THE Christian Statesman of January 24 announces that a bill is now before Congress, providing for the increase of the corps of army chaplains to one hundred—the number now allowed by law being only thirty-four. Instead of increasing the number to one hundred it ought to be reduced to none. The thirty-four chaplains in the army now are thirty-four too many. Army chaplains are supposed to be for the spiritual benefit of the soldiers. But they are no benefit at all, either spiritually or otherwise, to the soldiers. We know whereof we speak. We were in the regular army five years, and received a “most excellent” discharge. We have been in different garrisons where chaplains were stationed, and never in the whole five years did a chaplain visit the quarters where we were, or any of the men in the company to which we belonged; unless, perhaps, in company with the officers at Sunday morning inspection. Never was there a visit made by a chaplain to the company in which we served, for any spiritual purpose, or for any purpose, in the due exercise of the duties which he is appointed to perform.
The fact of the matter is, chaplains cannot work for the spiritual interests of the soldiers in the regular army. They rank as commissioned officers, and are to be held, in the estimation of the men, with the same deference and military respect that is due to the officers. He has an officer’s uniform, an officer’s insignia of rank, and whenever he appears the soldier has to strike an attitude of attention and salute as he would any other commissioned officer. Thus, the very position which he holds, making as an officer, places an insurmountable barrier between him and the soldier. He cannot maintain the dignity of his rank and meet the common soldier upon the level where he is, and approach him upon that common level as every minister of the gospel must do with those whom he is to help spiritually. He cannot enter into the feelings, the wants, the trials, the temptations, the besetments of the common soldier, as one must do to be able to help spiritually, and as the minister of the gospel must do in the exercise of his office anywhere, with any person in the wide world.
Jesus Christ set the example; he did not appear in the glory, the dignity, the rank, and the insignia of his office which he bore as the King of eternity. He laid this aside; he came amongst men, meeting humanity upon humanity’s level. He, though divine, came in human form; made himself subject to all the temptations which humanity meets. This he did in order that he might be able to help those who are tempted. The great apostle to the Gentiles, following the way of his Master, became all things to all men, that by all means he might save some. To the weak he became as weak, that he might save them that are weak; to the tempted and tried, the same, that he might save them, and bring them to the knowledge of Him who was tempted and tried for their sakes, that he might deliver them from temptation and give them strength to overcome in time of trial. This is the divine method; it is the only method.
The appointment of chaplaincies in the United States army, with the rank, the dignity, and the insignia of superior office, is contrary to the principle illustrated by Jesus Christ in his life, and taught in his word, and frustrates the very purpose for which professedly they are appointed. The money that is spent by the United States Government in paying chaplains could scarcely be spent in a way that would do the soldiers less good. We said once before in these columns, that unless the chaplains of the United States army whom we did not see while in the army, were vastly more efficient than those whom we did see, all of them put together did not do the soldiers as much good in the five years we spent in the service, as would a single bag of white beans. In the nature of the case, as we have shown, it is impossible that they could benefit the men. They, having it devolved upon them to maintain the dignity and respect that is due to their rank, do not make any strenuous efforts to help the men. It is difficult to conceive how any man who has the Spirit of Christ, and who really has the burden to help the enlisted men of the army, could ever think of accepting such a position; because the acceptance of such a position becomes at once the greatest hindrance to his helping the men at all.
We have said nothing upon the constitutional aspect of the question; and it is certainly an open question as to whether the payment of chaplains from Government funds is constitutional. We have discussed the question wholly upon the merit of the case. The principle shows that in the circumstances of their appointment, army chaplains cannot benefit the men; and practice shows not only that they do not, but that they do not try.
A. T. J.