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Military chaplains face new challenges as their traditional role changes to those they minister.
From ancient Israelites to the Roman Empire and through the Middle Ages to the present, priests, ministers and chaplains have marched with soldiers in their life-and-death struggles.
Now, tensions are rising as some military chaplains struggle with the social changes ahead following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010 and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s recent notification to the services to make way for transgender troops.
Ron Crews, a retired Army colonel and chaplain, said he never experienced serious restrictions on his ability to minister to soldiers during 28 years as an active duty and reserve chaplain, a career that ended in 2008. “I will say that the climate has changed,” he said.
Crews now serves as a pastor for about 25 active-duty chaplains.
“There has been a growing concern about chaplains being able to continue to minister what I would call ‘the full counsel of God’ in their ministries,” he said.
For 240 years, since the U.S. Army’s founding in June 1775, chaplains have been welcome in the military. Generals from George Washington and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson to George C. Marshall considered chaplains indispensable to a unit’s emotional and spiritual well-being.
In recent years, Washington has issued wave after wave of new regulations, some of which conflict with many chaplains’ long-held religious beliefs.
Any chaplain serving in the U.S. military is required to be endorsed by a religion or denomination recognized by the Department of Defense.