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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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ELCA, LCMS leaders discuss military chaplaincy

It’s difficult to recruit military chaplains, Ted Wuerffel, LCMS associate director of ministry to the armed forces, recently told ELCA and Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod leaders. Noting a larger number of second-career students, he said the recruiting pool through seminaries is smaller because of age limits on entry into the military.

Military chaplaincy was one issue discussed by the Committee on Lutheran Cooperation at its April 6 meeting in Chicago.

Wuerffel also addressed concerns raised about prayer and religious practices in the military. The Air Force recently issued interim guidelines after investigating concerns about the influence of evangelical Christians at its academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. The academy now must work to accommodate all religious beliefs and can’t promote a faith through its religious practices, he said.

LCMS President Gerald B. Kieschnick shared a March 14 memo he wrote to Air Force officials, which said, in part: “Considering the pluralistic nature of the military and First Amendment guarantees of the free exercise of religion and freedom of expression, we believe the current interim Air Force policy runs counter to the right of every chaplain to pray publicly using Jesus’ name, whether or not that right is exercised.” He asked for assurance that chaplains who “choose for conscience reasons not to pray publicly” won’t face negative consequences upon their careers.

Wuerffel shared a statement from the Navy chief of chaplains that emphasized “mutual respect, cooperation and inclusiveness in delivering prayers at command functions,” with no “adverse consequences” for chaplains who choose not to pray at official functions.

In a related story, the House of Representatives in May approved language that allows prayer “according to the dictates of the chaplain’s own conscience,” as part of a defense spending bill. This prerogative can only be limited by “military necessity” and in the “least restrictive manner feasible.”


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