Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Continuing to Normalize Military Ministry

On his blog, “UU A Way of Life”, David Markham offers the opinion that military chaplains who are Unitarian Universalists are not living the principles of Unitarian Universalism. While I honor his opinion, I believe it in part arises from an incomplete understanding of Military Chaplaincy, as well as a disagreement about institutional change. While I have sent him the following response for posting on his blog, I also wanted to share it here, because I believe that his question is more common than might at first be understood.

Please read his article, but my understanding of its core principle is that you can not serve in the military as a chaplain without an immoral support of war. Below is my response:


I have written much around this issue of Unitarian Universalism and Military Chaplaincy, although admittedly from quite a different perspective. The position you are implying here begins with the perspective of “how can a person justify killing in an immoral war?” It is a profound question, and it might surprise you that I am quite close to your position on it. I could not serve in the military if Chaplains were not non-combatants (Ogre was thinking in part of me when he said “near-pacifist”).

Here is an essay of mine that you might be able to connect with: http://celestiallands.org/wayside/?p=62

I also recommend the book to you “Reverend X: How Generation X Ministers are Shaping Unitarian Universalism” for the chapter “A Seat At the Command Table”, also mine. http://www.allsoulschurch.org/reverend-x

I begin this discussion from a slightly different opening question… How can we expect the military to come closer to our values if we are not willing to be there?

I believe institutional change requires voices both from within and from without of any institution. As a future military chaplain, I need voices such as yourself both giving validity to my voice within the institution, but also to continually remind me of the balance I walk in representing our values within an institution that it would be easy to be co-opted by.

At the same time, I believe you need me within the institution of the military to allow your voice to have access to the places and the spaces where it is needed, to have our liberal faith voice be at “The Command Table”, instead of just outside at the gates.

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I want to thank you for your question, and I want you to keep asking it… and keep asking it of those of us who walk the dangerous edge of bringing our values and principles into the places where it is desperately needed, and yet so blatantly absent. The question I have for you is this… Which is more important to you… the public stand or bearing witness? I feel called to bear our message in witness to communities where it is needed, in the military and beyond. I suggest to you that both are needed.

Yours in Faith,

David Pyle
Candidate for the UU Ministry
U.S. Army Chaplain Candidate

5 Thoughts on “Continuing to Normalize Military Ministry

  1. I couldn’t leave a comment on his blog either.

    My thought was on the morality of passivity. If Vietnam and Iraq are his immoral wars, what to make now of Afghanistan, and if it’s a moral war according to his calculus, what’s the moral obligation towards it?

  2. Bill,

    He may not be thinking of “Forgotistan”, as my soldiers have often called it.

    If so, he’s not the only one… Even though we currently have a UU Minister serving in Afghanistan as a Military Chaplain.

    I dont know what is up with his blog that it is no longer accepting comments. I’m not being critical, I face enough technical challenges with Celestial Lands. I’m glad to know it is not just me though.

    Yours in Faith,


  3. Blogger had a technical problem that prevented the Word Verification Code from being displayed thus nobody could comment. This glitch was across the board and affected all Blogger blogs where the WVC was being used top screen out SPAM. The problem has since been resolved.

  4. BTW Is that an ever so Unitarian question mark in the stained glass above the dove? 😉

  5. Robin,

    I had never thought of it as a question mark… thanks for that!

    Actually, it is a “shepherd’s crook”. The Shepherds crook was the original uniform symbol for the U.S. Army Chaplaincy, instead of the Cross, Tablets, Crescent, or Dharma Wheel, specifically during the Civil War.

    The picture is of the stained glass in the Chapel at the Brooke Army Medical Center, in San Antonio AZ. It is of the Regimental Crest for the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps. If you see me in uniform, this is the device that is right above my nametag.

    If you can’t read the motto, it says “Pro Deo Et Patria” — For God and Country.

    Yours in Faith,


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