“What Army Chaplains Are For” American Sentinel 12, 44, pp. 689, 690.

RECENTLY, at a “Grand Army” banquet in Buffalo, N. Y., tendered to the President of the United States, Archbishop Ireland spoke in response to the toast, “The Chaplain.” As a statement of what are deemed the proper functions of the chaplain’s office, the words of this eminent churchman are worthy of consideration. The quotations following give that part of his speech most directly pertinent to the subject:—

“But why in an encampment of veterans mention the army chaplain? Has he had a part even most slight in their achievements? Apparently the part of the chaplain was small, if a part is at all to be credited to him. The chaplain bore no gun upon hes shoulder. The chaplain was a non-combatant, a man of peace, whether in camp or on the battle-field. In fact, however, the part of the chaplain was most important. I am making a plea of my own patriotism. I was a chaplain.

“The chaplain invested the soldier’s fighting, the soldier’s whole round of labor and suffering, with the halo of moral duty.”

We have never believed in the utility of the office, but [670] this statement makes it worse even than we had thought. We had never before conceived of the chaplain’s duty as being that of casting a halo about the business of killing people.

Unquestionably the soldier’s business is one that will admit of a service of this kind. This is no natural halo about it, certainly. To deliberately shoot down men, made in the image of the Creator, to smash their skulls with clubbed muskets in fierce hand-to-hand conflict, to cut and stab them to death with sword and bayonet, to pour their life blood out upon the earth, to make widows and orphans of those they have left at home,—these are actions which, unsurrounded by any halo, would strike the minds of ordinary people with horror. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who certainly knew what the soldier’s business is, said, “War is hell.” Putting this statement of this eminent military authority with that of Archbishop Ireland concerning the chaplain’s office, we are brought to the conclusion that the legitimate business of the army chaplain is to cast a halo about hell!

But casting a halo about hell does not at all change the character of that place. And that which needs to be invested with a “halo of moral duty” in order that people may be led to espouse the support it, would far better be left to appear in its true light, and be accepted or rejected upon its merits.

Proceeding with his line of thought, the archbishop went on to say that,—

“The appeal of the chaplain to the living God, as approving war and consecrating battle-fields, is in the fullest harmony with the teachings of religion. God is, indeed, the God of love and peace while love means no violation of justice and peace implies no surrender of supreme rights.”

As soon, therefore, as a person feels that he is treated unjustly, or that his rights have been invaded, he may properly go to war with his enemies, relying upon the protection and aid of Heaven! This view will scarcely harmonize with the divinely given exhortation, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.”

The archbishop was not, in this, stating something peculiar to his own views, or to those of his church: otherwise it would not be so worthy of notice. The conception of God as “approving war,” whenever people are suffering injustice, is a very general one, and is the idea by which the horrors of war are theoretically justified. But it has no foundation in truth.

The archbishop continued:—

“The servants of God must ever seek peace so long as it is possible to obtain peace. They must never proclaim war so long as war is not absolutely necessary. But times come when war is absolutely necessary, when naught but war can avert great wrongs and save the life and the honor of the nation. Then the God of peace becomes the God of armies; he who unsheathes the sword in response to country’s call finds favor before God, and the soldier who is a coward on the battle-field is a culprit before heaven’s tribunal.”

Yes; “the servants of God must ever seek peace so long as it is possible to obtain peace,” and “must never proclaim war so long as war is not absolutely necessary.” But when is the point reached where peace becomes impossible and war “abolutely [sic.] necessary”? Oh, it is when somebody is not treating us right and will not stop misusing us as soon as we think they ought to; or it is when we have been insulted by somebody and the offender will not apologize to save our “honor” from being stained. It is, in short, whenever we think that war is necessary. And what we think on such occasions is inspired by the aroused passions and pride of fallen human nature. But God has not left the matter of living peaceably or otherwise to be determined in this way.

People generally, and nations, usually find it quite “possible to obtain peace” when they do not feel strong enough to ship their opponents in the event of hostilities. And when people—and nations—are naturally belligerent, or have something to gain by fighting, and feel confident as to the result, it is very easy for them to reach the point where war is “absolutely necessary.”

In the late war between Germany and France, the contestants on each side “unsheathed the sword in response to country’s call,” and I so doing, both sides of the controversy found “favor before God,” no doubt!

One more quotation from the archbishop’s speech will be in place. It is this:—

“The chaplain—let him remain to America—to America’s army and navy. It is sometimes said that the chaplain is an anomaly in a country which has decreed the separation of state and church. America has decreed the separation of state from church; America has not decreed and America never will decree the separation of state from morals and religion. To soldiers upon land and sea, as well as to other citizens, morals and religion are necessary. The dependence of soldiers upon the government of the country is complete. The government of the country must provide for soldiers teachers of morals and religion. In providing for them such teachers the country performs a duty which she owes to the soldiers and she serves her own high interests. For the best and bravest soldiers are men that are not estranged from morals and religion.”

Yes, it is true that “the dependence of soldiers upon the government is complete,” under such a system as that for which the archbishop was speaking. But “pity ‘tis ‘tis true.” There never ought to be such dependence in the case of any individual. The archbishop frankly admits that, to the soldier, the government stands in the place of God. “The government of the country must provide for soldiers teachers of morals and religion.” But the government has no higher wisdom or power than that which is human, and human wisdom is altogether inadequate to provide for the needs of the soul.

In providing teachers of morals and religion, the government will select such persons as it fancies, and these [692] will be persons who will teach in harmony with the government’s ideas. They will teach the morals and religion of the state, and nothing else. But what every individual needs and must have in order to obtain salvation, is the teaching of the morals and religion of the divine Word. And the teacher of these is the Holy Spirit, provided by God himself.

It is also true enough that “the best and bravest soldiers are men that are not estranged from morals and religion,” and by no people is its truth better illustrated than by the Mohammedans. With sword or lance in one hand, and the Koran in the other, one of these fanatics will rush on to what he knows is certain death, without the least hesitation. It is only a perverted religion that will harmonize with the spirit of war.

Let not this perverted religion be palmed off as Christianity. Let not the government usurp the place of … as the teacher of morals and religion. Let not the miserable business of killing people be invested with a halo of moral duty; let it stand upon its own merits—if such exists. Let the government keep separate from religion. Let army chaplaincies be abolished.

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