• David Lee Brown

History of Southern Baptist Military Chaplaincy



In this brief history of the Chaplaincy of the Southern Baptists denomination, I will show that Baptists provided clergy as Chaplains from the War of Independence through today in our military. They served on the battle fields and “in the rear with the gear” to provide comfort and spiritual guidance during battle, between battles and after battles, as well as, providing worship services.

According to Fitzgerald, the Continental Congress in 1775 adopted a resolution that created the legal formation of a Chaplains Corps. Throughout the original 13 colonies, clergy were recruited to serve as Chaplains and there were 179 Chaplains of various denominations serving during the Revolutionary War. When we finally won the war for our independence from England (the Revolutionary War) the Chaplains, for the most part, returned to their congregations. The most notable Baptist Chaplain was Rev. John Gano. He was known for his coolness in the heat of battle, his popularity with the troops and his unwavering condemnation of sin. He was born in Hopewell, New Jersey in 1727 and was called by God to preach in 1758 and pastored a church in North Carolina until the Revolutionary War. He then became a Chaplain under General Clinton of the Continental Army. [1]

In 1777, the Continental Congress wrote into law an order that required the military to have one Chaplain per Brigade and that those Chaplains would be appointed by Congress. There were 21 Brigade Chaplains chosen after the Revolutionary War and of all the denominations, the Baptists had the most selected. Six of the first Brigade Chaplains were Baptists, according to Fitzgerald. [2]

After the War of 1812 came the Civil War in 1861, interestingly, it started 100 years before I was born and I’m still alive and well, so that wasn’t very long ago. During this conflict, the Northern Union Army had many more Chaplains than the South. It is recorded that the Union had 2,300 Chaplains but may have had as many as 3,000 Chaplains. The South or Confederates had anywhere from 600 to 1000 Chaplains with the majority being Methodists, followed by Baptists and then Presbyterians, among others, according to Fitzgerald. Even though the Baptist denomination was dominant in congregational size, there were fewer Baptist Chaplains, because the Baptist preachers were fighting right along with the troops as soldiers. [3]

According to Fitzgerald, in 1863 the Southern Baptist Convention met and decided to encourage the use of Chaplains and to send out missionaries and colporteurs (people who distributed Bibles, tracts and literature) in order to fulfill the great commission. The Sothern Baptist Convention provided 6,187,000 tracts and 6,000 Bibles in just one year during the Civil War and continued this distribution of literature throughout the war. It was said that the southern troops had more Bibles than the North, even though most of the printers were in the North. The Confederacy had to import most of its literature from other sympathetic nations. [4]

Moving on to World War 1, our nation was ill prepared for armed conflict, with just a small standing Army, Navy, Marine Corps and National Guard in 1917. They quickly trained and were sent to France to fight. There were only 74 Army Chaplains, 72 National Guard Chaplains and 203 Navy Chaplains, according to Fitzgerald and out of that number, 51 were Baptist Chaplains. [5]

Fitzgerald records that in World War II, America tried to remain neutral, and FDR (President Roosevelt) said:

“This nation will remain a neutral nation, but I cannot ask that every American remain neutral in thought as well.” “If Britain should go down, all of us in all the Americas would be living at the point of a gun, a gun loaded with explosive bullets, economic as well as military. We must produce arms and ships with every energy and resource we can command… We must be the great arsenal of Democracy.” [6]

Under FDR our military strength grew substantially in reaction to the War in Europe. In 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor Hawaii and drew us into WWII. By this time, we were well armed and our factories were cranking out weapons and our shipyards were churning out new ships. According to Fitzgerald, at the time of the attack at Pearl Harbor there were only 1,478 Chaplains in our military, so they immediately started recruiting and training more. By May 1945 there were 7,887 Chaplains with the Southern Baptist contributing 8.89%. [7]

Twelve Southern Baptist Chaplains were killed during WWII, out of the 51 Chaplains that died in action and another 100 plus that died from other causes while on active duty, per Fitzgerald. [8]

Chaplains were there for the troops and sailors during the Korean War, The Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm and all the other conflicts in between and thereafter. According to the Southern Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist Chaplains have been serving this great nation in every major armed conflict over the past 150 years. [9]

In 1999, Rabbi Resnicoff, a US chaplain, proposed broadening the role of chaplains to include meeting with local religious leaders in conflict zones to improve the military's understanding of local religious issues and include Chaplains in the conflict prevention and reconciliation processes. This Chaplain outreach is part of the duties recorded in the Joint Publication 1-05 on Chaplain operations, according to Wikipedia. [10]

According to Conway in a 2013 report, Southern Baptist Chaplains have had a profound influence on our nation’s military. Southern Baptists have 1,440 certified Chaplains serving in the US military, which is more than any other denomination or faith group. “Chaplain ministry is an extension of the local church. Chaplains are endorsed by the SBC but they answer the call to ministry from their local churches. They are Southern Baptist pastors in uniform.” [11]

Southern Baptists Chaplains have served the United States military with honor and distinction since the establishment of the Southern Baptist Convention. Southern Baptist Chaplains have fought and died while serving the spiritual needs of our soldiers and sailors. They have shown examples of courage on the battle field, comforted the wounded, provided personal spiritual guidance and led congregational services while serving our military personnel. They deserve our heartfelt praise and admiration.

References:

[1] Lawrence P. Fitzgerald, "History of the Southern Baptist Chaplaincy", Digital Commons @ Gardner-Webb University, last modified 1970, https://digitalcommons.gardner-webb.edu/ebook/1/. Ch 2 Pg. 11

[2] Fitzgerald, "History of the Southern Baptist Chaplaincy" Ch 2 Pg. 22

[3] Fitzgerald, "History of the Southern Baptist Chaplaincy" Ch 3 Pgs. 27-28

[4] Fitzgerald, "History of the Southern Baptist Chaplaincy" Ch 3 Pg. 40-41

[5] Fitzgerald, "History of the Southern Baptist Chaplaincy" Ch 4 Pg. 44-45

[6] Fitzgerald, "History of the Southern Baptist Chaplaincy" Ch 6 Pg. 87-88

[7] Fitzgerald, "History of the Southern Baptist Chaplaincy" Ch 6 Pg. 91-92

[8] Fitzgerald, "History of the Southern Baptist Chaplaincy" Ch 6 Pg. 112

[9] NAMB, "Military Chaplains," Military Chaplaincy, last modified 2018, https://www.namb.net/chaplaincy/military.

[10] Wikipedia, "United States Military Chaplains," Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, last modified March 23, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_chaplains.

[11] Joe Conway, "Chaplain Training Center Prepares Chaplains for Military Service," SBC LIFE - SBC LIFE, last modified March 2013, http://www.sbclife.net/Articles/2013/03/sla7.


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