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Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter reportedly issued instructions to Navy chaplains earlier this year that religious portions of events such as graduations or command changes should be “nonsectarian in nature” and that chaplains must “be willing to function in a pluralistic environment.”The instructions have prompted a debate about whether a chaplain’s ability to express his or her faith is justified in a secular setting and whether phrases such as “praying in Jesus’ name” during an invocation could offend the ranks.The move has concerned members of Congress and evangelicals, who say that any restriction on religious liberty restricts their freedom of religion. They propose legislation that would allows chaplains to practice their faith, even in nonsectarian settings.What do you think? Do you think there should be such legislation? Or do you think the Navy secretary’s direction was warranted?The issue here isn’t one of religious freedom, but rather the need to be sensitive to others who may join me in prayer.When leading my own congregation, I pray freely in a style that is familiar to my own community. I realize that, from time to time, non-Catholics may be in attendance for a service such as a wedding or funeral. Since they are coming to a place of Catholic worship, hearing prayers common to Catholic worship comes with the territory. I would not expect a rabbi to tailor prayers to Christians attending a synagogue service.Religious leaders who are asked to lead prayer at public functions, or those who lead nonsectarian prayer in the military, can call upon God without betraying their own faith tradition. Because there are people of many faiths present, the name of God should be invoked in a way in which the majority can relate — such as using the title, “Creator God.” By focusing on what unites us instead of what divides us, the profound bond that brings together the human family is acknowledged.I believe the practice of being inclusive in prayer should come not from legislation, but from the goodwill of religious leadership to peoples of every faith.FATHER PAUL J. HRUBYPastorChurch of the IncarnationGlendaleThe Bible says that “the hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops.” Chaplains, sailors, soldiers and airmen work hard, literally risking their lives to defend the freedoms of speech and religion we enjoy as Americans. They should be the first we allow to fully use them.How hypocritical it would be to restrict in any way their exercise of the freedoms they secure for others.No American is guaranteed the right to be un-offended. In a country that values freedom of speech and religion, we should expect to hear messages that offend us. We shouldn’t need new laws to guarantee already existing rights.By all means, we should allow those who stubbornly insist on taking offense at Jesus’ name to express their objections. Heaven knows that when He convenes the Great White Throne Judgment they won’t be allowed any time for objection.PASTOR JON BARTAValley Baptist ChurchBurbankI think the Navy secretary was right on. Everyone, not just chaplains, should be sensitive to other religions and other cultures. If traditional Christians think of Jesus Christ as being God, what would be wrong with simply referring to God or a higher power in sermons and prayers? Why does the evangelical movement have to force its will, meaning Jesus Christ, on everyone who is even slightly different in perspective from their own?If I read my scriptures correctly, Jesus Christ consistently referred to God as his “boss,” so to speak. He said on one occasion that he could do nothing without the authority and the power of God. In Matthew 19:7 Jesus Christ said there is none good, but one, that is God.I believe that Jesus Christ was one of the greatest prophets who ever lived, but he was not God. I also believe that his teachings will live forever. And, what is more important, they came from God.This persistent effort on the part of evangelicals to force-feed Jesus Christ to the world is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons our nation is in such peril today.Enough. We have one God. Not three. Not two. Just one. No one can be offended on any occasion, except perhaps atheists, who admittedly are in very small numbers, if prayers mention only God. Fully 99% of all people on the planet can respond to God. A fraction of that number can relate to Jesus. Let’s not keep offending this fraction because of some obscure New Testament mandate to force Christianity on the whole world.THE REV. THOMAS E. WITHERSPOONUnity Church of the ValleyLa CrescentaYou can’t have a “religious” portion to an event that is “nonsectarian.”This violates definitions. You certainly can ask a chaplain to be considerate of the various traditions present at an event, but all prayers conjure sectarian images.Everyone has a unique set of beliefs. Religion is the expression of those beliefs. Even atheism involves a set of beliefs, if not in anything, at least in the self that is able to contemplate these thoughts. A chaplain is a person who represents a particular tradition with a unique set of instructions for expression.Unfortunately, at many of public events, prayers and invocations are ceremonial and lack any depth or meaning. They are meant to showcase a particular allegiance by a politician or to appease a certain constituency.And in so doing, inevitably, someone is offended.A true prayer cannot be offensive because it talks to the depths of the human experience. It conjures images of attainable dreams, such as peace and justice. It crosses all boundaries, sectarian, secular and denominational.FR. VAZKEN MOVSESIANArmenian ChurchIn His Shoes MissionAmerica is a distinctly religious country with a large majority of citizens who identify with one religious group or another. National institutions like our military naturally reflect the general population, and therefore have people of many faiths serving in the ranks.The Navy, to its credit, encourages its sailors and Marines to participate in religious functions and assigns chaplains to tend to their spiritual needs. These chaplains, drawn from major religious traditions, promote their beliefs to fellow religionists and help them maintain a sense of spirituality by organizing events and services such as Mass, Passover Seders and the like. Such events help Navy personnel sustain their faith even during times of stress and loss.It is important to recognize and honor the clear difference between a chaplain’s work that is directed toward co-religionists and the more general Navy activities that include members of many faiths. When addressing a general gathering, chaplains should be careful to use generic, universal terms of faith — not out of fear of offending someone, but as a sign of respect for other beliefs and a gesture of inclusion. I feel that a person of the cloth has a responsibility to reach beyond those who share his beliefs, and to be of service to people of all faiths (or no faith).RABBI SIMCHA BACKMANChabad Jewish CenterIf the military wants to restrict the religious liberty of its chaplains in order carry on as a nonsectarian entity, it may as well cease all religious input related to secular events. It makes little sense to offer a pretense of divine invocation or blessing if it’s really not wanted, and it will only incur divine disdain when so cavalierly regarded.The Bible describes faithless pretenders as those who live “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2Timothy 3:5). The verse goes on to say we should “Have nothing to do with them.” It appears that the military desires to cater to what it perceives as religious superstition among its ranks by letting a white collar make genuflections toward heaven. However, it seems that this is regarded much like a lucky rabbit’s foot; it’s probably not real, but if servicemen think it is and they will fight harder, let them fantasize.So what about chaplains who actually think they’re speaking to God? Shut them down, seems to be the military answer. Christian ministers believe that God has revealed Himself through Scripture and through the historic person of Jesus Christ. God is a single, triune being. If we pray to any but the God of Jesus Christ, the One God revealed in three persons, the God of the Bible, we’re not calling upon God at all, but calling God a liar, and equating him with made-up religious fantasies and idols.Why ask ministers to pray to God but prevent them from addressing the One they actually believe listens? It would be like promoting a man to Admiral and telling him he couldn’t use his command in the Navy, but he could command all the toy boats in his bathtub. What’s an Admiral for then, and why have chaplains?THE REV. BRYAN GRIEMSenior PastorMontroseCommunityChurch.orgThe question here speaks for those who have difficulty with religious pluralism, and points out a clear and basic misunderstanding. If we believe that a person of a different faith believes in a different God, the Father and Creator of us all, then it’s no wonder there is controversy involved in interfaith observances, such as those intended for members of the armed services. Baha’is believe in the oneness of all major religions. There is only one God, and He has sent each revelation to advance human civilization ever closer to Him. We therefore have the utmost respect for the world’s religions, and have no problem when we hear the invocation of Jesus, Mohammad, or any other manifestation of God, by clergy and faithful of other religions. We do, however, understand that these specific references may be inappropriate in a setting intended to serve people of many faiths. Chaplains, though specifically trained within the systems of their own faiths, are charged with the spiritual support of all. They are not in place to act as ministers to a flock of their own denomination. The job comes with the understanding, and it is not a denial of religious freedom to require a demonstration of acceptance of the validity of other faith traditions. They are quite free to worship as their consciences guide them, and they are not required to keep their personal religious affiliations confidential.Chaplaincy is an important service, especially in the military, where men and women are often in need of compassionate, pastoral guidance. To use the position as a forum for advancing one’s own beliefs could serve more to betray the trust of those seeking an understanding, spiritual presence than to provide needed comfort and patient, selfless support.BARBARA CRAMERSecretaryLocal Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’isGlendale
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