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Chaplain seeks ordination requirement for military chaplaincy endorsement

PHOENIX (BP)–Last year’s decision ending endorsement of ordained women as Southern Baptist chaplains has prompted the question of whether ordination once was at least an implied requirement for all chaplains serving in the military.

The issue arose during the North American Mission Board’s report to Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 17. The board is responsible for endorsing Southern Baptist chaplains. The entity voted to stop endorsing ordained women as chaplains in the spring of 2002 in response to an earlier SBC motion asking the board to consider discontinuing endorsement of all women to the chaplaincy.

After NAMB’s June 17 report, Navy Chaplain Ralph Gibson of Parris Island, S.C., asked NAMB President Robert E. (Bob) Reccord to “encourage the North American Mission Board trustees to reconsider this matter and reinstate ordination as a mandatory requirement for endorsement” to military chaplaincy.

In supporting their action on not endorsing ordained women as chaplains, NAMB leaders have said that ordination was not a requirement for military chaplains. But both Gibson and Reccord, in his response, referred to newly discovered information that indicates ordination might have been expected under the SBC’s former Home Mission Board.

“There have been a number of communications — both verbally and in written letters — that have just risen to our attention in the last three months that indicated that the Home Mission Board did require [ordination], though policy never did,” Reccord said.

“As a result we’re more than happy to respond to you as a convention and say we’re glad, as a board of trustees and staff, to take under advisement and consideration those issues, to look at them, and to probably get counsel from those who know that area very well.”

Reccord noted chaplaincy is “a very complicated issue,” with different requirements for employing entities — as well as vastly different roles that chaplains serve.

“Our commitment … is above all else to honor and facilitate our chaplains,” he said. “At the same time it is to meet what you as a convention have spoken on, be it in resolutions or in the Baptist Faith and Message, and try to carry that out. And so I would say to all of you we’ll be glad to reconsider, and to look at and evaluate.”

In another question for Reccord, Jamal Bishara, pastor of First Arabic Baptist Church in Phoenix, asked that NAMB consider adding a staff member to work with Middle Easterners.

“I would really like to see a person that represents the Middle Eastern in particular to really be a driving force among us Arab leaders in this valley to really preach the Gospel to the Muslims,” he said.

Reccord noted that NAMB works in partnership with 24 ethnic and African American fellowships, has a staff member who is a converted Muslim, and will continue to focus on Arabs and other ethnic groups across the continent.

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  • James Dotson