Perform or provide. That’s the sworn duty of the chaplain in the US Armed Forces. Three simple words, but one huge concept — guaranteed freedom under the Constitution. By doing their job, military chaplains secure the free exercise of religion for America’s troops. Military chaplains champion not only free expression of religion, but also freedom of association, freedom of individual thought, freedom from church-state imposed beliefs, and freedom of speech.
Perform or provide means that regardless of the faith tradition of the chaplain, the chaplain must either perform religious and spiritual services for a service member or provide someone else to perform those services. Chaplains are trained to be pluralistic, to give ministerial services and counseling to the extent they can. This is the hallmark of a true professional, to know when to use his/her own expertise, and when to call in other experts.
Perform or provide fulfils the dream and promise of America: out of many, one. By ensuring that the needs of their fellow Americans are met, chaplains properly discharging their duties transcend their backgrounds to build a military where there is liberty and justice for all. This is a huge elevation of the human spirit because military chaplains must be endorsed by a religious organization in order to serve on active duty, and currently, there are over 260 endorsing agencies. But instead of having 260 competing chaplains with disparate agendas, we have a single corps of professional officers dedicated to freedoms of the Constitution for all service members.
Perform or provide does not mean we all have to believe in the same thing — it’s not a policy that seeks to enshrine conformity. Rather, chaplains must respect the rights of others to their own beliefs — or lack of any beliefs — without proselytizing about the rightness (or truth) of their beliefs. This is a policy that protects chaplains by allowing them to act under the dictates of their own conscience while ensuring that the needs of their charges are met. No chaplain and no service member — no one — is forced to do or believe anything against their will. Everyone’s rights are respected.
Perform or provide means that as a civilian, as a taxpayer, as a person of faith, and as an American, I am proud to support the chaplains in our armed forces because we are united in our commitment to the First Amendment, the Constitution, and our shared and individual freedoms. That’s why the military chaplaincy matters to me.
Out of many, we are one.
San Francisco, California