Military Chaplains as Agents of Peace: Religious Leader Engagement in Conflict and Post-conflict Environment

Daniel S. Schipani

The Conrad Grebel Review 32, no. 1 (Winter 2014)

S. (Steve) K. Moore. Military Chaplains as Agents of Peace: Religious Leader Engagement in Conflict and Post-conflict Environment. Toronto: Lexington Books, 2013.

 

The author of this book is an ordained elder with the United Church of Canada who served as a chaplain in the Canadian Forces for twenty-two years. His main purpose is to offer a vision of “Religious Leader Engagement” (RLE) as an evolving domain of ministry among military chaplains internationally within the larger framework of the potential role of religion in peacebuilding in conflict and post-conflict situations. RLE comprises military-supported systematic efforts to affirm, network, and partner with local, regional, and, sometimes, national religious leaders who share a commitment to peace and reconciliation.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I—Theoretical Consideration of the Role of Religion in the Conflict Environment—has four chapters, beginning with an introduction that describes the challenges of the contemporary context of conflict and the need for comprehensive integrative approaches. It continues with a discussion of a theory of conflict and the praxis of peacebuilding employed in the rest of the account. Chapters that follow consider the role of religion in conflict and peacebuilding, and RLE as an emerging role for military chaplains.

Part II—Case Studies from the International Military Chaplaincy Community—contains five chapters that illustrate and analyze the RLE experience of a number of chaplains from Canada, France, the United States, New Zealand, and Norway. Part III—Religious Leader Engagement in Application—includes a chapter on the implementation of RLE, and another with a practical theology of reconciliation in theaters of war.

The content of the book reveals that the author has systematically developed an interdisciplinary, practical-theological approach with its four necessary phases: empirical-descriptive observation, interpretive analysis, evaluative and normative discussion, and pragmatic-strategic guidelines for further reflection and praxis. His creative work of theory building, which includes important sources for this project (for example, René Girard and Miroslav Volf) is particularly noteworthy.

Moore successfully demonstrates that RLE is an emerging domain which can advance the cause of reconciliation via the religious peacebuilding of military chaplains in today’s “theaters of war,” and that it is a model which applies especially to military-supported reconstruction and humanitarian efforts. Chaplains can, under certain circumstances, foster trust building through dialog that facilitates inter-religious encounter among estranged faith community leaders for the sake of mutual re-humanizing and community building. By effectively partnering with those leaders they can be catalysts for meeting identified community needs, promoting peace and reconciliation, and creating integrative approaches to inter-communal collaboration.

Together with a complete presentation of the benefits of RLE, the author also considers some of its limitations, including brief references to problematic questions directly related to such chaplaincy ministry, such as influence activities as part of so-called “Information Operations” for military advantage, information gathering for intelligence purposes, and the protected non-combatant status of chaplains (238-46). One could add the risks of “stabilization” as an exercise in imposing a kind of Pax Romana among populations subject to the political and military control of Western powers.  Related to this point, it would have been helpful if Moore had discussed further the significant differences between the strategic and the tactical levels of “operations” when referring to US-led RLE and smaller military partners (197).

While recognizing the potential for military chaplains to be caught in serious ethical binds, Moore’s presentation betrays the inherent dilemma they face: their specialist officer status makes them part of the military’s authoritarian structure and subordinated to their commander; they must support the “mission” and thus the policies of the sending governments. It is therefore hard for them to be duly prophetic in the face of violence and injustice committed, allowed, or condoned by the forces they serve. Moore’s otherwise comprehensive account seems to assume that benevolence is always the motivation and guiding virtue of Canadian and other military “operations.” The author could have avoided the criticism of ideological captivity had he forcefully addressed the dilemma.

That criticism notwithstanding, Military Chaplains as Agents of Peace is an important contribution to two fields rarely viewed as intersecting, namely military chaplaincy and peace studies. It is wide in scope and well documented, and includes an index and a bibliography that recommend it to practitioners, academicians, students, and researchers in those fields.

 

Daniel S. Schipani, Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana