Military chaplains have a proud history in the U.S. military, and most of them uphold the mission of the Chaplain Corps in the various services to America's troops and to ensure their right to free exercise of religion.
Unfortunately, the role that Army Chaplain Capt. Andy Taylor played while deployed with the 6th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery in Iraq strayed from that duty.
There are people who serve in the military of all faiths, and it is up to the chaplain of a unit to make sure that everyone is able to worship the way they desire. But when the audience becomes a captive one (because peace turns to war or life becomes death), the job of the chaplain becomes more complicated but must still remain neutral.
Regrettably, Taylor cast aside his neutrality and turned a group of 400 mourning men of many faiths into his own Southern Baptist congregation. He continues to boast about his crowning achievement of baptizing a Jew in Iraq.
After an ambush took the life of a medic in the battalion, Taylor, a Southern Baptist minister, went beyond the duties of chaplain and made himself the arbiter of salvation for a captive audience who had just withstood the rigors of war and the tragedy of loss. While members of the unit sought comfort from Taylor, he was busy telling men who had lost a comrade and who were questioning their own mortality that "there is only one way to be saved" and that is through Jesus Christ.
The Baptist Press' Dana Williamson reported in the Jan. 13 edition that "the only difference in being a chaplain, rather than pastor of a church, is that Taylor's congregation is nearly 1,000 soldiers and their families."
Regrettably, both Williamson and Taylor have a contemptible understanding of a military chaplain.
As soon as Taylor crossed the line from spiritual supporter to Baptist proselytizer, he violated his duty to allow the men of his unit to exercise their religion.
It is painful to lose a friend or a fellow soldier. I've experienced such a loss, but the chaplain who presided over the service did not tell the Jews that the only way to have a spiritual connection to God was to reject our faith and to embrace his. But that is what Taylor did when the Jewish soldier went to him for guidance.
In boasting about the conversion of the Jewish soldier, he told Williamson that he used "Old Testament Scriptures to show him how he needed a relationship with Jesus."
Religious conversion should be conducted when a man is of a clear mind and without the pressure of battle. To do it at the barrel of a gun, when a man lost a fellow soldier, violates every tenet of fairness and could very well be regretted by this same soldier for a lifetime. At the very least, Taylor should have assured the soldier the ability to speak to a rabbi before his impulsive conversion.
It is estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 Jewish servicemen are deployed in the Persian Gulf region today. Of the 24 Jewish chaplains in the Army, only five were sent to fulfill the needs of what could arguably be the neediest of the Army's servicemen.
Jews are a minority population in any military unit and those most neglected by their commanders. Important holidays, such as Passover and Yom Kippur, are remembered by memos issued by generals in units where Christian holidays and 96-hour passes are coveted.
It is the responsibility of the chaplain to assure that Jewish servicemen have the ability to exercise their faith, particularly in the Middle East, where Jewish servicemen are scattered across a vast area of land and where some Jewish people never see a rabbi.
Sadly, Taylor abused the captive audience he had and the trust that so many place in the chaplain of a unit to explain away the tragedy, and to answer the unanswerable question about how any God could allow the horrors that befall any unit in battle.
Taylor makes no apologies for his conduct. In fact, he brags about it as if there were a scorecard for conversions in chaplain locker rooms. He has a right to worship any way he chooses, but when he is acting as a chaplain to an entire battalion of men at their moment of loss, his right is secondary to his duty to ensure that hasty decisions and coerced conversions are not done in the name of a God that a Jewish member of the military might reject in peacetime.
I reject the notion of the removal of chaplains from the military, but I am positively opposed to a chaplain recruiting from a captive audience, only to have his conversions become fodder for The Baptist Press' recruiting efforts.