This review was written earlier this year and appears in the Advent/Christmas edition of the Newsletter of the Anglican Military Ordinariate, Royal Canadian Chaplain Service. MP+
Military Chaplaincy in Contention: Chaplains, Churches and the Morality of Conflict. Andrew Todd, editor. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013.
In this compilation of essays, British military chaplains and theologians reflect on the United Kingdom’s decade long engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Canadian readers of this book will immediately notice differences between our two chaplaincies. The military chaplains who contributed essays were or are members of the Royal Army Chaplains Department (RAChD), so there is no experience of tri-service chaplaincy here. As members of a Christian organization, they lack the nuances and multifaith awareness that CAF chaplains have been gaining since 2003. Their ecclesiastical relationships are not as strong as ours are, and they are aware that their churches share British society’s uncertainties about these wars. Nevertheless, their struggles with the moral ambiguities of asymmetric conflict, with the demands of military missions and theology, and with the changing role of religion in the military and society, will be struggles that any CAF chaplain can identify with.
The book’s title, Military Chaplaincy in Contention, was deliberately chosen by the editor, Andrew Todd, Director of the Chaplaincy Studies program at Cardiff. As Todd notes, the ministry of chaplains is “in contention” not only because the Iraq and Afghanistan missions were/are contentious, without a consensus of support within UK society, but also because the chaplain’s role, often doing “instantaneous theology” within the complex demands of military operations and under the media gaze, raises the public question, “to what extent is a largely Christian, religious presence appropriate in this public context”? The essays that follow take their tone accordingly. They are provocative, challenging, and provide ample food for thought.
Andrew Totten, currently the Assistant Chaplain General, RAChD, and a veteran of many deployments including Afghanistan, carefully explores the differences between two words that every chaplain must negotiate, “moral” and “morale”. While “morale” speaks to the chaplain’s pastoral role of caring for and encouraging soldiers, Totten notes that chaplains must also engage with “moral” issues of right and wrong. This engagement can be difficult when British Christian churches are conflicted about war and give their chaplains little support or framework to reflect on the morality of warfare. If chaplains avoid issues of morality and default to merely being“morale sustainers of soldiers”, Totten argues, then they have failed their primary role, which is to help soldiers distinguish between right and wrong. As Totten notes, military duty in Helmand Province comes with an ethical component. He writes that he has often observed British soldiers enduring great discomfort and risk while “encouraging local nationals to support the people and processes of civil society”, and so chaplains must share and engage with “soldiers’ needs and experiences”.
Likewise, Philip McCormack, Chief Instructor at the UK Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre, argues that chaplains and their churches cannot sit quietly on a comfortable and removed moral high ground, but must “become active participants in a dialogue on how to create a moral/ethical resource or framework for those who find themselves in the most morally challenging situations of our time”. Other contributors in this section address moral aspects of interrogation of suspected terrorists and the implications of the increasing use of robotics in warfare.
Peter Howson, a retired RAChD padre and Methodist pastor, examines the sometimes strained relations between chaplains and the British churches, which often think and act like “functional pacifists”. This chapter made me especially grateful for the role of our own Interfaith Committee on Canadian Military Chaplaincy in the life of our Branch, and led me to conclude that our chaplaincy is markedly ahead of the British in terms of our relations with Canadian faith groups. Jonathan Ball, a retired RAChD padre and Anglican priest, offers a strong essay on the role of liturgy in deployed contexts. Ball examines the experience of padres with British Army deployments in 2010, when an astonishing 78 soldier deaths in one brigade proved that vigils and memorial services show that liturgy, carefully planned, still has the power to console and comfort, even in the British context where society, especially male society, is increasingly estranged from religion. Two final essays both address the Christian just war tradition as a resource for chaplains, and examine the connection between military mission and morality.
The essays in Military Chaplaincy in Contention highlight some of the differences between our Branch and our British colleagues. However, the contributors to this thoughtful book all recognize a universal role of our vocation, namely that effective chaplaincy must be located “within the military community: providing space for military personnel to air their doubts, or raise questions about the rules that govern military life; acting as a critical friend to the commanding officer; questioning, when necessary, the way in which military strategy is carried out”. In those respects our role is the same, regardless of the uniform or faith identifiers we may happen to wear.
Reviewed By Padre Michael Peterson