Chaplain’s defense

In responding to the conversation initiated by my ruminations on using the phones in my office for student calls to congressional representatives about the then-impending war resolution, Professors McAllister and Jacobsohn have articulated some of the interesting, familiar and vexing questions of boundaries between personal and institutional expressions of opinion or conscience. How much is too much – and how much is not enough? Would it have been inappropriate to purchase candles for the “Vigil for Peace and Prudence” on Oct. 10 using funds from the Chaplains’ Office budget? Should universities not have wielded their endowment investments as instruments of institutional opposition (a form of “partisan lobbying,” surely) to apartheid in South Africa? What actions on the part of individuals constitute speaking on behalf of institutions? Few if any of us would find easy one-size-fits-all answers to such questions; most, I think, would agree that such questions are of the essence of our continuing journeys of learning and discernment – my own included. And the fearful new situation in which we now find ourselves in this world is sure to sharpen their edges.

Mark Gunderson of the Garfield Republicans raises quite a different question of boundaries when he suggests that the Chaplaincy should be disengaged from such questions, confining itself to “organizing community service and promoting the spiritual life of the community.”

Does decrying a rush toward global violence that would surely cost thousands of lives, perhaps even those of neighbors and classmates, not seem a gesture of service to the community? Is organizing an outcry against the diverting of billions of dollars from the networks of basic humanitarian care to military expenditures of almost unthinkable proportions just a matter of politics, and not at all a matter of community service?

Does the specter of a global conflict whose front lines are already being understood by some as having been drawn between religions not seem to merit public responses grounded in faith and conscience? Does the public suggestion that we must urgently undertake the search for what St. Paul might call “a still more excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31), which entails beating swords into ploughshares (Isaiah 2:4) and which begins with the humble acknowledgment that “God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in their hearts” (Qur’an 13:11) – is this suggestion beyond the boundary of promoting the spiritual life of the community?

Rick Spalding

Chaplain/Coordinator of Community Service