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A Soldier's Morality, Religion, and Our Professional Ethic: Does the Army's Culture Facilitate Integration, Character Development, and Trust in the Profession? - The Challenge and Opportunities to the Leader of Faith
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Article Index
A Soldier's Morality, Religion, and Our Professional Ethic: Does the Army's Culture Facilitate Integration, Character Development, and Trust in the Profession?
Background & Context
Background & Context continued
The Evolving Culture of Hostility toward Religious Presence and Expression
Evolving Culture of Hostility continued
The Army's Professional Ethic
Army's Professional Ethic continued
The Challenge and Opportunities to the Leader of Faith
Challenge & Opportunities continued
Opportunities for Leaders of Religious Faith
Why Not Just Let Soldiers of Religious Faith Leave the Army?
All Pages

III. The Challenge and Opportunities to the Leader of Religious Faith
As discussed briefly in the introduction and in the previous paragraph, the challenge to the leader of religious faith, regardless of rank, is that of integrating one’s personal morality with the profession’s ethic in order to be a leader of authenticity, not compartmenting a life of faith from a life of service to the Republic.26 Challenges arise because personal moralities based on a religious faith are considered by most adherents to be the higher calling, and thus to take precedence on occasion over a vocational or professional ethic or directive, whether actual or perceived. They can also arise because such moralities generally prohibit compartmentalization of one’s life into personal and vocational spheres, just as Army leadership doctrine requires authenticity and wholeness of one’s character (as discussed in Section II). Instead, integrity and authenticity as a person of faith is required in all roles in life, often requiring a religious presence and expression. Thus, in the event of a clash between a Soldier’s personal morality and his or her understanding of responsibility under the Army’s Ethic or directives, he or she cannot in good conscience simply jettison the personal ethic to support that of the Army.

Even with these two conditions, however, actual clashes have until recently been rare. But the growing hostility towards religious expression or religious-based ethical decisions has, unfortunately and largely unnecessarily, brought such clashes to the fore. In this section, we present a few specific, recent examples of real or potential clashes emanating from the culture of hostility to religious expression.

  • January 24, 2013, Army Removes Cross and Steeple from Chapel. The U.S. military ordered Soldiers to take down a steeple and board up the cross-shaped windows of a chapel at remote Forward Operating Base Orgun-E in Afghanistan. The Soldiers were told the chapel must remain religiously neutral. In 2011, a similar situation occurred where Soldiers were forced to remove a cross at a chapel at Camp Marmal, Afghanistan.27

While there may have been legitimate concerns that Christian symbols visible to the outside could be unnecessarily inflammatory in the context of the particular conflict in Afghanistan, what is particularly disturbing in this instance is the rationale given for the decision; this example highlights how far a policy of “neutrality” toward religion can overstep into traditional and legitimate expression of a particular religious faith group. Historically, houses of worship built with appropriated dollars within the military services have accommodated the need of the Judeo-Christian faith groups, and they are now expanding to accommodate the religious expression of other faith groups, e.g., Muslim. At the time of a religious service of a particular faith group, should not the house of worship reflect the essential icons and artifacts of that particular group?

  • Conflict between the Leader of Faith’s Commitment to Objective Truth and Truth-Telling and the Institution’s Tendency to Sacrifice such Truth and Truth-Telling for Perceived Positive Outcomes for the Army.

There has always been pressure within the military as well as other large institutions to sacrifice objective truth for expediency, a storyline more palatable but less than the full truth.28 Clearly, the culture extent in the Army today that requires extensive use of the Article 15-6, UCMJ, formal investigations, feeds this pressure.29

  • In a recent example reported by an officer in Afghanistan, two Army majors were found, via Article 15-6 investigations, to be responsible for the deaths of Soldiers in their units even though the investigator of the incident had not even queried the majors before passing his conclusions up the chain of command.30 To believe in objective truth suggests that the report should have stated that, though mistakes had been made, they were honest mistakes in a complex and chaotic situation and most likely were made by one of the dead Soldiers, and the actions (or inactions) of the majors were, at worst, a minor contributing factor. However, the culture of the command led the investigating officer to conclude that such a finding would be insensitive to the surviving family members of the dead NCO, and therefore the command sought to find someone else accountable amid the complexities of the situation. Finding someone responsible (other than one of the dead Soldiers) got the command off the hook and presumably kept the issue from blowing up into something bigger, which could have been damaging to the Army and distracting to the larger mission. Such situations are not uncommon, and there are sometimes apparently good reasons for sacrificing objective truth for a “spin” that seems to serve broader strategic or institutional purposes in the short term.

However, as the incident of Army Specialist Patrick Tillman and so many others have shown over the past decade of war, the short-term gain from sacrificing objective truth for some perceived higher good is inconsistent with the Army’s Ethic and most often causes much bigger problems later.31 Because of the strong admonitions against dishonesty in religious teachings, Soldiers of religious faith will find it particularly difficult to sacrifice objective truth even for short-term expediency, unit morale, or perceived institutional gains.32 As such, their approach of “wait a minute, never be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won,” may be just what is needed to check the institutional temptation to sacrifice truth for a more palatable institutional spin.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 November 2014 09:22