Thursday, October 29, 2009

In Response to Rev. Senauke

In response to Rev. Senauke's concerns regarding Conscientious Objector (C.O.) status, I would like to add that the availability of Buddhist chaplains is very unlikely to affect any such application. Chaplains do not decide whether a C.O. application will be accepted (this is a common misconception), chaplains merely assist the commanding officer (of the applicant) with his/her evaluation of the validity of the application i.e. whether the applicant is an actual and practicing member of that faith which he or she has to be (as opposed to, for example, just reading a few books and proclaiming oneself an adherent). Any chaplain can write a letter for a C.O. application, it doesn't have to be a chaplain specific to the faith of the applicant. A civilian clergy's opinion can also be added (as Rev. Senauke has done). It is up to that commanding officer and the Naval Personnel Board (in the case of the USN and USMC) whether or not a discharge is granted. There may be other factors involved also. Each C.O.application is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In my experience as a chaplain, actual C.O. cases are rare and unlikely to go through; most individuals with a history of being unable to adjust to military life are simply administratively separated. In my 5 years (so far) of active and reserve service I've only seen 1 applicant (and that person was not a Buddhist).
For additional information reference MILPERSMAN 1900-010.

The concerns expressed by Rev. Senauke and others that the presence of Buddhist chaplains might deter commanding officers from taking C.O. claims seriously, can, in fact, be seen as a positive development on several fronts. First, Buddhist scholars, and certainly some Buddhists(!) may be aware that Buddhism is not a monolithic entity, but is extremely diverse in beliefs and practices, but most non-Buddhists are simply not aware of this. We can describe this as a "teaching moment" for others, including other chaplains, who are in fact growing in awareness of the rich diversity of Buddhism. Just as there can be vast differences between Christians like Southern Baptists and Quakers regarding military service, there is similar diversity in Buddhism. The presence of Buddhist chaplains now on active duty and in training (Mahayana, Vajrayana, Theravada) reflects this. Second, it maintains the integrity of the C.O. process. Believe it or not, C.O. can be seen as an "easy out" by individuals simply wanting to get out of their enlistment contract; it may not have anything to do with moral or religious beliefs, but can be for reasons such as to enroll in a school a semester early or get an available job. However, the military commitment has to be honored first and genuine C.O. applicants (Buddhist or otherwise) have to be respected. For those individuals believing that all they have to do is claim to be "Buddhist" and that will get them out the gate, the fact of Buddhist chaplains in the military now makes this belief untenable. It may reduce the bogus applications, in any case. There is NO one religion that can release someone from service just by adherence, especially in the era of the all-volunteer force. I have known of Quaker and even Jain servicemembers!

I've worked with Rev. Senauke in the past, and would like to thank him here for his wisdom and understanding in assisting Buddhist servicemembers, whatever their need. While others may dismiss Buddhist military chaplaincy as unnecessary, even wrong, he is correct in stating that there is a need for chaplains simply because of the presence of Buddhists in the Armed Forces. They self-identify as Buddhists, so this fact cannot be dismissed, certainly not by the Chaplain Corps of the various armed forces branches, which is mandated to respect the freedom of worship guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and therefore provides for Buddhist military chaplains, places of worship, and material. We should also be mindful that chaplains may assist persons of all faiths or no faiths, and not just servicemembers, but also includes their dependents (family members). The most crucial emphasis for chaplains is not on theory and doctrine, but on core counseling: PTSD, stress and anger management and treatment, marriage and family counseling, and clinical pastoral education (CPE).

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Buddhist Military Sangha by Jeanette Shin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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