There has been a story making the rounds in the media and on the Internet that has stirred up a lot of folks. It has to do with a lawsuit being brought against the Navy Chaplain Corps by a Navy Chaplain who believes he is being discriminated against because of his desire to always close every prayer with the words, “In Jesus’ Name.”
In my twenty-three years of service as a Navy Chaplain, I have never been told I could not pray in Jesus’ name. I remember hearing some chaplains complaining about this early in my career, but nothing more than that.
So, I wish to share with you my perspective on this hotly contested, clearly divisive issue that, at least from my perspective, is a non-issue. And I am not speaking for any other chaplains or for the Navy Chaplain Corps. These are my thoughts only.
First, the chaplain making such a fuss over this issue knew what the Navy required when he raised his right hand and swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution and to obey the orders of those senior to him.
Second, chaplains are allowed to pray in Jesus’ name all the time.
However, when they are in uniform and participating in a non-religious ceremony, such as a retirement ceremony, a promotion ceremony, or a change of command, they are praying before a very mixed group of people who are there to attend a ceremony for a friend or loved one – not a religious service. Thus, the chaplain who is invited to offer an Invocation and/or Benediction needs to be sensitive to the occasion. With sensitivities running so high on such things, we no longer live in a day when praying in Jesus’ name is generally accepted. But there are ways around this. I, along with many of my colleagues, will frequently conclude a prayer in such situations like this: ‘In that Name which is above all names. Amen.” Or “In the name of the One who is the resurrection and the life. Amen.” A Christian hearing this prayer will easily offer their own amen. If the person is not a Christian, it won’t matter to them.
Now listen - The important part is the prayer itself, something that is overlooked in all this hullabaloo in how we conclude the prayer. When I am invited to offer such a prayer, I work on the prayer, writing it out, so that I say exactly what I believe God wants me to say. If I am successful with the content of the prayer I am far more likely to have someone seek me out with questions, or for counsel. It is then that I have the best opportunity to share Christ with them. This has been my practice throughout my years of ministry going back to before I was a Navy chaplain.
Third, the chaplain bringing the lawsuit is not being truthful when he states that he is not allowed to pray in Jesus’ name in a military chapel service, or to quote scripture in a chapel service. This is patently false. A chaplain, regardless of their faith group, is expected to conduct worship services (or any other religious events) in the manner to which they are accustomed. As a Free Methodist coming from an Evangelical background, I hold services, prayer meetings, Bible studies, and the like just as I would in my church. Any time I am functioning in my role as worship leader I can say anything in accordance with my religious practice. Please note that for these other occasions the chaplain has been invited to participate. This is key. The chaplain is not required to be there. If this continues to be an issue it would not surprise me if chaplains are no longer invited to participate in such events. That would be a shame, particularly because it is at such times when we have the most exposure to folks who would otherwise not be in chapel services. Think about it: I have the opportunity to lead people in prayer, to help them think about God, even if just for a moment. Following these events there is always a social gathering to congratulate the person being promoted, retiring, or whatever. That’s when we get to rub elbows with them. I have often had people approach me and say how much they enjoyed my prayer, how it got them thinking, and then we’re off and running on a discussion of spiritual things. I’m not anxious to see us lose this opportunity.
I have shared Christ with Marines in the desert; soldiers in Babylon; airmen in Djibouti; and sailors at sea. Literally everywhere I have been as a chaplain. I am there to provide ministry to the folks who serve you and me, who are willing to go into harms way so we can live as a free people. My service is all about them, not me.
One final thing: My service in the Navy as a chaplain is a privilege, not a right. I am there at the pleasure of the President of the United States. I pray that it will ever be so. And when I pray, folks who know me know Who I’m praying to, and so does Jesus.