In Jesus' Name: Free Will Baptists and Military Chaplaincy Today
By Chaplain (LTC) Brad Hanna
Can a Free Will Baptist chaplain serve faithfully in the military today? This question has been posed in numerous ways: “Can you pray in Jesus’ name?” “Is sharing the gospel forbidden in the military?” “Does the military restrict the topics you can teach and preach?” “Do you have to affirm lifestyles Free Will Baptists believe are unbiblical?”
Both pastors and church members have voiced these concerns to us throughout the years for good reason. Free Will Baptists expect our ministers—whether in the pulpit, chaplaincy, or any other role—to represent our denomination in theology and practice without hesitation or compromise.
I am always pleased to share with churches and those considering the call to military chaplaincy that Free Will Baptists, and any other denomination or faith group, not only can remain faithful to their beliefs, but they are expected to be faithful to them. The military has a unique relationship with the chaplaincy. While all who serve in the military wear the uniform of their various services, chaplains are unique in that we are “on loan” from the faith group that sends us. Simply put, Free Will Baptist chaplains are Free Will Baptists pastors in uniform who provide religious support to men and women who serve the armed forces.
While this faith group endorser/military relationship has not changed in many years, as our nation has become less religious, more religiously diverse, and more secular in beliefs, some cases have raised concerns about whether everyone in the military fully understands and embraces the concept. Congress shares those same concerns. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (Public Law 112-239), the annual law Congress passes to provide direction and oversight to the military, they directed the military to ensure religious rights of conscience were upheld for both individual service members and chaplains. Specifically, the law states: “No member of the Armed Forces may—
(1) require a chaplain to perform any rite, ritual,
or ceremony that is contrary to conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the chaplain; or
(2) discriminate or take any action against a chaplain, including denial of a promotion, schooling, training, or assignment, on the basis of refusal by the chaplain to comply with a requirement prohibited by paragraph (1).”
Congress also directed the secretary of defense to issue regulations implementing these protections.
This year, in fulfillment of Congress’ directive, the
Department of Defense issued an order directing all
services to provide Religious Liberty and Religious
Accommodation training to all commanders, judge
advocates, recruiters, and chaplains.
This has been an incredible turn of events. The focus has turned back toward the constitutional right of free
expression of religion. I hope and pray this will serve to limit the occasions where individuals or commanders make unwarranted complaints against chaplains or service members who simply follow their conscience and the theology of their endorsing denomination.
Free Will Baptist chaplains can serve faithfully, are serving faithfully, and will continue to serve Christ and our denomination faithfully for years to come. It is a great time for many more of our young ministers to consider
a calling to the military chaplaincy.
Continue to pray for more Free Will Baptist chaplains
and to encourage more young men to join our ranks.
About the Author: (LTC) Brad Hanna is state command chaplain for the Oklahoma National Guard. To learn more about Free Will Baptists and the chaplaincy, visit FWBNAM.com/chaplaincy.