Most Americans will remember September 11th and what they were doing when the planes struck the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. I, however, will remember 11:45 A.M. September 17th even more vividly. It was at this time that I called my wife and told her that I was heading home to pack and by 1:00 P.M. to be on my way to Washington, D.C. Neither of us knew how long I would be there and what it would mean to our family.
In a similar way, Joseph’s time in Egypt upset his life. Yet he told his brothers, “Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good” (Gen. 50:20). Joseph always viewed his location as a center of influence. Whether it was at the Pharaoh’s right hand or in prison, he extended himself and was an influence for righteousness.
Esther also understood this principle. In Esther 4:14 Mordecai told her, “Who knoweth whether thou come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” This verse has been a great comfort these past seven months.
Daniel also illustrates this principle. King Nebuchadnezzar said, “Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets” (Dan 2:47). During another administration, Darius announced, “In every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel; for he is the living God” (Dan. 6:26).
The chaplain in the 21st century is being asked to be a Joseph, an Esther, and a Daniel. He must practice Matthew 10:16: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Our world today is not different from the world of Joseph, Esther, or Daniel; it is a world of wolves. Yet they were successful because they were “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
Serving in the Pentagon, on the Staff of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is daunting. National policy, doctrine, and strategy are what consume each day. Learning and then engaging in the process of developing our National Security Strategy, our National Military Strategic Plan, and the strategic use of chaplains fills the day—yes, even for a chaplain.
Dr. Douglas Johnston wrote an article in the U.S. Naval Institute magazine Proceedings (January 2002 ) entitled “We Neglect Religion to Our Peril.” “Given the religious component of so many of today’s hostilities,” he wrote, “chaplains can and should play a larger role in peace making and conflict prevention.” Later in the article, he said, “Religion possesses an unrivaled potential to cause instability.” As a fundamental Baptist chaplain, I fully understand this reality. However, we Fundamentalists have a wonderful opportunity to exercise with unprecedented vigor our premillennial eschatological understanding and our view of the nature of man.
Dr. Johnston clarifies our institutional role with a quote from Admiral Charles Abbot: “The role of chaplains at the strategic level of military planning is the greatest area of growth in (terms of their total) responsibilities. The way the world has evolved, it has become crucial to better understand the religious and cultural histories of peoples involved in conflicts.” At the same conference, Major General Wax said, “I expect my chaplains to come prepared to help me and other military commanders understand how to work with other peoples and other nations; both those who claim a specific religion or belief structure and those who do not. . . . If your strategy is to engage, you must avoid an insult due to ignorance; the chaplain must help the Commander’s awareness here.”
Some may argue with this assessment of the responsibility of chaplains. But if we as Fundamentalists opt out of this assignment, others will fill the void. The advice (and the results) will be very different. For example, early in the operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan, a question surfaced in the press regarding what actions the U.S. would consider appropriate during Ramadan. World leaders, especially Arab leaders, called for the bombing to cease during Ramadan, but why? The Joint Staff was asked to provide a recommendation, and I was one of the action officers who provided it.
As a staff officer and an action officer, it was my responsibility to provide an answer grounded in fact, not opinion or conjecture. The process of analyzing our options required a detailed study of conflict during Ramadan. My notes from seminary weren’t much help. After studying the Qur’an and plowing through reams of historical information, a recommendation developed. This required an ethics check and an integrity check. Could I live with the decision?
First, it agreed with the President’s commitment that Operation Enduring Freedom was not a war against Islam. Second, the Qur’an exempted men at war from fasting during Ramadan. Thus, Islamic doctrine permitted the war to continue. Third, in the centuries since 622, Muslims have been at war, remained at war, and started war during Ramadan with other Muslims and with non-Muslims. Finally, in the year 2000 the Taliban had continued to fight through Ramadan.
Continually I pondered what I should recommend, knowing that men would die regardless of the option chosen. Ethics, personal conscience, integrity, religious bias—all this and more was swirling through my mind. The recommendation was that bombing should continue, and the decision to do so was made well before the beginning of Ramadan.
What were the results? Because we studied the question thoroughly, our leaders were able to provide accurate, reasoned answers to anyone who questioned the decision, and criticism in the world press subsided.
What is the significance of this incident? By providing a solid recommendation on how to deal with a religious/ spiritual question, chaplains earned the leaders’ respect and esteem. The door to the leaders’ hearts was opened. The opportunity to influence their personal lives became a reality. Some now ask important spiritual questions. This is the process of evangelism at the center of influence.
At the time of original publication, Chaplain Wayne A. Bley, Captain, USNR, was serving on the staff of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.