their situation. It's really about helping them find meaning in the chaos and we cannot journey with people if we're so rigid that we can't step beyond our own theological blinders. The sacraments are good for people who value that kind of stuff but what we really need to be able to do is to bring the sacred - our ministry of presence - into the chaos and hell.'
While religious accommodation is mandated by Canadian law, adaptations of branch traditions indicate that the Chaplain Branch has adopted religious diversity as one of its values. While some clergy in the branch struggle with how best to serve minority groups who do not share their beliefs, others struggle with the notion of accommodating non-believers and personnel with different morals at all. Chaplains have already noted some of the difficulties of ministering to members whose beliefs have little or nothing in common with their own. Furthermore, they point to differences in values, even among those who share their faith tradition, as a challenge for chaplains who desire to meet the needs of personnel without undermining the integrity of their own beliefs and vocation. These challenges will not diminish in the future. In fact, they are more likely to increase, given statistics on religion in Canada that point to increasing numbers of religious minorities as well as 'religious nones' (Belanger, Martel, and Caron-Malenfant 2005; Statistics Canada 2003a, 2004a).
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