Chaplaincy and Spiritual Leadership

One part of the “something else” which chaplains offer the Army family is sometimes described as “spiritual leadership,” to distinguish it from what chaplains do for their religious constituencies. Over the last two decades, the Army has talked about “spiritual fitness” or “spiritual readiness.” The word “spiritual” is both helpful and problematic.

For many people, “spiritual” is a broader and more inclusive word than religion. The use of the word “spiritual,” however, has proved to be offensive to both the non-religious – who would never use the word – and to some who are deeply religious – who understand the word “spiritual” to be filled with specific theological content. To many, “spiritual” and “religious” are synonyms. There is, in fact, no religious understanding of spirituality that is common across ecclesiastical boundaries. I’m not sure there is a way for the government to talk about spirituality in a way that some won’t find intolerant and others won’t find idolatrous.

Perhaps we need another word entirely.

Currently, the Army is emphasizing “resiliency,” and the chaplain’s work plays a role for many in developing the trait. Previous generations of chaplains talked about “moral leadership” or “character development.”

Each of these terms has its strengths and limitations. Each attempts to recognize that military virtues such as fitness, readiness, resiliency, leadership, character have an intangible human dimension to them.

Similarly, the word “spiritual” gets at the intangible human dimension, but as we have seen, it implies much more.

What then is this “something else” that chaplains offer all members of the Army? Army doctrine says that the chaplaincy’s core competencies are these.

  • Nurture the living.
  • Care for the wounded.
  • Honor the dead.

Nurturing human life, caring for those who hurt and honoring the dignity of every human being: these are what every chaplain does for every member of the Army family. These comprise the ethos of the Army chaplaincy. More on that tomorrow.