Liberal faiths recruiting chaplains for the military
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Rabbi Alvin Berkun loved his career as a Navy chaplain, but resigned during the Vietnam War.
"I felt I had to speak out against the war, and I couldn't do that in uniform," said the Pittsburgh rabbi who remains a chaplain endorser for Conservative rabbis.
He joined an exodus of liberal and centrist clergy that created a tilt toward conservative Protestants in the chaplains' ranks.
Some of the liberal seminaries banned chaplain recruiters, while conservative schools promoted chaplain training
But, with the repeal, faiths that affirm gay sexuality are seeking a comeback. Due to the impending repeal, Yale Divinity School is reconsidering its ban on recruitment, said seminary spokesman Gustav Spohn.
The endorser for the Unitarian-Univeralist Association, the Rev. Sarah Lammert, plans a recruiting push for chaplains.
"If I'm wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan I assume, with this repeal, that my partner in life can come see me in the hospital. I would hope that any of our chaplains would attend to that person. But I'd like to see more chaplains who can honestly affirm that experience," she said.
The Rev. Kristen Leslie, professor of pastoral care and theology at Eden Theological Seminary, is starting a track for chaplains at the United Church of Christ school in St. Louis. Many liberal seminaries eschewed chaplaincy training because they opposed militarism, she said.
"We seemingly made little distinction between those making the decision to go to war and those being sent," she said.
Chaplains from other denominations are inquiring about transferring to the United Church of Christ, said the Rev. John Gundlach, the denomination's endorser.
"They no longer want to be part of denominations that discriminate," he said.
Retired Brig. Gen. Douglas E. Lee, the chaplain endorser for six conservative Presbyterian denominations, would welcome liberal colleagues to whom evangelical chaplains could refer gay troops.
"We celebrate that people of vastly different theological perspectives are in military chaplaincy," he said.
"We learn to respect each other and work around the differences. The chaplains are all about hope and encouragement and blessing, even in the middle of serious theological differences."
First Published February 27, 2011 12:00 am