I meant to post an update on the ongoing story of Lt. Gordon James Klingenschmitt, but I have been a bit under the weather. Earlier this week, both Washington newspapers covered another protest event at the White House, during which the Navy chaplain ended his 18-day fast — insisting that he had been victorious in his fight to be able to give public prayers in the name of Jesus.
Both stories noted that Klingenschmitt broke his fast by consuming a Communion host.
This was an interesting symbolic gesture, in light of the fact that reporter Alan Cooperman of the Washington Post elected to label the chaplain as:
… an aggrieved clergyman who believed his military career was about to end because of his insistence on preaching a fire-and-brimstone kind of evangelical Christianity — and who managed to enlist more than 70 members of Congress and a who’s who of conservative Christian leaders to pressure the White House on his behalf.
Over at the Washington Times, reporter Tarron Lively noted that the issue of public prayer is linked to wider tensions that have:
… become widespread among Navy chaplains since the late 1990s. Two lawsuits were filed in 1999 and 2000 against the Navy by 50 Christian chaplains, stating the Navy discriminates against evangelical and Pentecostal clerics.
“Most of those chaplains are no longer in the Navy, saying they could not get promoted and they’re out on the street now without jobs, because they prayed and preached the wrong way when the government was trying to censor their prayers and sermons,” Lt. Klingenschmitt said.
During the summer of 2004, he preached an evangelistic sermon while aboard the USS Anzio at the funeral of a Catholic sailor in a base chapel. After being censured by two senior chaplains, he was sent ashore in March to Norfolk.
This is the heart of the story. But what I found interesting is that these reporters did not give us an important piece of information about the chaplain — his church affiliation. This is crucial, since regulations state that military chaplains “may conduct public worship according to the manner and forms of the church” to which they belong. The assumption, in the Post, is that he is a “fire-and-brimstone kind of evangelical.”
Thus, I was interested to note that Jenn Rafael at the Marine Times reported that:
Lt. Gordon Klingenschmitt, an evangelical Episcopal priest, began his water-only fast Dec. 20. He claimed Dec. 22 during a vigil outside the White House that his convictions were going to cost him his job. He said the Navy objects to him praying in the name of Jesus.
In other words, this chaplain is a priest. That creates a somewhat different image in your mind, doesn’t it?
However, there is a problem. It appears that Klingenschmitt is a priest in the “Evangelical Episcopal Church,” rather than being an evangelical who is a priest in the Episcopal Church. It really matters, you see, whether that “e” in “evangelical” is upper or lower case. If it is lower case, the chaplain is a conservative in a liberal church that has incredible clout in the operations that control military chaplains. If that “e” is upper case, then Klingenschmitt is a priest in a tiny, perhaps edgy, church that some would say is pretending to be mainstream when it is not.
It appears that he is part of what its critics would call a “splinter church” and its actual name is The Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches (or the CEEC). This is not to be confused with the Charismatic Episcopal Church or dozens of other small flocks that claim Anglican and/or Catholic roots.
If this all sounds complicated — it is. However, words and symbols really matter on the religion beat. Is this controversial chaplain a run-of-the-mill evangelical? Or is he an evangelical Episcopal priest, with a large “E” on the word “evangelical” or a small “e”? This is not an insignificant detail, as I am sure the progressive military chaplains from the Episcopal Church would agree.