The Royal Navy’s most senior chaplain has triggered controversy by appearing to ask clergy not to criticise the war in Afghanistan or other aspects of government military policy.
Addressing the Church of England General Synod yesterday (10 February), John Green, Chaplain of the Fleet and Archdeacon of the Royal Navy, said “Some of you might think it is appropriate to stand in the pulpit and talk about Government defence policy in a theological context. But when you do, please be aware of the position of armed forces personnel and their families”.
Green asked clergy not to “engage in megaphone or shotgun diplomacy because quite often the people who are injured in that sort of approach, or whose morale is most challenged, are those who are suffering already.”
However, he acknowledged that, “It is very important in a democracy that the national Church engages with people with views about pacifism on one side and the use of military force on the other”.
The Synod was hearing presentations on the role of armed forces chaplains amidst concerns of a shortfall in their numbers. It has been reported that the Church of England is having difficulty recruiting clergy to fulfill the role.
“Of course clergy need to be sensitive about the effect of their remarks from the pulpit,” said Symon Hill, co-director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia.
He went on, “However, John Green seemed to go beyond this and imply that churches should refrain from challenging government policy and looking critically at the effects of the war in Afghanistan. Such an approach would be unfair to all those involved in the Afghan conflict, including British soldiers.
“We are no longer in a Christendom situation, in which the Church is allied to the state. The churches are able to use their freedom to speak prophetically and to promote creative solutions to conflict.”
Recent years have seen calls for a radical overhaul of the churches’ approach to chaplaincy. Both Ekklesia and the Fellowship of Reconciliation have called for chaplains to be appointed to the 'unarmed forces' of nonviolent peacemakers around the world.
Projects such as Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), Responding to Conflict and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) all send unarmed peacemakers into conflict zones, where they work with local people to promote reconciliation and human rights.
The latest controversy comes as the UK government prepares to involve 4,000 troops in a new offensive in Helmand province of Afghanistan.
The death toll of UK soldiers in Afghanistan recently reached 256, exceeding the number of British armed forces deaths in the Falklands war. The death toll amongst Afghan civilians is not formally recorded.