LDS chaplains serving in the U.S. armed forces represent the Church in the "finest sense," said Elder Marion D. Hanks of the Presidency of the Seventy.
In addition to carrying the banner of the Savior, they carry the banner of the restored gospel - but not in an active missionary sense, he explained. LDS chaplains work side-by-side with chaplains of other faiths in teaching Christian values and principles to servicemen and women. They comfort young soldiers going into war or who are otherwise in need of comfort. They counsel young couples experiencing marital problems. They seek out those who have strayed from righteous living.And they do these things regardless of a person's religious belief or affiliation. Their missionary tools are love and compassion - and example.
"Chaplains are the religious representatives fundamentally for the United States government in the military units to which they are assigned," related Elder Hanks, executive director of the Church's Melchizedek Priesthood Department. This department oversees the LDS Military Relations Committee, which is the ecclesiastical endorsement agency for priesthood holders applying for the U.S. chaplaincy program.
J. Paul Jensen, manager of LDS Military Relations, said currently there are 16 LDS chaplains in the Air Force, 25 in the Army and 9 in the Navy. U.S. Marines obtain their chaplains from the Navy. He added that there are 52 LDS chaplains serving in the National Guard and reserves, plus several in the Civil Air Patrol. There is also one LDS chaplain serving in the Veterans Administration.
But there is a need for more LDS applicants, he pointed out. He explained that the Church wants to fill as many as six chaplaincy spots a year as vacancies occur within the active military.
Because many LDS chaplains have risen to top ranks in the military, Brother Jensen explained, there's a "graying in the chaplaincy. We don't have enough young chaplains to follow in their path."
Elder Hanks said the reason for a shortage of LDS applicants may be due, in part, to an anticipation of a reduction of the military. But, he explained, more LDS applicants are needed to fill upcoming vacancies. "Our hope and our plans are to provide for the United States military the same high caliber chaplains we have presently serving," he noted.
Also, he continued, fewer members may be applying for the chaplaincy due to more stringent requirements. The military requires its chaplains to have 90 graduate hours, including a master's degree in counseling from an accredited college or university. In addition, Brother Jensen said applicants are encouraged to gain business and administrative skills. They must also be under 40 years of age for the Army, under 42 for the Air Force and 36 or under for the Navy. LDS applicants must be worthy holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Previous missionary service isencouraged but not required.
In the past, Church members could receive a waiver of some graduate hours if they had served full-time missions. Potential LDS chaplains could then qualify for the chaplaincy with 48 graduate hours.
But in 1989, Elder Hanks explained, the Church decided to have its applicants meet the 90-hour requirement. He was quick to emphasize, however, that the Church has not relinquished the waiver. "We have some people in the pipeline, so to speak, who are preparing themselves under the provisionsContinued on page 12
of the waiver. We anticipate that they will be acceptable to the chaplaincy."
Elder Hanks also explained that new applicants who clearly show they will eventually meet the new requirements may receive a provisional endorsement from the Military Relations Committee.
Meeting the 90-hour requirement, he said, will be difficult for new applicants, but it will enhance their military career and make them highly qualified as counselors and family therapists after they leave the military or if, by chance, the military doesn't accept their endorsement.
However, Elder Hanks explained, there are some qualifications that can't be gained from a textbook. He said a chaplain "needs to be man of faith, of humility. He needs to have the strength to be misunderstood for a time in terms of his religious roots. He has to demonstrate the ability to selflessly serve with the troops wherever they are and maintain a sense of stability, maturity and dignity that are quite rare."
In addition, he said a chaplain should exemplify the principle that marriage is ordained of God and families are the ultimate answer to the problems that beset our society.
Upon meeting the specified requirements, LDS applicants are interviewed by the Military Relations Committee. They then may receive their ecclesiastical endorsement and be considered for a chaplaincy position by the Armed Forces Chaplain's Board of the Department of Defense.
"Being a chaplain is a very challenging job," he related. "It's not a job for lightweights or middleweights. It will test the resources, the character and the quality of any great young man who really wants to make a contribution of importance to his country, his God and his Church."
Chaplains take upon themselves a serious commitment and responsibilities, Brother Jensen pointed out. Their main responsibilities are to be spiritual advocates, counselors and advisers to those in their stewardship - and they may be placed in the same life-threatening situations as the troops the serve.
In addition, they are subject to the same mobility as their troops. Therefore, Brother Jensen added, commitment is necessary from a chaplain's wife and family as well.
As to their responsibilities to the Church, chaplains are encouraged to serve in their area by holding callings, such as being a high councilor or working with Scouts, he added. They also work closely with local priesthood leaders to identify less-active members.
The rewards chaplains receive for their commitment goes far beyond a paycheck, said Elder Hanks. They may see the lives of those in their stewardship change for the better, and they gain lifelong memories (Please see related story on this page.) In addition, he said, LDS chaplains who walk "shoulder-to-shoulder" with "excellent chaplains of other faiths" engender in others a better understanding of the Church.
Elder Hanks emphasized this growing cooperation between LDS and non-LDS chaplains is the result of "earlier chaplains who served with such courage and distinction. They have established a path on which our current chaplains are able to walk, not without heavy challenge on occasion, but with great acceptance by most non-LDS colleagues."
He explained that Latter-day Saints who walk this path should portray the same attitude as that of Captain Moroni in Alma 60:36: ". . . I seek not for power, but to pull it down. I seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country. . . ."