This was my reply:
I had dinner with an Episcopal Navy chaplain and his wife two nights ago, in DC. The chaplain was outraged over how the chaplaincy has become dominated by narrow minded sectarians. He mainly spoke about Southern Baptists who wanted to "save" everybody, e.g., a unit had suffered several casualties in Iraq and a Southern Baptist chaplain told the CO that if the CO were a Christian, God would not have "judged" the unit. I have no idea of whether the ELCA permits lay presidency at the Eucharist, but you could find that on the internet I suspect; the Episcopal Church does not permit it.
To which he answered:
That Navy chaplain is right, [the evangelical sectarians] are out there. I don't understand them or know what to do with them. Your comments remind me that the only sermon I have ever walked out in the middle of is after a chaplain at F.E. Warren AFB stated that he believed that "...God has punished the wicked people of New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina."
I checked with my Pastor back in Denver. He tells me that the ECLA allows laymen to serve communion only in extraordinary circumstances -- which this is clearly not. Thus that is not the option I thought it might be for our congregation.
I must admit my own weakness, that the issue at hand is offending me to a degree that it should not (i.e. "why would we/I want to be serviced by a minister who doesn't think highly enough of us/me to share holy communion?"). The positive part of this is that it has caused me to do some reading about the philosophy of the MS and think about the underlying issue here. This all boils down on some level to Biblical Literalism -- something which I simply cannot abide. Biblical Literalism not only makes very intelligent people say and do very stupid things, but say and do some very cruel things. It creates an "us against them mentality," and zero sum game, not just in the Christian community but in other religious traditions. It is a very negative force in our own country, particularly politically, but also in the world.
The conversation ended with this email from me:
I agree: Biblical literalism is the root of the problem. I'd like to use a "sanitized" version of this series of email in my blog, keeping the references to ELCA and MS, but omitting names, etc., if it is okay with you.
Problems in the military chaplaincies seem likely to grow in magnitude:
1. Recruitment of non-evangelicals (e.g., Episcopal, ELCA, mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish) continues to lag. Clergy from these faith groups find military service financially, personally, and spiritually unrewarding. Many of these clergy oppose the wars the U.S. is now fighting.
2. Repeated deployments have taken a toll on chaplains. As for all military personnel, repeated and extended separations from loved ones is difficult. The deployments also exhaust spiritual resources. My guess, based on observation, is that evangelical chaplains sometimes have thinner spiritual resources than do chaplains from other faith traditions. Biblical literalism provides definite answers to life’s questions and problems; when confronted with situations that the answers do not fit, some evangelicals find that their faith fractures, perhaps even shatters. For a good account of the toll that the wars have taken on military chaplains, see Samuel G. Freedman, “Ministering to Soldiers, and Facing Their Struggles,” New York Times, July 1, 2011.
3. The leadership of the various chaplaincies has failed to rise to the present challenges. Two Navy Deputy Chiefs of Chaplains were forced to retire rather than promoted to Chief for what can perhaps most charitably be described as lapses in judgment. The Army and Air Force chaplaincies are moving closer to establishing a de facto “state church” in which the senior chaplain at an installation or unit determines the “flavor” of the ministry at that command.
Any solution begins by returning to the Constitutional basis for chaplaincy: to provide for the free exercise of religion by military personnel. This requires chaplains to minister according to the dictates and policies of the chaplain’s faith group and to facilitate ministry for those of other faith groups on an equal basis. A chaplain can preach/teach according to the dictates of conscience but must ensure that those who disagree have an equal opportunity to attend worship of their own choosing (or none).
Controversies over praying in Jesus’ name offer a second window on this problem. Chaplains often offer a prayer at events that military personnel have to attend. Some chaplains in good conscience can pray in the name of God, without being more specific. Other chaplains invite attendees to pray or think during the time that the chaplain offers a prayer. Both approaches reflect genuine pluralism, recognizing diversity of belief (and of no belief) among military personnel.
But some chaplains insist on praying in Jesus’ name without verbally acknowledging that not everybody will or can offer that prayer. These chaplains frequently believe that God only responds to prayers in Jesus’ name; all other forms of prayer are at best a waste of breath and at worst sin. This type of prayer is inappropriate in a public ceremony military personnel are ordered to attend. To read a powerful, first person account of this type of problem, read Bishop Jay Magness’ essay at the Huffington Post. Unless chaplains develop and practice alternatives, I wonder whether the Supreme Court will someday rule on a challenge to the constitutionality of chaplaincy, finding against the chaplaincy.