Home Religion Religion in the Ranks: Belief and Religious Experience in the Canadian Forces
Denominational Differences and Interfaith Issues
Beyond situations that pit personal faith against duty, chaplains face the broader struggle of becoming an interdenominational and, ultimately, interfaith group. While many chaplains are open to diversity in the branch, differences in vocational accreditation requirements among Christian denominations already raise concerns about equality and justice. As we saw earlier, the branch has attempted to create fair entrance standards for chaplains. However, these standards are based on the denominational requirements of Christian groups.
The different requirements for religious ministry cause problems on several levels and in relationships between Francophone and Anglophones, between Protestants and Roman Catholics, and between those who are ordained and those who are not. Before the branch integrated into a single office, Protestant and Roman Catholic ministers functioned within and according to their own distinct systems. Since amalgamation, and more so now with the growing presence of pastoral associates and nonChristian groups in the branch, those distinctions have become contentious, particularly with respect to credentials and entrance requirements. One side-effect of these efficiencies is a growing a sense of competition in the branch. One chaplain explained to me that, prior to the amalgamation of the Protestant and Roman Catholic branches into a single unit, 'The branches behaved in a more Christian way. Now they're all competing for promotions... 30 people for 15 spots instead of 15 spots each. I would like to see [members of] the branch treat each other better. People can be so un-Christian in our own branch. The bosses are now more worried about promotions than taking care of their people. There's lots of in-fighting, back-stabbing, and brown-nosing. It hasn't always been this way.' Another person made a similar comment about self-promotion versus cooperation, saying, 'Our bureaucracy really slows things down because instead of working to get good ideas pushed through, we're arguing about whose ideas they are and where they came from in order to get the promotion.'
Another concern with attempting to streamline requirements for branch members is that the standards are inherently biased in favour of mainstream Christian denominations and Anglophone educational systems. Because Chaplain Branch entry requirements include ordination by a religious body (or, in the case of pastoral associates and non-Christians, approval from a religious authority), the basic level of education for clergy joining the branch is not uniform. For example, a chaplain entering as a clergy person of the United Church of Canada would first have to complete a minimum of six years post-secondary training and then be ordained. Comparatively, Roman Catholic pastoral associates and non-Christians whose tradition does not require higher education can be accepted into the branch with only four years training (that is, a bachelor's degree). Those entering the system with a Master's of Divinity (MDiv) feel that others joining with only a bachelor's degree are able to get a head start in their career with less advanced training because the CF continuing education policy could allow for a chaplain with a BA to complete higher education at the expense of the CF after joining the branch. Those who have gained an MDiv or higher presumably have done so on their own time and at their own expense. Discrepancies in training have left some pastoral associates feeling disrespected and misjudged by their Protestant and Roman Catholic ordained peers, who may suggest that they have less of a vocation than ordained ministers (Bourque 2001). One Protestant minister told me, 'I think there's a stronger sense of vocation with priests than PAs. PAs follow a job and may not be as committed to it as ordained ministers and priests but there's a great demand for Roman Catholics so their lack of ordination is allowed.' Furthermore, non-Christians attempting to join the branch believe that traditional Christian standards place them at a disadvantage to other groups in the chaplaincy. In fact, the reality is that the branch has developed on an Anglophone, Christian, Western pedagogical model that values credentials - and certain types of credentials - above all else.
During the 2006 Annual Chaplain Retreat, a number of chaplains educated in Quebec made public reference to their extreme frustration with the inherently Anglophone Protestant bias of current branch standards for accreditation and promotion. Chaplains trained in Francophone institutions in Quebec graduate with un baccalaureat en theologie specialise instead of the Master's of Divinity granted to their peers trained in Anglophone universities. This three-year degree follows one mandatory year of preparatory studies at a college d'enseignement general et professionnel, or CEGEP. Francophone chaplains in the branch argued that, for a specialized degree, they must take additional courses that give them equivalent training to their Anglophone peers arriving with an MDiv. At least one Anglophone I asked about this referred to the Francophone chaplains' training as 'a glorified BA.' During an open session with the chaplain general and members of the ICCMC, Quebec- trained chaplains described the injustice of the situation as 'une douleur profonde pour les aumoniers frangais' (Benham Rennick 2006e). Another Francophone chaplain told me in disgust that the same issue comes up every year and is never resolved.39 Since this event, after working with Universite Laval in Quebec and Universite Saint-Paul/Saint Paul University in Ottawa to confirm the equivalency of the Anglophone and Francophone degrees, the ICCMC now accepts the Quebec BTh as the equivalent of the MDiv received at English universities.
The sense of injustice and inequality experienced by pastoral associates and chaplains trained in Quebec prior to the resolution of this discrepancy offers insights into the potential problems of the development of an interfaith branch. The Francophone chaplains argued that the bias inherent in the entrance standards would become a more poignant concern as more chaplains from foreign countries and nonChristian leaders attempted to join the branch. In fact, these issues have come up at least once already, with the 2003 inauguration of the first Muslim chaplain ever to serve in the CF, Captain Suleyman Demiray (DND 2003e). Sheila McDonough and Homa Hoodfar make the observation that 'Canadians have adopted the notion that Muslim "clerics" are performing roles comparable to those of Jewish and Christian leaders ... Although imams do not actually have a sacramental role, they are adapting, as priests, ministers, and rabbis have done, to the new roles as pastoral counsellors, religious educators, and representatives of the people' (McDonough and Hoodfar 2005, 140). Because Islam does not require specific training to be an imam (prayer leader), Demiray, who already held a BA in Theology from the University of Ankara, Turkey, instead obtained a Master of Arts in Religion from Carleton University in Ottawa. He was granted equivalency to the Master of Divinity degree that is required of Christian clergy.
Like some of the interdenominational rivalries just noted, chaplains express a number of concerns about the developing interfaith aspect of the branch. The ICCMC and former chaplains general Ron Bourque40 and Stan Johnstone have stated that the Chaplain Branch is actively seeking other non-Christian religious leaders to meet growing religious needs in the regular forces (Bourque 2006). Like Christian clergy already in the branch, non-Christian chaplains who do not have post-secondary training will find themselves at a significant disadvantage for promotion and advancement and they are likely to lack credibility and face discrimination from their peers. This is true for all officers in the CF but is relevant to note here in that the chaplaincy is trying to promote an environment of equality and accessibility for its members. For example, while most rabbis graduate with a master's degree from a rabbinical school or theological seminary (making them a good fit in the chaplaincy worldview), the majority of other non-Christian religions require no formal education or training to be a religious leader (e.g., Muslims, Hindus, and Aboriginal elders).41 In some cases, religious groups may have no formal leadership (e.g., some Sikh communities and smaller Christian churches),42 while in other groups, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, many religious leaders adopt world-renouncing asceticism and would therefore not be likely to consider the military chaplaincy at all.43
The issue of fair entrance standards for chaplains from non-Christian traditions came up again when I interviewed an Aboriginal member of the CF who aspires to become the first chaplain to provide religious leadership in Native Spirituality. This person argued that for the branch to require religious leaders from non-Christian groups to have similar credentials to Christian clergy is an unfair imposition of Western standards. The elder said, 'They keep saying, "You need some type of degree," but my response is "That's in your world, not in my world. Stop trying to make your world mine because your world is not the same as mine!" The chaplaincy must recognize our ceremonies and sacredness just as we recognize theirs. Their way of doing things is bureaucratic, ours is not. They have to realize that our sacred life ways are as valuable as theirs but they are done in different ways. The CF way is a huge bureaucracy and sometimes it's too much! They need to stop and think for a moment because while they aren't getting things done, people continue to hurt!' At the same time, this person said that taking a religious studies degree was a good and reasonable alternative to having to acquire specific credentials as an elder: 'I think that's ok because . . . part of our calling is to be a leader to all people . . . This would help me to understand and help people from all different religions and backgrounds.'
In early 2008 a panel of elders from Manitoba recommended that Aboriginal elders who join the branch could be trained in the First
Nations and Aboriginal Counselling (FNAC) degree program at Brandon University in Manitoba to meet the branch entrance standards. This is a four-year bachelor's degree program in clinical counselling from the point of view of Aboriginal spirituality. Despite these discussions, senior branch officials, in keeping with the directives of the ICCMC, state that there is not sufficient demand in the CF to merit the inclusion of an Aboriginal elder in the chaplaincy. Furthermore, they justifiably argue that to endorse a member from one Nation, tribe, or clan would be to ostracize and further alienate members of other Aboriginal groups.
The branch continues to struggle on the journey to becoming an interfaith institution with questions such as which religious groups should be included in the branch and who might effectively represent groups where there is significant diversity of thought and belief within. The following statement made by former Chaplain General Ron Bourque about the difficulty of inviting non-traditional groups to join the highly bureaucratic branch again indicates the emphasis placed on the Western standards that govern notions of which religious groups are 'acceptable' and what constitutes 'appropriate' training for a chaplain. During the 2006 Annual Chaplains' Retreat, Bourque gave the example that a Hindu can be a priest because his family calls him a priest, but asked, 'Is that good enough for the people of the CF? How can we call a Hindu chaplain who can represent the CF on a national level and achieve a level of accreditation and accountability that is equivalent to the time and training put in by all of [the current chaplains]? Many religions are not as bureaucratized as Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism.' When I asked one long-serving chaplain trainer what would happen if a Pagan wanted to become a chaplain, he replied with a snort, 'Man, some chaplains get into a real tizzy if a Pagan so much as wants to walk into a chapel!' Then, more thoughtfully, he added, 'But if there was a demonstrated need, then they'd be accommodated - eventually. It takes time to work through these things with accreditation issues and all that, but they would be accommodated.' The assumption in both cases is that while the branch policies can be adjusted to accommodate different religious groups, the religious leaders from these groups would also have to adapt their culture and traditions to fit in with Canadian military requirements for accreditation and training.
Until 2007, the ICCMC was composed entirely of Christian members that included a Roman Catholic, a Presbyterian, a Lutheran, an Anglican, members of the United Church of Canada, and members of the Churches of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. At that time, new representatives of non-Christian traditions were invited to sit on the council. One of the hurdles that the ICCMC has faced in becoming an interfaith group is in identifying individuals who can adequately represent religious traditions that are very diverse. For example, in the context of the Canadian Forces at least, the label 'Aboriginal' includes the great variety of peoples that fall under the label First Nations, as well as Metis and Inuit populations; most Aboriginal people are Christians (there are currently three Aboriginal Christian chaplains serving in the regular forces) and some follow traditional Native Spirituality (Statistics Canada 2001b). There are approximately 1300 Aboriginals serving in the CF, not including the Canadian Rangers who patrol Canada's High Arctic and employ their own local elders (Moses, Graves, and Sinclair 2004). The problem is in identifying one person to advocate effectively on behalf of all people within these groups. Similarly, although the vast majority of Muslims are Sunni or Shi'ite, there are a number of smaller sects within Islam, including Sufis, Wahhabis, Zaidis, Ismailis, Kahrij ites, Fatimids, and others, and regional and cultural variations amplify differences even more. Further, while there are growing numbers of new religious movements in Canada, such as Wicca, these frequently lack the continuity of belief, structure, and leadership of an established religious tradition, making it extremely difficult to fairly represent them as a group and, as with Muslims and Aboriginals, appoint a representative who can speak on behalf of all members. However, the inclusion of three non-Christian religious leaders in the ICCMC during 2007 and 2008 (Rabbi Dr Reuven P. Bulka, a Modern Orthodox Jew from Ottawa; Imam Dr Mohammed Iqbal Al-Nadvi, a Sunni Muslim from Oakville, Ontario; and Aboriginal Elder Roger Armitte, Ojibwa Elder-in-Residence at the University of Manitoba, who acts as an advisor on Aboriginal issues) is an indication of the seriousness with which the branch is approaching its interfaith status.
Even as individual chaplains, the Chaplain Branch, and the ICCMC work to include members of other faith groups, however, some chaplains are worried about how everyone will work together. For example, although the branch expects all chaplains to minister to all personnel regardless of their religious beliefs, the fact that the great majority of CF personnel have a Christian background makes it relatively easy for most Christian chaplains to relate to the members. The assumption among some chaplains is that, for members of other religious traditions, finding common ground may not be so easy. I asked a navy chaplain how minority chaplains might serve on a ship and was told, 'Our one Muslim chaplain would be useless on a ship... He couldn't do a Sunday liturgy and about 99.9% of the crew are Christian even if in name only. He'd have to be more like a social worker. On a base he'd do just fine because he could still do all the pastoral care stuff and just refer people to an appropriate religious leader, which is what we all do - I don't try to step in for a rabbi or a Lutheran, I just redirect people to someone that can help them.'
One visible minority chaplain, who reported having personal experiences of discrimination in the CF, explained to me: 'The CF chaplaincy has a lot of challenges to face, but I think the main one is with the integrations of other religions. Even when we integrated with the Protestants and Roman Catholics there were problems, but we didn't choose to fight about them. In that case, we chose instead to find common ground and work from there, but you don't solve problems by sweeping them under the rug! You have to address them to solve them. If you are willing to face the problems and address them, it can be a really good union. Theological differences are so wonderful . . . and so dangerous!' He chuckled. 'With the Protestant-Roman Catholic amalgamation, it was easy to find commonalities, but when you add groups with whom there is less common ground there will be more problems because there is a lot of fear. We don't necessarily have understanding between religious groups so I worry that with the interfaith movement, unless we are willing to talk about our fears and our concerns openly, then we will create internal animosity. If you just drop people in and say, "Now work together," you create anger. We are 99% Christian now and everyone is saying, "How will we have to change because of them7." Until you're willing to realize that and talk about it, it will build until it explodes.'
He continued, 'From the minority perspective, it's not good to be the "only one" because you could be ostracized or you could be invited . . . ' He paused thoughtfully. 'But you are never fully invited because you are different! You are never fully invited because people are scared and they don't really know you. So, if you just bring in a few minority religious leaders to be symbols of integration, that's not good enough. Then you really haven't gone deep enough to understand and overcome assumptions and fears. No one really wants to face the real question, which is "Who are we and how do we want to be constituted7" because that's too dangerous! But there is hope, because we have a very good community and good leaders and we trust in God for our future.
When we talk about integration here in the CF, what we're really talking about is "some day." I think, until you have real numbers of minority personnel in the CF, you don't know how your integration policies are working. You'll see if there is real integration when you see minorities growing in numbers in the CF. It's good to plan, but you can't really tell until the situation is occurring.'
Without genuine dialogue, commonality of purpose, and equality, the branch could be consumed by factionalism. The successful amalgamation of Protestants and Roman Catholics into one branch as well as the integration of women and pastoral associates indicates that the chaplains are capable of overcoming their differences. Current efforts to increase the fairness of branch entrance requirements as well as the numbers of minority leaders show that the branch is committed to the interfaith project. Whether it can be successful in this project is yet to be seen. However, the struggles that occurred during earlier integrations are helpful indicators of possible difficulties religious minorities could face.
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