Vol 4 No. 39 Church and State

As you have read in this newsletter before, CBM appoints a representative to the InterFaith Committee on Military Chaplaincy. This representative is set in place by CBM and I am indebted to Blair Clarke for making it possible for this relationship to work through his efforts. I have been appointed the CBM representative. I lead our Baptist Chaplains in retreat each year and attend two committee meetings of the faith committee as well as presentations at least one conference each year. Until five years ago there was a representation by population quota system which limited our numbers to about eight chaplains in the Regular Force. We now have almost 20 chaplains. There are approximately 190 full time chaplains and 170 in the reserve.

Since the late 1940’s there has been a Chaplain’s branch in Canada. Until the 1990’s the Branch was split between Roman Catholic and Protestant, the branch is now one administrative unit which has recently added a Rabbi and an Iman for Jewish and Muslim soldiers.

Being involved in such a committee raises all sorts of complicated and significant issues of peace, justice, war and especially the separation of church and state. Separation of church and state has been adopted in America (but poorly practiced) and equally badly done in Canada (another newsletter). While this idea has been pilfered without acknowledgement by secularists it is a Baptist distinctive important to such various and sundry folks as Diefenbaker, Douglas, Carter, King and is still important to the CBWC and for that matter me. The historical response has often been dis-engagement or compromise. In this matter we, I believe, have chosen a wary, watchful and servant stance which from time to time demands a pronounced and prophetic voice.

The danger of “nation before all” is captured by the wicked line from G.K. Chesterton who said “my country right or wrong” is about as meaningless as “my mother drunk or sober.” A bit more subtle is the shift in the recent Narnia film rendering (a good word for it) of Prince Caspian.  “High King Peter” rages into battle in the early part of the film yelling “For Narnia” (for country) and later in the film “For Aslan” (for Christ, if you will). I believe that in these troubled and violent times the chaplaincy is tasked with the latter and not the former.

I went to Ottawa to represent Canadian Baptists at the installation of the new Chaplain General David Kettle, a Presbyterian. His entire emphasis in his remarks was to say (a paraphrase) anyone can provide human resources to soldiers but as chaplains you are to provide, be and give though unworthy vessels God’s amazing grace to people. It was a powerful admonition from Padre Kettle.

It was a strong, biblical and personal message.  What struck and moved me most was the comments and actions of the Chief of the Defense staff; General Natynczyk. He asked us to pray for chaplaincy and I told him after the service we would but we would also pray for him. He engaged in a simple act that moved me more than his exhortation to pray. As he came to speak he approached the front of the church, looked at the cross above the altar (it was a Roman Catholic Church) and said and did it all… he paused, came down on bended knee in reverence and made the sign of the cross. Jean Vanier (the founder of L’Arche) wrote a biography of his famous WWI General father Georges Vanier; he entitled it “Out of Weakness Strength.” That is in face the witness and life of Jesus, the life we are called to. General Natynczyk made that a statement Sunday; declaring whom we worship, and to no one else defer “for at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow.”

Please remember and give thanks for all our chaplains especially; Paul Beckingham, Randy Stanton, Tracy Edwards and Ian Easter. I will add more names next week.



In Christ,

Jeremy Bell