Military chaplains have long made an easy target for church-state separatists, and the legitimacy of chaplains in government has been questioned since the beginning of the republic, by no less an authority than James Madison. Add to this long debate a moving and thoughtful documentary, Chaplains Under Fire (IHSY) ****. Filmed largely in combat zones, it brings the viewer alongside chaplains of many denominations and faiths and the warriors they serve, interspersing interviews with proponents on both sides of the issue. While the film makes no attempt to settle the argument, it proves its worth by demonstrating what disputation cannot: the compassion of a chaplain comforting the father of a burned Afghan child; the gratitude of a young officer whose chaplain helped him grieve the loss of a Marine.
At one point, an evangelical chaplain explains his support of a Wiccan priest's right to serve in the corps. Belief that religion has a place in the public square sometimes makes strange bedfellows. As the film demonstrates, it is an accommodation as peculiarly American as the institution of the chaplaincy itself.
Leigh Bishop is a military reservist who served in Afghanistan in 2008-09
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