What Is a Military Chaplain?
A chaplain is a commissioned officer in the military. While other nations have military chaplains, chaplains currently serve in the Armed Forces of the United States. The chaplaincy is part of the professional corps, which includes professionals such as doctors, nurses, dentists, and lawyers. The decision to pursue a career as a military chaplain is up to the individual. All military chaplains must be endorsed by their religious denomination before they can apply to the chaplaincy.
Role of Military Chaplains
As a member of the commander's staff, chaplains serve as moral, ethical, and spiritual advisers to their commanders. They ensure the free exercise of religion and oversee the unit and base religious programs. Much of the work they do is one-on-one with the soldiers and their families. Chaplains go where the troops go. They are in the barracks, in the offices, and in the training areas, as well as in combat zones ministering to men and women of all faiths, denominations, and persuasions. They must be able to work in a pluralistic religious environment, respecting and accommodating members of all faiths without compromising their own beliefs. Chaplains serve full-time in the active-duty Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. In addition, they can serve part-time in the Reserve and National Guard while pursuing other forms of civilian employment. As with all Reserve and National Guard members, if the unit is activated, they may have to deploy for extended periods of time.
Duties and Responsibilities
Specific duties and responsibilities of Latter-day Saint chaplains include:
- Operating in a pluralistic environment and abiding by the Code of Ethics approved by the National Council on Ministry to the Armed Forces.
- Exemplifying to all people the best characteristics of Christianity.
- Serving under the Protestant umbrella in the chaplaincy and accommodating the free exercise of religion for all service members.
- Performing marriages and conducting memorial services and funerals for service members and their families.
- Visiting military and family members in hospitals, in their homes, in their work places, in detention facilities, in training areas, and during combat operations.
- Conducting various religious seminars and retreats such as marriage improvement, parenting, spiritual leadership training, warrior transition from combat operation, anger control in the home, and spiritual awareness for youth.
- Developing and supporting chapel-sponsored youth activities, youth vacation scripture study programs, and religious education programs.
- Teaching classes to service members on topics of religion, ethics, leadership, and other areas that build moral character in men and women.
- Counseling service members and families during times of crisis and supporting them in the many challenges they face due to family separation because of military deployments.
- Accompanying the military members and providing encouragement, spiritual strength, and religious support during periods of combat.
- Working closely with local stake and ward priesthood leaders in activation and retention activities and actively seeking out the less-active military members.
- Like any other Church member, a chaplain has no ecclesiastical authority within the Church structure unless called to serve in a ward or stake calling by the local priesthood authorities. Although being a chaplain is not a Church calling, a Latter-day Saint chaplain does represent the Church within the chaplaincy. Those who become Latter-day Saint chaplains must possess a strong testimony and an in-depth understanding of gospel doctrines and Church administration.
Note: When deployed to areas of the world where the Church is not established, chaplains will operate under the direction of Area Presidents to establish service member groups, call and set apart group leaders, give priesthood blessings, and support the group leaders and members as needed.
- The chaplain and his family serve as righteous examples to the military community of their testimony of Christ.
- In the chaplaincy, the spouse plays a key role in the ministry and can be a source of strength and encouragement to those who attend the chapel programs as well as the family members in the unit.
- During periods of family separation when the military members are deployed, the chaplain's spouse and family are frequently sought out for advice and counsel. They become a source of strength for families left behind.
- The spouse sustains the family during times when the chaplain is deployed with his unit.
- The chaplain's wife is encouraged to be involved in the local on-base religious community as well as the officers' wives' activities.
- To the degree feasible, the children of the chaplain and his spouse are encouraged to be involved with and serve as an example to the youth on the base.
- Chaplains and their families should be active in their local ward or branch and serve in callings that do not interfere with the chaplain's military duties. They should be a source of strength and testimony to the members of the Church.
Requirements for Latter-day Saint Chaplains
Both the Department of Defense and the Church have established requirements that individuals who desire to become a chaplain must complete in order to receive Church endorsement and be selected as a chaplain in the military.
Department of Defense Educational Requirements
Educational Qualifications for Appointment as a Chaplain
- The educationally qualified applicant must possess a baccalaureate degree with not less than 120 semester hours (180 quarter hours) from a qualifying educational institution.
- The educationally qualified applicant must also possess a post-baccalaureate graduate degree in the field of theological or related studies from a qualifying educational institution.
- A qualifying degree program will require no less than 72 semester hours (108 quarter hours) of graduate-level work.
- Related studies may include graduate courses in pastoral counseling, social work, religious administration, and similar disciplines when one-half of the earned graduate credits include topics in general religion, world religions, the practice of religion, theology/religious philosophy, ethics, and/or the foundational writings from the applicant's religious tradition.
Qualifying Educational Institutions
- A qualifying educational institution is an accredited college, university, or school of theology listed in the current edition of the American Council on Education (ACE), Accredited Institutions of Post-Secondary Education, and relevant ACE supplements to that publication, or any unaccredited institution that meets the requirements below.
- An unaccredited educational institution may obtain designation as a qualifying educational institution for a specific applicant to the chaplaincy who graduated from that educational institution. To do this, the unaccredited institution must provide certification from registrars at three accredited educational institutions that maintain programs for the preparation of clergy that their educational institutions would have accepted at least 90 percent of the credit hours earned and courses leading to the awarding of the post-graduate degree in theological or related studies earned by that applicant at the unaccredited educational institution, as of the year of graduation.
- For an unaccredited educational institution to be designated as a qualifying educational institution, that educational institution must provide the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs certification from the registrars at three different accredited educational institutions that maintain programs for the preparation of clergy. The registrars' certification must list the major areas of study in which that educational institution would accept at least 90 percent of the credit hours earned by a student who was awarded a post-graduate degree in theological or related studies at the unaccredited educational institution and for what years that acceptance would be valid.
- For an unaccredited educational institution to be considered for designation as a qualifying educational institution, the unaccredited educational institution must submit the required documentation no later than the beginning of the academic year for which the unaccredited educational institution seeks to be designated a qualifying educational institution.
- Required documentation will be submitted to the Armed Forces Chaplains Board (AFCB). The AFCB will review the documentation for completeness prior to forwarding to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs for inclusion on the list of qualifying educational institutions for Reserve Officers. The required documentation must be sent to the following address:
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management Policy
4000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-4000
- Applicants with the required documentation may also be submitted at any time from unaccredited educational institutions requesting designation as a qualifying educational institution for prior school years.
Distance learning courses from an accredited educational institution are accepted.
- Marriage. All Latter-day Saint applicants must be married in the temple and remain temple worthy while serving as a chaplain.
- Mission. It is desirable that all chaplain applicants be returned missionaries, but it is not absolutely required.
- Church Leadership Experience. The Department of Defense Directive 1304.19 requires that each applicant have at least two years of practical ministerial experience following completion of the master's degree. Since we do not have a paid clergy, most of our applicants will meet this requirement by having sufficient practical Church leadership experience, especially if they have served a mission.
- Ecclesiastical Endorsement Application. All applicants must complete and submit a Latter-day Saint Ecclesiastical Endorsement Application. Forms can be obtained online or by contacting Military Relations at 801-240-2286 or via email at PST-Military@ldschurch.org.
- Worthiness Interview. After receipt of the application, the military relations director will send letters to the applicant’s bishop and stake president requesting that they conduct a worthiness interview with the applicant and his spouse.
- Psychological Evaluation. Following the bishop and stake president’s interviews, the director will make arrangements for the applicants to complete a psychological evaluation with LDS Family Services to assess suitability for service as a chaplain. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, Second Edition (MMPI-II) and other appropriate tests will be administered, followed by an interview with the licensed counselor.
- Compatibility for Military Service. The director will interview potential applicants and their spouses to determine suitability to serve as a chaplain in the military.
- General Authority Interview. To complete the screening process, the director will make arrangements with the applicant and the applicant’s spouse to be interviewed by a General Authority.
Individuals must complete all requirements for application and be selected by the Chaplain's Board by the following maximum age:
- Applying for active duty, Reserves, or National Guard with no prior service: less than age 40 for Navy and Air Force and 42 for Army.
- Applying for active duty with prior service: consult with chaplain recruiter for the desired branch of service.
- Applying for Reserves and National Guard with prior service: consult with chaplain recruiter for the desired branch of service.
Procedures for Application to BYU’s MA in Religious Studies for LDS Members Desiring to Become Military Chaplains
- Military Relations Approval. All potential applicants must be approved by the director of military relations before submitting their application to BYU. To receive approval, the individual must complete the items listed under Church Requirements.
- Undergraduate Degree. All applicants must complete an undergraduate degree consisting of a minimum of 120 semester hours from an accredited university. It is suggested that candidates take an undergraduate course in abnormal psychology; otherwise, all majors are acceptable. Applicants in their senior year must be able to complete their undergraduate degree before the start of the graduate program. Please note that the graduate program begins in the summer term, which usually begins near the end of June.
- GRE. All graduate students pursuing this degree program are required to take the GRE. Test scores must be reported to BYU directly from the testing agency. Without official test scores, the application will not be complete. Score reports are received electronically approximately two to three weeks after the test date. If the scores were not sent to BYU when the test was taken, the scores must be ordered and sent to BYU directly from the testing agency. If the test was taken more than five years ago, you will need to retake it. The program is competitive, so some candidates may want to take the exam more than once.
- BYU Graduate School Application. The deadline for submission of the application is December 1 of each year. Application for this graduate program MUST be submitted online.
- Written Essay. A key part of the application process is the submission of a 1,000-word essay on “My Philosophy of Military Ministry.” This is different from what you submitted with your application to Military Relations for ecclesiastical endorsement. The essay should be uploaded in the Statement of Intent section of the online application. This will be reviewed by the admissions committee to determine writing skill, so make sure you give it your best effort.
- Questions. Please direct your questions regarding the BYU application process to Cheryl Snelgrove at 801-422-3290 or via email at Cheryl_Snelgrove@byu.edu. If she is unable to answer your questions, she will direct you to Dr. Vance Theodore or Dr. Blake Boatright. For questions regarding application for ecclesiastical endorsement with Military Relations, contact Frank Clawson or Richard Roggia at 801-240-2286 or via email at PST-Military@ldschurch.org.