Welcome a new year for An Examined Life, and I’m really excited about our first guest for the new year: a friend of mine, the Right Reverend Derek Jones. He’s the Bishop of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy and a retired combat veteran fighter pilot. He became a Chaplain after serving 27 years in the US Air Force. It was then that he went to seminary and began to pursue a career in ministry. His roots are in the Baptist Church, where he began his relationship with Jesus Christ as a teen, however as an adult, he became an American Anglican bishop.
You see, his father worked as a performer in Washington D.C and had an Episcopalian background and his mother was a Methodist. Somehow, this entangled web of roots spawned a strong appreciation in Derek for liturgy and the sacraments, even as a young boy. As he grew, he supported the military chaplains any way he could in any capacity and for any denomination – even officiating over a Jewish service at one time.
While in seminary, he was hit with a personal conviction in regards to the “real presence of Christ” in the Eucharist on top of organizational and theological stances that all led to becoming an Anglican Bishop, overseeing several chaplains in the military and law enforcement.
Needless to say, the combination of military machismo and Christian conviction is a fun recipe that can only be prepared by God’s hands. But what makes the responsibility of a chaplain truly unique is that when he is embedded with active troops, they tend to look to him for guidance and help, and rarely do questions regarding denominations or communion issues ever come up. It’s typically much more “life and death” issues and “searching for meaning” and eternal questions that are on these guys’ front burners more than differences in dogma.
When chaplains are deployed into the theater, it’s never for less than six months (most tours end up being 12-18 months), and Derek has chaplains under his leadership who have deployed up to six times in their career. While visiting with the commander at Fort. Drummond in New York, Derek learned that one of their greatest concerns were the amount of deployments some of their men had taken – many of whom were married before their first deployment, and were now getting ready to go out on their fifth. So, while they had officially been married for around seven years, they had actually only been home with their families for but a few months in that time. This creates a whole slew of unique challenges. One nice thing is that Derek has a portion of his staff who keeps track of the chaplains and the soldiers they care for.
You see, in a typical church setting, you have a community of believers surrounding each person with a pastor and other member care people to take care of the needs of each individual within the congregation. But for our military personnel, who don’t have a congregation to connect with, each chaplain becomes the “place of refuge” for each Christian soldier to turn to.
For example, the Centurion Project is designed to bring our combat veterans who are suffering from PTSD and operational stress. PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which affects a lot of folks who come back from fighting overseas and simply don’t know how to deal with what they’ve done in the theater of war. You see, while a soldier killing another human being may be moral and may be justified, it can still cause a severe moral injury to the soldier. It runs contrary to who we are as God’s creation to want to take another life. So, through a series of retreats and interactions with professionals, we help walk these folks through the process of how, why and when God heals. It’s important to note that this isn’t isolated to our Christian soldiers. We also invite those with no faith at all to attend, because, quite frankly, whether or not they believe in God at the time has no bearing on what God can do through their situations and in their lives. He’s much bigger than our opinions or anything we can imagine or suffer through. Over 100 combat veterans have been healed through the Welcome Home Initiative and the Centurion Project.
While there are many agencies out there that do a lot to help soldiers develop coping mechanisms, the truth is that people can cope through a myriad of different things: counseling, family, as much as drugs, alcohol and pornography. Therefore, the Centurion Project isn’t about guiding them to the right coping mechanisms. Instead it’s about God actually healing these wounds.
This goes all the way back to Biblical times, where we see the soldiers camping outside the city for seven days of rest and purification. This is that type of program, where we teach our combat veterans how to prepare to be healed by a God who wants them to be whole.
To learn more about the Centurion Project, go to AnglicanChaplains.org, and to learn about the Welcome Home Initiative, check out ByHisWoundsMinistry.org.
Switching gears, Derek and I talk about the status of today’s military and its chaplains. Unfortunately, chaplains are often alone and lack a grass-roots effort to billow underneath them and support them, such as a local congregation. One of the things Derek and his colleagues had to tackle was the newly defined issue of “religious liberty”, and our very first Constitutional right. The next onslaught that has come his way is an idea that “a chaplain is not religious or doesn’t represent faith”. Now, while the things that Derek does and teaches do, in fact, support Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, etc.; and Derek recognizes that all our military personnel are free to exercise their own faith. But, to present the idea that somebody of no faith whatsoever should be represented by a chaplain just doesn’t make sense. For those that are not of faith, they have no need of a religious person to help them through things. They actually have a plethora of places where they can go to get the help they need that are not religious in nature: mental health professionals, professional counselors, and others. A chaplain, however, is commissioned with the pastoral responsibilities for those of faith. So, to see an individual claiming to be an atheist also petition for the office of a chaplain is ludicrous. So, while Derek is working to clearly define on public record what a chaplain is, his colleagues also recognize that that could be a slippery slope. It wouldn’t be long after that we would have to publicly and officially define what a congressman is, or what a senator is (though it would be interesting to see how the US government would define a czar).
Derek puts it best, in regards to the decisions we face today and the slippery slopes that are out there. For instance, when “no fault divorce” was allowed several decades ago, it altered the sanctity of marriage that had previously existed in the U.S. for two hundred years. Therefore, to see the suggestion that the marital relationship between a man and a woman is not sacred should be no surprise. When we are given to our own devices, and the argument begins to be “God is love”, which is true, but it can pretty much lead to accepting anything. You see, we pretty much have ourselves to blame. We took our own religious liberty and said that it is a private discourse. We agreed to keep it reserved and kept to the home. We remained silent while opposing opinions to our own pushed us in this direction. Therefore, we’ve been silenced, which was never the intent of our founding fathers.
We’ve been silent so long that now, that many Christians are actually fearful to express their views in public. We need to be emboldened and we need to support those who are bold enough to stand up and take their place in the public square and proclaim who God says He is.
And, by the way, it’s totally easy to stand firm without being a jerk!
You can calmly, confidently and even smile while expressing Biblical truth.
The problem is that there are so many Christians today who don’t understand: what they believe, why they believe what they believe, and why it matters.
We especially see this come to light when it comes to the sanctity of life and matters of abortion. The truth is that about 25-33% of women in America have had an abortion. Yet you have proponents of abortion who will say it’s more like 50%. Now, if their math is correct, that’s sad in its own right, but why would they promote such a dramatically higher statistic? It’s because they are seeking to normalize abortion. Therefore, somehow it makes it acceptable. And just like the soldiers that we minister to, it’s documented that scores of women suffer from PTSD after aborting their babies.
This is what happens when we try to create a moral standard absent of Scripture.
Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty are the experts for religious liberty and needs your help. While God is not flat broke, the organization can do so much more if more funds were to come in. While they work in Washington, they are neither conservative nor liberal, but rather judge things on whether or not they are orthodox and right.
For more engaging and encouraging podcasts and videos, visit the E-Squared Media Network at www.e2medianetwork.com.