Saturday, June 2, 2007

Football Chaplain Endangers Separation Between Church and State, Detractors Clalim


As a chaplain for a volunteer fire department, I found the AP news brief out of Des Moines this week disappointing. Apparently more than 100 faculty members at Iowa State University have signed a petition that opposes the football coach's plan to establish a chaplain as an official member of the team's staff.

Although the position will be funded by private donations, and despite the fact that there is a well established precedent both in the government and private sector for chaplains, faculty claim that "hiring a chaplain is improper at a public university given the separation between church and state. And they said the move would favor Christianity over other religions. 'Are you going to have counseling for Jewish students? Muslim students? There's no such thing as one religion or one version of Christianity,' said Dr. Hector Avolos, a professor of religious studies at ISU.' "

And how have similar positions in the military, public safety organizations, service clubs, and even industry created such a situation that the nation has not cried foul long before now? This is ridiculous! As a nation we have an enviable history of including pastoral care in the public sphere while still respecting and honoring each person's religious beliefs and convictions. When I was interviewed as part of my application for a chaplain's commission in the U.S. Navy, I was specifically asked how I might handle a situation involving a request from a Muslim solider. In this case it involved copies of the Qu'ran (Koran). Simple - acquisition the books. Period.

A chaplain recognizes that he lives between two worlds, and in so far as it does not compromise his faith, he can serve outside the parameters of his specific role. In the military chaplains serve at times as morale officers. Sometimes they teach classes that involve important life issues affecting soldiers and their families. As a chaplain for the fire department it would be my policy that if a person in need, be it a firefighter or victim, was of a faith different than my own, I would work to find other clergy to serve them. It's really not that difficult to work out.

I hope that ISU rethinks this matter.

5 comments:

Carl Vehse said...

"As a chaplain for the fire department it would be my policy that if a person in need, be it a firefighter or victim, was of a faith different than my own, I would work to find other clergy to serve them. It's really not that difficult to work out."

I think this is something that is quite difficult and, for a long time, I have not understood.

Assume you were a physician and someone came to you with a disease you knew how to cure. But before you could start treatment, the patient said, "Just a second, doc. I don't want you to treat me. Would you refer me to a witchdoctor or voodoo doctor so that they could cure me?"

Or, instead, what if the pregnant patient asked you to give her the name of another doctor you knew who would perform an abortion?

Again, pretend you were a lawyer and someone came to you about a legal problem they had. But in preparing to provide the person legal counsel, you were told, "Wait. I didn't come here to hire you as my lawyer. I'm hoping you can help me find a hitman. Can you help me?"

Or suppose you have a church evangelism booth at some city festival event, and someone stops by your booth. As you start to engage them in conversation and are prepare to offer them some Christian brochures and information about your church, the person says, " Thanks, pastor. But I'm actually looking for the location of the nearest whorehouse or where I can purchase some crack cocaine. Can you help me obtain those directions?"

What would be your answer in those cases? Would you help provide them with the information they requested? I simply do not see any difference between helping them in their need to find what they want and providing a person in spiritual need with someone who will indoctrinate the nonChristian faith they want.

One final case - Suppose a member of your congregation came to you in private confession and admitted that they had actually helped someone in one of the examples above, but now felt remorse and repentence for what they had done. Would you forgive them and give them absolution? Or would you tell them that their action in such a case was not really a sin, but was actually a good work?

D. Engebretson said...

Thank you for "Carl" for your response to my article. (My remembrance of early LCMS history senses this is not a real name.)

I beieve I understand your point. I suspect you are assuming that as a chaplain in this case I would not try to offer any Christian help and comfort at all, but would automatically refer. I suppose from what I was proposing you could conclude that, but I don't think that my first impulse in a crisis situation would be to say, "What religion are you?" I would minister with the Gospel regardless. However, IF the person outright refused this ministry and made it clear to me that they did not believe as I did, certainly continuing such a proclamation would be fruitless. Arranging for different clergy is only a polite gesture of respect, not a refusal or abdication from my role as a Christian witness, or a denial of the truth.

While I do not believe that non-Christian faiths possess the truth to eternal life, equating them equally with murderers and drug dealers, and treating them as such, seems to me a non-productive way to show our Christian faith. I don't want to read into what you said, but how does one handle such a situation gracefully? Simply refuse and move on? Procede with your ministry against every protest? It seemed to me that arranging to connect them with their clergy was only a courtesy, not a rejection of my calling.

The situations you state (referring to drug dealers, prostitutes, etc.) do not seem to be in the same category of what I am speakingn about. I think it safe to say to this, "No, I would not do that." But I think that would be self-evident for most truly Christian clergy.

Re: confession and absolution - Assuming the person was a Christian (you do not state that), I hope that it would be self-evident that a Lutheran pastor would absolve.

I will assume that you find my proposed actions (I have not had to do what I wrote about) to be merely inconsistent with my role as a Lutheran pastor and not a denial of all that I believe and stand for.

Thank you for the thoughts,
Pastor Engebretson

Carl Vehse said...

" I suspect you are assuming that as a chaplain in this case I would not try to offer any Christian help and comfort at all, but would automatically refer."

My earlier post did not assume anything about this, but dealt with whether one would help provide the specific information requested in each example.

However, IF the person outright refused this ministry and made it clear to me that they did not believe as I did, certainly continuing such a proclamation would be fruitless.

Again, whether and how much one would pursue trying to change the person's mind before stopping was not the issue in each of the examples. The issue was whether one would help provide the specific information requested in each example.

While I do not believe that non-Christian faiths possess the truth to eternal life, equating them equally with murderers and drug dealers, and treating them as such, seems to me a non-productive way to show our Christian faith.

Our Lord Jesus described the faith of the Pharisees as that of the devil, a murderer and a liar (John 8:44 ). He also called false prophets "ravening wolves" (Mt 7:15). Paul demanded that those who teach other than the Gospel are to be declared as damned.

I believe that Rev. Wallace Shulz's testimony to the DRP regarding syncretism as "spiritual adultery" also applies to the action of helping provide non-Christian spiritual assistance to a person:

"To emphasize the seriousness of this matter, note that: throughout the Bible, whenever God speaks about His children joining or participating with pagans in spiritual matters, God calls this 'adultery.' Job calls adultery a 'heinous' crime (Job 31:11). God considers spiritual adultery no less serious. The term ‘adultery’ is used to describe religious disloyalty and harlotry (Jeremiah 7:9; 23:10; Ezekiel 23:45; Revelation 2:22). Bible scholars representing the full spectrum of conviction, from the openly acclaimed liberal Interpreter’s Bible Commentary to the conservative Wisconsin Synod’s People’s Bible Commentary, agree unequivocally that the metaphor God has used throughout history is 'adultery'."

Arranging for different clergy is only a polite gesture of respect.... It seemed to me that arranging to connect them with their clergy was only a courtesy, not a rejection of my calling.

Paul counseled the young pastor, Timothy, about some of the responsibilties of a pastor. In 2 Timothy 2:4, he compares a pastor's involvement with things that would be displeasing to God with a soldier's disdain for civic involvement that would displease his commanding officer. In verse 24-26, Paul instructs Timothy on how to deal with those who do not want to hear the Gospel. The gentleness is in the instruction so that they may be led to escape the trap of the devil. It is not in providing them with the devil's disciple to guide them further into the trap of hell.

D. Engebretson said...

Thank you for your clarifications, "Carl".

"My earlier post did not assume anything about this, but dealt with whether one would help provide the specific information requested in each example."

I assumed what I did because it seemed as if you were equating one experience with the other, based on the way you wrote it. As to the situations you address, the obvious answer would be "no." I would not provide the assistance requested in your specific examples. I can't honestly imagine any pastor doing so.

However, your point is nevertheless clear that by making any referal at all (to non-Christian clergy, I assume), I am guilty of a kind of syncretism and "spiritual adultery," and that my actions in that case would be tantamount to what Dr. Schulz referred to as "joining or participating with pagans in spiritual matters."

As one who supported Dr. Schulz and others who protested the actions of Dr. Benke following 9-11, I have to admit that I did not see my 'potential' actions of referal in an extraordinary case of assistance, and actively participating in a syncretistic public worship service, as being of the same category. Would offering directions to a stranger who asked where the local mosque or synagogue was be "participating in spiritual matters" simply because you directed him to a spiritual place? Or would you refuse to give the directions, telling the person that it would be against your faith?

It would be interesting to see how our military chaplains deal with similar situations, since these are far more prevalent than for my limited situation out here in the country where most are either unchurched or professing Christians. I would be curious to know if Dr. Wohlrabe has ever faced this situation in his many years in the Navy chaplaincy. Are you familiar with how this has been handled by confessional pastors elsewhere?

What is your view of how a confessiional Lutheran pastor should handle such a chaplaincy situations? Or, are you opposed to any involvement like this by the clergy?

Thank you again for your comments,
Pastor Engebretson

P.S. Is Carl your real name, or is this simply a "screen name"?

Carl Vehse said...

Would offering directions to a stranger who asked where the local mosque or synagogue was be "participating in spiritual matters" simply because you directed him to a spiritual place?

This question implies that the request is not based on an identified need for spiritual assistance (maybe the stranger is a building inspector, photographer, or an ATF SWAT officer?), so unless there are other identifiers, such a request is not the same category as my earlier examples. Besided, I don't know the locations of any synagogues or mosques... except when I've been in Islamist countries.

Are you familiar with how this has been handled by confessional pastors elsewhere?

I've talked to chaplains about this problem. One said that he has not had to deal with providing such assistance, but that the prospect does trouble him. Others have given a similar answer to yours, that they regard it as just a courtesy, nothing more.

What is your view of how a confessiional Lutheran pastor should handle such a chaplaincy situations?

I previously gave my view on chaplains (or any Christian for that matter) helping to provide nonChristian spiritual assistance to someone requesting such spiritual assistance. If the Pentagon insists on Christian military chaplains providing such spiritual assistance, then I would recommend that Christian chaplains be civilian, as WELS does.

Is Carl your real name?

I found it convenient as a nom de plume, especially in discussions on history/polity/church and ministry in the Missouri Synod.