In event of full-scale war, American church life faces disruptions in at least two major respects: (1) Foreign missions programs would likely be curtailed, and mass evacuations of missionaries could create a desperate need for funds. (2) Many congregations stand to lose pastors who become military chaplains.
To aid church life in event of enemy attacks on U. S. soil, the government’s Office of Civil Defense and Mobilization is promoting local preparedness programs through its Religious Affairs Service.
A survey this month byCHRISTIANITY TODAY, however, indicated no broad plans exist to help stranded missionaries should hostilities break out. Here is what the survey reveals:
Missionary problems arising from a wartime situation would be met individually, according to present policies of such agencies as the Division of Foreign Missions of the National Council of Churches, the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, and the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association.
Dr. Clyde W. Taylor, EFMA executive secretary, said, “In a local war we would strongly urge that missionaries move out of areas which are likely to be overrun.”
Missionary efforts in a war zone would be curtailed to a point where workers would be of little value even if they did stay, he said.
A nuclear, global war presents a different problem, according to the missions leader. “If the U. S. mainland is attacked,” he said, “there is no point in calling missionaries home. Their own fields probably would be safer places to stay.”
He also suggested that “staying put” would be wise in any kind of war in areas where no fighting is in prospect. He recalled that during World War II many missionaries in Africa remained at their posts for the duration.
Taylor remarked that missionaries are almost invariably courageous, often to the extent of risking their lives if they felt compelled to stay with their work. He said missionaries are “hard to move,” which presents problems for government agencies concerned about their welfare.
Taylor cited public apathy on making ready for possible war. “We are psychologically unprepared for a global conflict,” he said.
Any buildup of military manpower to meet aggression will be accompanied by immediate demands for more chaplains, these to come from Reservist ranks and civilian pulpits. The following sums up opportunities in the military chaplaincy:
Wholesale induction of ministers, certain in an outbreak of full-scale war, would strike severe blows to American church life. Should there be a shortage of clergymen, congregations and denominational officials might tend to lower standards by which pastors are chosen.
But build-up in military manpower also represents a new, enlarged field of service to clergymen who answer a call to the chaplaincy. Ideally, the chaplain can simultaneously be a preacher, missionary, counsellor, and teacher. In addition to conducting worship services, chaplains are expected to give personal advice, deliver “character guidance” lectures (to assemblies where attendance is mandatory), and visit hospitals. Overseas assignments often present opportunities to minister off the base among the civilian population as well.
During World War II some 11,000 men saw service as chaplains. This is the current picture, which compares approximate totals of chaplains on full-time active duty and those in civilian reserves:
The number of chaplains in the U. S. armed forces is regulated according to denominational strength. Denominations can expect, generally, to have chaplain representation in proportion to their memberships. Peacetime chaplain quotas are limited, and applicants for active duty often encounter waiting lists.
New chaplains are commissioned one grade higher than new officers in other branches. The services claim to give chaplains pay and benefits comparable to what clergymen earn in civilian life.
Reserve chaplains lead normal civilian lives except that they attend regular military meetings and annual summer camps. Reserve status and part-time service can mean for a minister as much as $1,000 added income annually.
Applicants for active duty chaplaincy assignments in the armed forces of the United States must be in good standing with their denominations. Ordination and endorsement by a church body is essential. Also required of the applicant are three years of training in an approved theological school, plus 120 semester hours of undergraduate credit at a recognized college or university.
Chaplain commissions normally are in the nature of Reserve appointments. Applicants may request active duty or elect to remain on inactive duty. Reserve chaplains are not involuntarily called to active duty unless mobilization needs so demand. Some Reservists subsequently are awarded “Regular” commissions.
Some denominations submit chaplain applications directly to the services. Most, however, deal through agencies such as the General Commission on Chaplains and the National Association of Evangelicals’ Commission on Chaplains.
Upon induction, the new chaplain is sent to an orientation school for some two months “to assist … in making the transition” to service life.
Each service procures its own chaplains. In recent months, all have been emphasizing solicitation of inactive duty Reservists. Details of chaplaincy programs are available from the Chief of Chaplains of the Army, Navy, or Air Force, Washington 25, D. C.
The 34th annual convention of the Military Chaplains Association petitioned Congress to revise a law which is eliminating certain Army officers before they are eligible for paid retirement.
Army chaplains bear the brunt of an amendment tacked on to the Reserve Officer Personnel Act of 1954 by the 85th Congress. The amendment set up for Army officers a “basic age at 25,” which interpreted by service heads means that those below the grade of colonel who have not completed 28 years of active and reserve duty by age 53 cannot be retained, No exception is made for chaplains, whose training and experience requirements make it virtually impossible for them to enter the service before they reach their late twenties. All officers must have at least 20 years of service before they can retire with pay.
A resolution of the convening chaplains charged that the amendment is “discriminatory” and that it constitutes an “unethical change in contract with all reserve officers.” The resolution said the existing law would force more than 150 Army chaplains from active duty by June, 1960, and many more from Reserve ranks.
The “basic age at 25” amendment was said to be aimed at thinning out the large number of Army majors and lieutenant colonels given commissions during World War II.
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