Retired Chaplain: An Officer Once Told Me “This Is a Christian Air Force” July 13, 2020

Retired Chaplain: An Officer Once Told Me “This Is a Christian Air Force”

Here’s an unusually pleasant story from a military chaplain.

Norris Burkes is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who served as a chaplain and now writes about spirituality online. In a post yesterday, he recalled struggling to write a prayer for a colleague’s retirement ceremony because that person was Buddhist. He didn’t want to say anything that might seem like he was imposing his own Christian faith on anyone else.

When he shared that with his commanding officer, she gave him advice:

“Keep it simple, Chaplain,” the commander said. “Just pray a Christian prayer. After all, this is a Christian Air Force.”

Burkes insists that’s an accurate quote.

Thankfully, he didn’t take that advice, reminding that officer, and now readers, that protecting religious freedom also means not pushing your religion upon anyone else when they’re not asking for it.

As a chaplain, my oath means that I make room for all faiths, not just Christianity. It means respecting all — the Wiccan, the Muslim and the Jew. It even means we respect the stand of the agnostic or atheist.

As we remember our freedoms this month, we should know that the first amendment takes some inspiration from the Golden Rule. We do unto others as we’d want them to do unto us.

In military life, it means that if I don’t want a Buddhist prayer given at my retirement, I shouldn’t present a Christian prayer at a non-Christian retirement.

If only more chaplains would follow that advice. We’ve heard far too many stories about military leaders imposing Christianity on everyone else. And remember that then military currently has no Humanist chaplains at all even though there are plenty of non-religious people serving.

Burkes also offers several suggestions for anyone else who may be in his position one day. This one, I really appreciated: “Assume people are nonreligious unless you know differently.”

It’s excellent advice. Can we get it plastered on military bases across the country? Because other military chaplains don’t seem to take it.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Nelson for the link)


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