Civil War Chaplain Medal of Honor Recipients

On November 15, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed Public Law 101-564 establishing March 25th as Medal of Honor Day. The first public recognition of this day was the following year on March 25th. On this Medal of Honor Day 2016, I pay tribute to the four chaplains who were recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor for their service during the United States Civil War

Francis Bloodgood Hall

Francis Bloodgood Hall

Chaplain – 16th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Presbyterian

b. 16 November 1827 New York, New York

d. 4 October 1903 Plattsburg, New York

Grave – Riverside Cemetery

Awarded the CMOH on 16 February 1897

Battle of Salem Church as part of the Chancellorsville Campaign, May 3, 1863

Citation:

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Chaplain Francis Bloodgood Hall, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 3 May 1863, while serving with 16th New York Infantry, in action at Salem Heights, Fredericksburg, Virginia. Chaplain Hall voluntarily exposed himself to a heavy fire during the thickest of the fight and carried wounded men to the rear for treatment and attendance

Milton Lorenzo Haney

Milton Lorenzo Haney – “The Fighting Chaplain”

Chaplain – 55th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Methodist

b. 23 January 1825 Savanah, Ohio

d. 20 January 1922, California

Grave – Mountain View Cemetery

Awarded the CMOH on 3 November 1896

Battle of Atlanta, Georgia July 22, 1864

Citation: The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Regimental Chaplain Milton Lorenzo Haney, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 22 July 1864, while serving with 55th Illinois Infantry, in action at Atlanta, Georgia. Chaplain Haney voluntarily carried a musket in the ranks of his regiment and rendered heroic service in retaking the Federal works which had been captured by the enemy.

John Milton Whitehead

John Milton Whitehead

Chaplain – 15th Regiment Indiana Infantry

Baptist

b. 6 March 1823 Wayne County Indiana

d. 8 March 1909 Topeka, Kansas

Grave – Topeka Cemetery

Awarded the CMOH on 4 April 1898

Battle of Stones River, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Citation:

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Chaplain John Milton Whitehead, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 31 December 1862, while serving with 15th Indiana Infantry, in action at Stone River, Tennessee. Chaplain Whitehead went to the front during a desperate contest and unaided carried to the rear several wounded and helpless soldiers.

James Hill

James Hill

Chaplain – 21st Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Baptist

b. 6 December 1822 England

d. 22 September 1899 Cascade, Iowa

Grave – Cascade Community Cemetery

Awarded the CMOH on 15 March 1893

Battle of Champion Hill, Mississippi Vicksburg Campaign

Citation:

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant (Chaplain) James Hill, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 16 May 1863, while serving with Company I, 21st Iowa Infantry, in action at Champion Hill (Baker’s Creek), Mississippi. By skillful and brave management First Lieutenant Hill captured three of the enemy’s pickets.

An additional five chaplains have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor:

Joseph Timothy O’Callahan, World War II

Emil J. Kapaun, Korea

Angelo J. Liteky, Vietnam

Charles Joseph Watters, Vietnam

Vincent Robert Capodanno, Vietnam

Chaplain George Hughes Hepworth

Civil War Chaplain and Humanitarian

Chaplain George Hughes Hepworth

Chaplain George Hughes Hepworth

“Good-by for a year.”1

These were the words spoken by the Harvard-educated Unitarian minister in Boston as he prepared to leave for service with the with the 47 Massachusetts Infantry Regiment in the United States Civil War.

His French mother had wished for a son who could preach, and her dream came true on February 4, 1833, when George Hughes Hepworth was born in Boston.  He earned his Doctorate from Harvard University in 1855 at the age of twenty-two and began a pastorate on the Island of Nantucket.  He returned to Boston in 1858 and would serve there for another twelve years.  It was during this time that the news of the Civil War was brewing.

According to his writings, Rev. Hepworth saw the Civil War not only as an “apocalyptic showdown between good and evil but as a historical, God-driven break between two ages.”2  He saw it has his duty to do what he could to aid in this struggle and when he told his congregation, I can stay no longer,” they said to him, “Go, and God speed to you!”

Rev. Hepworth was commissioned Chaplain on November 6, 1862, with the 47th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia that had been called up for nine months of service.  On the day he reported for service, the church bells began to ring, and he thought the bells had a message for him.

“Chaplain, the work before you are hard but grand. A thousand mothers, wives, and daughters have given those they dearly love their country. A thousand homes will support your arms while a thousand altar-fires will burn low for nine long months; and many, Alas! will never be kindled into their wonted brilliancy, because there is war, bloody war, in the land. Look to your duty. Pray for the boy, who, until now, has never known temptation; warn the husband and the father who is walking, as fast as he can, in the road that leads to moral death, and who will bring back his family, at the end of his term of service, a poisoned mind and heart; and when the dark day lowers, and the air is thick with battle-smoke, speak, with the Master’s authority, the ‘Peace, be still!’ to those who have fallen; and open, with the hand of friendship and of prayer, the door of heaven, that they may enter to receive their reward.”3

The 47th Regiment was organized at Camp Stanton in Lynnfield Massachusetts and then transferred to Camp Meigs in Readville to complete their training.  The regiment was transported by steamer first to Long Island New York and then on to New Orleans.  Finding regimental chaplain life a disappointment, Rev. Hepworth resigned his chaplain Commission after three months service on February 11, 1863, to accept a commission with the 76th Regiment US Colored Troops.

After the war Rev. Hepworth returned to his Church in Boston and would eventually end up in New York where he advocated help for those displaced by war especially the many former slaves that were coming to the north.

Upon hearing of the Kurdish Massacres in Armenia, Rev Hepworth traveled to Armenia to discover the truth about these events.  He wrote about his experience in “Through Armenia on Horseback.”  Shortly after his return from Armenia, Rev. Hepworth’s health began to fail him, and he died on June 7, 1902, and were buried in the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain Massachusetts.

During his time at Harvard, he began to question slavery that contributed to his thoughts on the war and his work after the war until his death.  His was a brilliant mind, and I have no doubt that he brought much comfort to those he served with.

_____________________________
1. George H. Hepworth, The Whip, Hoe, and Sword, The Gulf Department in ’63 (Boston: Walker, Wise, and Company, 1864)
2. Benedict R. Maryniak, The Spirit Divided: Memoirs of Civil War Chaplains : the Union (Mercer University Press, 2007)
3. Ibid.

 

Civil War Chaplains

Rev. Joseph Henry Thayer, Chaplain 40th Massachusetts

Joseph Henry Thayer1The Reverend Joseph Henry Thayer was born November 7, 1828 in Braintree Massachusetts to Joseph Thayer and Evelina Stetson Thayer.  He studied at the Boston Latin School and graduated from Harvard in 1850.  He went on to study theology at Harvard Divinity School and Andover Theological Seminary and was ordained a minister in the Congregational Church in 1859.  That same year Rev Thayer married Martha Caldwell Davis in Boston and they had five children.

He served Churches in Quincy and Salem Massachusetts and on September 17, 1862 was commissioned chaplain with the 40th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and reported for duty on the 23rd of September that same year.  The 40th Massachusetts was sent south to Fort Ethan Allen near what is now Arlington Virginia.  They were involved in several skirmishes in that area during 1862 and 1863.  Chaplain Thayer resigned his commission on May 15, 1863 and returned to Massachusetts.

It was not uncommon for Chaplains to serve for a short period of time the average length of service was 18 months.  There are two main reasons for this one had to do with the average age of the chaplain which was 58 and the other reasons was time away from their church.  Some Churches would only grant a short leave for their minister to go off to war and then they had to resign and return.  It is unclear why Thayer resigned but it might have been to take the position at Andover.

From 1864-1882 he was professor of sacred literature at Andover Seminary and was also a member of the American Bible Revision Committee and was recording secretary of the New Testament Company working on the Revised Version of Scripture.  His chief work was a Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament that he devoted 25 years of his life to complete.  However, shortly after his Lexicon was published Gustav Adolf Deissmann published a work based on Egyptian papyri that would revolutionize New Testament Koine Greek and thus made Thayer’s work obsolete.

In 1884 he became the Bussey Professor of New Testament criticism at Harvard Divinity School where he served until shortly before his death on November 26, 1901.

The Reverend Thayer has come under some criticism of his works and has been called, in some Evangelical circles, a Unitarian and claim that he departed from traditional orthodox Christian beliefs.  There seems to be much disagreement on this.

Arthur Buckminster Fuller, Preacher, Chaplain, and Patriot

Arthur Buckminster Fuller

Chaplain Arthur Buckminster Fuller

When I began my study of the chaplaincy during the time of the American Civil War, the first person I came across was the Reverend Arthur Buckminster Fuller.  He graduated from Harvard College in 1842 and then Harvard Divinity in 1847, but it was the fact that Chaplain Fuller was one of the 66 Union Chaplains killed during the war.

Arthur Buckminster Fuller born August 10, 1822 to the family of Congressman Timothy J. Fuller and Margaret Crane and settled on the family farm in Middlesex County Massachusetts.  Fuller received a classical education at Leicester Academy and Harvard College graduating in 1843.  He then moved on to Belvidere Illinois where he ran an academy and that same year became a lay preacher in the Unitarian Church.  The school closed 18 months later and Fuller returned east and entered the Divinity School at Harvard.  He served several churches over the next years and was well known as an outspoken evangelist for his plain speaking that was attractive to the “regular” folk and farmers in the area.

He practiced what he preached and was active in the temperance movement and was also an outspoken abolitionist.  He served on the Boston School Board and was an advocate for free public education for all.  In the mid-1850’s he published two sermons advocating the replacement of all “foreign” influences in the Boston School System.  Believing that only Protestant theology should be taught in the school system, this was a direct attack on the Roman Catholic Church.  Fuller was a progressive thinker for his day, and he believed that it was proper for a woman to pursue a professional career outside of the home.

With the start of the Civil War Fuller resigned his pulpit at the Unitarian Church in Watertown Massachusetts. He signed on as regimental chaplain with the 16th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and prepared to serve in the field with his unit.  When asked whether he had a sense of the danger he could face he responded, “I am willing to peril life for the welfare of our brave soldiers, and in our country’s great cause. If God requires that sacrifice of me, it shall be offered on the altar of freedom, and in the defense of all that is good in American institutions.”  As a Unitarian, he believed he was required every day to make it a holy day and that salvation demanded not only to serve God but service to his fellow man.

The 16th Massachusetts was not engaged in the war straight away, and Chaplain Fuller busied himself visiting soldiers in the post hospital, preaching, and teaching soldiers and former slaves to read and write.  In 1862, he witnessed the Battle of the Ironclads the Monitor and the Merrimack.  He would later write in his journal about the fight, “David had conquered Goliath with his smooth stones or wrought-iron balls, from his little sling or shot tower.”

Chaplain Fuller was not like other Regimental Chaplains and was found at the side of his soldiers on the battlefield.  He did not carry a weapon of any kind but there he was, right next to his troops, praying and offering what assistance and encouragement he could during the battle. “I know no holier place, none more solemn, more awful, more glorious than this battlefield shall be” he would write in his journal.

When the 16th was relieved of duty on the battlefield, Chaplain Fuller was sick, and he needed time to rest.  Chaplains, for the most part, were much older than the average soldier he was forty-one years old at the date of the battle, and were not accustomed to the harsh life of the soldier.  Along with that, chaplains were tireless in their service and support of their soldiers often sacrificing their health for that of their troops and that is what happened to Chaplain Fuller.  He was finally convinced to take leave and he returned to Massachusetts for some rest and recuperation, but that was to be short lived.

Chaplain Fuller returned to his regiment in October of 1862 and was greeted warmly by the soldiers of the regiment.  From that point on the regimental surgeon would not let him go into battle with his troops, his health being so fragile the doctor did not want him to be a liability on the battlefield.  Chaplain Fuller would remain behind and offer what service he could with the troops in the rear.  His illness was such that in December of 1862 he was declared un fit for duty, and he would have to resign as chaplain.  In a letter to his wife he wrote, “You can hardly realize the pain I felt when I found I could not share the field campaign without throwing away health and life.”  He was willing to sacrifice all he had but the Army would not let him.

He preached his final sermon to the regiment on Sunday, December 7, 1862 and was discharged from the Army, and he prepared to return to Massachusetts.  Writing again to his wife, “If any regret were mine, it would be that I am not able to remain with my regiment longer, but this is, doubtless, in God’s providence.”  His only consolation was that a place had been found for him as a hospital chaplain so he would be able to continue to serve.

As the assault on the City of Fredericksburg started, Rev. Fuller lingered with his regiment.  Perhaps he was not quite ready to leave their side or maybe it was God telling his to stay we shall never know.  The engineers building a bridge across the Rappahannock came under fire from Confederate snipers, and it was decided that an assault would be made across the river.  The call went out for any available man to help row the boats across the river, and Fuller was right there to volunteer.

Reaching the other side of the river he found himself with the men of the 19th Massachusetts.  He stayed with them as their chaplain had long since abandoned them, and he was of the firm belief that the men needed a minister by their side during the battle.  He secured permission from the regimental commander to stay and stay he did; he was shot and killed instantly.  He died doing what he was called to do, and he died serving his men to his last breath.

His funeral was held in Boston where he was given grand eulogies by several ministers that knew him and his work.  The funeral procession brought the flag draped casket to the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston for its final resting place.

Located at the grave is a simple stone that marks the place where he rests.  Along with the dates of his birth and death as well as those of his educational achievements, is this quote, “I must do something for my country.”

Chaplain Fuller loved the Union but he loved his fellow man more and he believed that his place was on the battle field alongside those who had answered the call to duty.  He paid the ultimate price for his devotion not only to duty but to his soldiers.  His story can teach us about what it takes to truly be a shepherd of our flocks.  “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11

George Washington and Army Chaplains

James Caldwell, the "soldier parson"

James Caldwell, the “soldier parson”

On this day, February 7, 1776, General George Washington notifies his troops of a new policy regarding chaplains’ pay. He’d advocated for better treatment of his chaplains, and he’d succeeded!

Shortly after Washington assumed command of the American army during the summer of 1775, the Continental Congress approved its first act regarding chaplains. This act set chaplains’ salaries at $20 per month just above that of lieutenants. Washington was unimpressed. He wrote the President of Congress, noting that the pay was “too Small to encourage men of Abilities.” He asked that a way be found to increase chaplains’ salaries.

Congress approved Washington’s request. It passed an act providing for the appointment of one chaplain to every two regiments. The chaplains had more responsibility, but their pay was also increased. Instead of $20 per month, they were to receive a little more than $33 per month. Washington announced the change on February 7, 1776.

After a few months, Washington decided that the system (unfortunately) did not work for logistical reasons. If regiments were separated due to the demands of war, one regiment might find itself without a chaplain for a while. Washington wrote Congress again. He asked that chaplains be assigned one per regiment, with a salary “competent to their support.”

Congress initially agreed, but the new policy did not last. Eventually, fiscal concerns caused chaplains to be assigned one per brigade. A brigade was a much larger unit of the army; it could be composed of several regiments. In other words, there were fewer chaplains, overall, in the army.

Washington objected again. Interestingly, his main concern was for religious liberty. He wanted many chaplains of a variety of faiths. If there were fewer chaplains overall, then, by definition, there were fewer choices for his men. They were more likely, he wrote Congress, to be compelled “to a mode of Worship, which they do not profess.” Washington preferred the old system, with more chaplains and a greater likelihood that the men could have “a Chaplain of their own religious Sentiments.”

Perhaps what is most interesting about all of these events is the great importance that Washington placed upon the presence of chaplains in his army. He thought they served a valuable function, and he advocated for them consistently. Remember that Washington often faced shortages of supplies and funds. Yet he thought it important to spend some of these valuable funds on chaplains.

Chaplain John Rosbrugh Martyr for the Cause

Rev. John Rosbrugh marker Mercer County New Jersey

Rev. John Rosbrugh marker Mercer County New Jersey

On the 29th of July 1775 General George Washington authorized clergy to serve with the troops and thus was born the Chaplain Corps of the United States Army.  Since that day, chaplains have served with distinction in peace time as well as in war.  Men and women of all faiths have answered not only the call of God, but the call of their country to serve alongside soldiers, sailors, and marines in all situations.  This is the story of one such chaplain.

John Rosbrugh was born in 1714 in Northern Ireland and came to America with several members of his family and settled in New Jersey.  He attended the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, and in 1762 he was licensed to preach by the New Brunswick Presbytery.  Two years later he was called to pastor congregations in Greenwich, Oxford, and Mansfield Woodhouse in Western New Jersey and was ordained to the ministry in the Presbyterian Church.

The main source of information to the residence of communities in the Colonies was from the pulpit.  Many preachers used the time to stir up their congregations to fight for their rights that were being reduced each day by Parliament.  There were fiery sermons delivered from pulpits up and down the coast by what became known as the “Black Robed Regiment.”  American patriotism and theology were woven together to show that Liberty and Freedom were gifts given to people by God and, in the words of the Declaration of Independence these rights were “unalienable.”

So moved were the members of Rev. Rosbrugh’s congregations they formed a regiment and asked him to lead them.  The thought he would go to war with them as their chaplain but they asked him to in fact, be their commander.  He took the head of regiment, slung his musket over his shoulder, and led them to join up with General Washington and the Continental Army in Philadelphia.

After their arrival in Philadelphia it was decided that Rev. Rosbrugh was better suited to the role of chaplain and he was replaced by Captain John Hays.  At this time in the history of the Chaplain Corps the Army Chaplain was not provided a uniform, he would have worn the common black clothing of a preacher, he did however hold the rank of major and received pay of thirty-three and half dollars per month for his service.

It is important to note that at this point in time in history, Presbyterian minsters were especially hated by the British troops and if they were captured they would suffer the cruelest treatment.

On the afternoon of January 2 1777 General Washington decided to take Trenton for the second time, the battle is known as the Battle of Assunpink Creek, and Rev Rosbrugh’s company was involved in this battle.  When the attack began he was dining at a public house when he heard the alarm sound.  Leaving the building he found that his horse had been taken and he was suddenly confronted by a company of Hessian Troops.  He raised his arms in surrender but he was recognized as a Presbyterian minister and he was bayonetted to death on the spot.  He was stripped of all of his clothes and left naked in the snow.

William Dwyer, in his book The Day is Ours! An Inside View of the Battles of Trenton and Princeton, November 1776-January 1777 [1] he suggests that Rev. Rosbrugh was so brutally killed because he was mistaken for the Rev. John Witherspoon whom the British troops had burned in effigy not long before this attack took place.

Captain Hayes herded of the death of his chaplain went to find his body.  He found him in the spot where he had been killed and quickly buried him there.  The next day his body was moved by fellow Presbyterian minister George Duffield and was buried in the Presbyterian Church graveyard in Trenton.

Although it is believed he still lies in the grave he was placed in after his death there is some uncertainty to the exact location.  His wife, who died in 1809, is buried in a cemetery in East Allen Township and the inscription on her stone indicates that he is buried alongside her.

Was he a victim of mistaken identity?  Was he in the wrong place at the wrong time?  No one knows for certain.  What is known is that Chaplain Rosbrugh was the first US Chaplain to be killed in battle.  He died, as so many others did, a martyr for the cause of freedom.

Chaplains continue to serve today in all branches of the US military and bring comfort to all in some of the most difficult situations.  One of those was Chaplain (MAJ) Henry Timothy “Tim” Vakoc a Roman Catholic priest who died of wounds received when his Humvee was struck by an IED.  Chaplain Vakoc is the only US Chaplain to die from wounds received in the Iraq war.

[1] William M. Dwyer, The Day is Ours! An Inside View of the Battles of Trenton and Princeton, November 1776-January 1777 (Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 1998) p. 323

Civil War Chaplains

Chaplains of the Irish Brigade

During the last years of my service in the United States Army, I had the honor of serving as a chaplain’s assistant in the 42nd Division Artillery.  Since ordination I have had the privilege of serving as chaplain major of the National Lancers.  Chaplains in the military serve a very necessary service.

I am an amateur Civil War buff and have started a small research project on the role of religion during this time period in history and more specifically the role of the chaplain during the war itself.

According to the book “Faith in the Fight” there were some 3,694 ministers, priests, and rabbis duly sworn and commissioned into service in the Armies of the North and the South.  Officially noncombatants they were prohibited to act like soldiers and to be friends to all.

Rev. George S. Bradley of the 22nd Wisconsin Regiment wrote about the life of an Army chaplain in his book, The Star Corps: Notes of an Army Chaplain during Sherman’s Famous March to the Sea, published in 1865.  He wrote that “The regulations require that a chaplain must be an ordained minister of the Gospel.  That means he must have spent several quiet years as a student and probably several more with a peaceful congregation.”

The Reverend John E. Robie of the 74th New York State Militia wrote an article for the Buffalo Christian Advocate, which he owned, about the qualifications and duties of the Army Chaplain:

“In order to become a chaplain it is necessary to get a certificate of not less than five ministers of one’s own denomination that one is a regularly-ordained clergyman… He must be elected to the position by the regiment which he will serve… He will be paid $100 a month and $18 for rations with forage for one horse… As the commanding officer will permit, the chaplain should have prayer daily at dress parade… The prayer should not be more than three minutes long… On Sunday, but one service can be held, and that not always… The service, including scripture-reading, singing, sermon or address, and prayers should occupy 20 or 25 minutes – never over 30.”

Very interesting accounts of what the life of a chaplain really was during the time of war.  The role of the chaplain has not changed all that much since those days and is still a vital part of the military service.

One chaplain that I will mention is Father William Corby who served with the 88th New York Infantry Brigade of the famous Irish Brigade.  Fr. Corby is the chaplain on the lower right in the picture at the top of the page. Chaplain Corby came to fame due to his role at the Battle of Gettysburg.

On the afternoon of July 2, 1863 the Irish Brigade was located on Cemetery Ridge and was preparing to go into battle at the Wheatfield.  Fr. Corby asked for permission to speak to the men and stepping upon a boulder he called upon God to grant the men courage and then pronounced a conditional general absolution on the men gathered before him.  He warned the soldiers that the forgiveness of their sins was only good to men who did their military duty.

A statue has been erected to honor Fr. Corby and at the time of its construction it was the first statue depicting a non-general on the battlefield.

Fr. Corby went on after the war to become the president of Notre Dame University.

There are many more stories like these in the pages of history and I hope to bring some of them to these pages as time goes on.  We should be thankful that even today, men and women are answering the call the serve the military as chaplains.

Don’t ask, don’t tell the chaplains

By Terry Mattingly

The setting: The office of a priest who serves as a military chaplain.

The time: This hypothetical encounter occurs soon after the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that forbids gays, lesbians and bisexuals to openly serve in America’s armed forces.
The scene: An officer requests counseling about tensions with her same-sex partner as they prepare for marriage. The priest says this would be inappropriate, since his church teaches that sex outside of marriage is sin and that the sacrament of marriage is reserved for unions of a man and a woman.
The priest offers to refer her to a chaplain at another base who represents a church that performs same-sex rites. The officer accepts, but is less than pleased at the inconvenience.
What happens next? That question is driving the tense church-state debates that continue behind the scenes of the political drama that surrounds “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“If the government normalizes homosexual behavior in the armed forces, many (if not most) chaplains will confront a profoundly difficult moral choice: whether they are to obey God or to obey men,” stated a September letter from 60-plus retired chaplains to President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” they argued, will cripple the ability of many chaplains to provide counseling. “Service members seeking guidance regarding homosexual relationships will place chaplains in an untenable position. If chaplains answer such questions according to the tenets of their faith, stating that homosexual relationships are sinful and harmful, then they run the risk of career-ending accusations of insubordination and discrimination. And if chaplains simply decline to provide counseling at all on that issue, they may still face discipline for discrimination.”
These complaints are “somewhat disingenuous,” according to the Rev. John F. Gundlach, a retired Navy chaplain from the United Church of Christ, the progressive Protestant denomination into which Obama was baptized.
“These chaplains … will continue to have the same rights they’ve always had to preach, teach, counsel, marry and conduct religious matters according to the tenets of their faith. They will also continue to have the responsibility to refer servicemembers to other chaplains when their own theology or conscience will not allow them to perform the services to which a servicemember is entitled,” stressed Gundlach, writing in Stars and Stripes. “Any chaplain who can’t fulfill this expectation should find somewhere else to do ministry.”
The urgency of these debates will only increase after this week’s Pentagon statement instructing its recruiters to accept openly gay applicants, a shift driven by a federal court decision barring the military from expelling openly gay soldiers.
Military chaplains are already being asked to serve as doctrinal Swiss Army knifes, performing rites and prayers for personnel from a variety of flocks when the need arises. This kind of pluralism is easy for chaplains from some traditions, but not others.
Meanwhile, it’s hard for chaplains to refer troubled soldiers to clergy in foxholes 30 miles away. It’s impossible to have a variety of chaplains — Southern Baptists and Wiccans, Catholic priests and rabbis — serving on every base, let alone in submarines.
There is no easy way out of this church-state maze.
If “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed, “no restrictions or limitations on the teaching of Catholic morality can be accepted,” noted Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services. While Catholic chaplains must always show compassion, they “can never condone — even silently — homosexual behavior.”
A letter from Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America to the chaplains board was even more blunt: “If our chaplains were in any way … prohibited from denouncing such behavior as sinful and self-destructive, it would create an impediment to their service in the military. If such an attitude were regarded as ‘prejudice’ or the denunciation of homosexuality as ‘hate language,’ or the like, we would be forced to pull out our chaplains from military service.”
So be it, said Gundlach. While these chaplains “worry about being discriminated against, they openly discriminate against some of the very people they are pledged to serve and serve with. If the hate speech currently uttered by some conservative chaplains and their denominations is any indication of how they will respond in the future, we can expect this discrimination to continue.”
These chaplains need to resign, he said. The armed services “will be the better for it.”

Sermon: Planting Life

Luke 17:11-19

Have you ever been excluded from anything?  Have you ever excluded someone from something?

A few years back, I was invited to pray in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the Annual Remembrance Day Weekend.  These events take place in November of each year and draw a rather large crowd of living historians and others interested in the Civil War. Remembrance is focused on the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg and the address by President Lincoln on November 19, 1863. I was invited to participate by the National Chaplain of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and asked to pray at a couple of events and to preach and lead the Sunday service.

As you can imagine, this was quite an honor. I have been asked to preach at significant events in the past, but this one would bring all of my passions together, history, history of religion and religious practices, and of course, preaching. I began to work on the sermon and the prayers a few weeks in advance of the event wanting to leave nothing to chance.  One evening, about a week or so before the event was to take place; the Chaplain contacted me to disinvite me from participating in the event. Apparently, and I know some of you will find this hard to believe, he thought I was too liberal.

As one can imagine, I was disappointed and a little upset. I will not go into all of the details of what happened next just to say I am now the National Chaplain of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and I am grateful to have that position.

In today’s Gospel from Luke, we see Jesus coming face to face with ten lepers. Leprosy was and is a horrible disease that was highly contagious, and so those unfortunates with this affliction were relegated to cave and catacombs outside of the city. They were forced to beg for their bread and only allowed to roam about at night and were often seen in the shadows. They were also cut off from the worshipping community, which meant they could not participate in the liturgical life of that community. That community excluded them because the community was afraid of what would happen. Those appointed to minister to the community did not even minister to them; they were shunned out of existence.

But here they are, standing face to face with Jesus. They have heard of his power to heal, and they have come to ask for help. He tells them to “go and show yourselves to the priest,” and as they make their way, they are healed. Notice, Jesus does not heal them straight away as he does with others; he tells them to go and show themselves. Some would say it was their act of obedience that did the healing but the interesting thing is, the healing of these lepers is not the point of the story.

Sure, the healing is great but, and I often say this, the miracle of Jesus is often just the match that lights the fuse, we have to push past the magic to get to the root of the story and the message that it holds and this is one of those times.

I am not sure if any of you are familiar with it, but in 1820 Thomas Jefferson complied with what is now called the Jefferson Bible. The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, its actual title, is a compilation of the teaching of Jesus that Jefferson complied but taking a razor blade to Scripture to remove all of the bits that he considered the supernatural. Jefferson believed that magic stories just got in the way of moral teaching behind the event, and he wanted to strip it all away. There is some sanity behind doing what Jefferson did by trying to get people to focus on the moral of the story rather than the magic of it all.

Back to the story.

We do not know how far they had gone before the healing took place or if they went to “show themselves to the priest” or not, but, along the way, one of them notices that he has been healed and so he turns and goes back to see Jesus.  He was praising God, and when he came before Jesus, the man fell to his knees and thanked him for what he had done. Remember, there were ten, and only one has returned to give thanks.  But, if that was not astonishingly enough, the man, Scripture tells us is a Samaritan. If this was a movie, this is where the dun, dun, dun music would play.

We all know how the Jews of Jesus day felt about the Samaritans, so I won’t go into that here except to say, this is a big deal. The one, the only one that came back to thank Jesus, was a foreigner, the despised one, the least likely of all of them to return. But here he is, kneeling before Jesus, giving thanks to God for what has just happened to him. He asks the man about the other nine, but we do not know what tone of voice he used in asking his question. But we do know this, this man, a double outcast the most unlikely of all of them, is embraced by God and told that his faith has made him well.

This is not a story of healing; this is a story about faith and a story about gratitude, and this is a story of acceptance. Jesus is teaching about the nature of faith. To have faith is to live that faith and to live that faith is to give thanks. It is living a life of gratitude that constitutes living a life of faith; this grateful faith is what has made this leper, this man from Samaria, well not just physically but spiritually.

It was the man’s thanksgiving that made him well, not magic words from Jesus, and this thankfulness is available to all of us. Notice also that the thanksgiving is directed toward God and not toward Jesus as everything is done from God through others.

The practice of intentional gratitude changes lives, and as we have seen in this story today, but gratitude can transform all of us, this congregation, and through us to our community. It starts here and spreads out from this place to places we may never even know about.

When Christians practice gratitude, we come to worship to give praise and thanksgiving and not just looking for what we “can get out of it.” The mission of the church changes from an ethical duty to the work of grateful hands and hearts. Prayer includes not only our intentions and supplications but also our thanksgiving for all of the blessings God has given to us.