According to Air Force data, no training program is more popular among prospective chaplains than Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, part of the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
One out of every five Air Force chaplain candidates at an evangelical seminary attends Liberty. Critics say that high enrollment rate could add to an imbalance of evangelical Christians among the military's chaplains.
Within the military, some have even raised questions about the quality of Liberty's program. It isn't accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, the national accreditation agency for graduate-level seminaries.
Retired Air Force chaplain Charles Davidson is director of Liberty's chaplaincy degree program. He launched the program in 2007, taking advantage of a 2004 change in Armed Forces Chaplain Board policy that reduced training requirements. He also made the coursework available online, and the combination has resulted in an explosion of interest in the program, growing to more than 1,000 today.
For his part, Davidson is upbeat. "Praise the Lord, 10 or 15 years from now we could have 600, 700, 800 evangelical chaplains sprinkled throughout the military who are Liberty graduates," he said.
Darrell Morton, executive assistant to the ELCA presiding bishop for chaplaincy ministries, said, "This emphasizes the need we have for ELCA chaplains. There's a huge representation of chaplains from evangelical/fundamentalist/Pentecostal church groups. We need more [Lutheran] chaplains to meet the religious needs of our people. These folks just can't do that."
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