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Forces chaplains are in, but not of, the military

13 March 2015


From the Revd Andrew McMullon

Sir, - As a, now retired, RAF Chaplain of 23 years' service, I was pleased to see your reporting of the new covenant between the Church of England and the Armed Forces (News, 20 February). I was also pleased to see a reminder from the Fellowship of Reconciliation (Letters, 6 March) about the importance of "active non-violence in challenging the root causes of conflict".

Unfortunately, it would appear that the Fellowship is no friend of military chaplaincy, though some of its reservations are clearly based on little knowledge or experience of the work of chaplains in the Armed Forces. May I reassure the Fellowship that, in none of my service, which included Northern Ireland, Iraq, and Afghanistan (three times), was I ever expected by my "military chain of command" to endorse, bless, or validate any particular campaign. My calling as a military "padre" was not to love war, but to love, and serve, those whom the country chose to send to war.

Of course, a pacifist organisation might claim that in doing so as a chaplain within the ranks I was supporting the cause, though I don't see how the same charge would escape civilian chaplains, who would, in any case, be at a great disadvantage from not sharing the uniform, life, dangers, and deprivations of military service in a markedly incarnational ministry. Service personnel value their chaplains precisely because they are "in but not of" their service, appreciating their traditions, and reminding them always of their highest, and not at all disingenuous, calling to "make and defend peace as a force for good in the world".

The Church of England is an Established Church that both supports and challenges the State. It is not a pacifist organisation, and, despite the traditions of non-violence going back to Jesus himself, it largely represents that other legitimate Judaeo-Christian tradition on the use of armed force, that of the just war, as now represented in the Law of Armed Conflict and the Geneva Conventions.

Service personnel cannot pick and choose the conflicts they are sent into, and neither can chaplains, but chaplains' presence offers them valued and appreciated ministry in times and places of greatest need, and reminds them of the highest standards in getting the use of armed force as right as possible.

Andrew McMullon
20 Winfield Road, Sedbergh
Cumbria LA10 5A

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