One of the most exciting events that I have attended during this semester of sabbatical was the inaugural Military Chief of Chaplains Conference in Cape Town, South Africa from February 1-6. In attendance were chiefs of military chaplains from over 50 countries and representing many different faiths. The theme surprised me - reconciliation and healing in post-conflict reconstruction. I had always thought that soldiers were there to fight wars and military chaplains were there to support them. But at this groundbreaking conference we explored not the making of war, but the making and keeping of peace.
I was honored to deliver a keynote address alongside the eminent Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In a talk entitled "Agents of Peace in Theatres of War: Re-thinking the Role of Military Chaplains," I urged that the mission of military chaplains should no longer be limited to serving soldiers and their families, but should extend to promoting reconciliation between warring parties during peacekeeping missions.
There is a tension, I suggested, between the defense of a sovereign state, often the primary mission of a military, and the keeping and making of peace. The first is guided by justice and the second by love. Can these two seemingly contradictory missions be somehow unified? They can, I argued, if both defense and peacekeeping are ultimately guided by love (understood not as some mushy feeling but as active benevolence and beneficence) and rooted in three principles. First, that love and justice are not opposed to one another. Love does not deny justice, but goes beyond justice in doing more than what justice requires. Second, love requires defending the defenseless - we are obligated to love the weak and vulnerable third party whose rights have been violated and whose life has been threatened. Finally, the defense of the defenseless should itself be guided not only by the demands of justice, but ultimately by the goal of reconciliation - by a commitment to making and keeping peace between former enemies. (Click here to read the entire address)
As this historic conference drew to a close, chiefs of chaplains met and together overwhelmingly declared reconciliation to be among their primary operational roles! I had the sense as this was unfolding that I was witnessing a momentous event, and I ask that you continue to keep in your prayers these leaders who, in an often bitterly divided world, strive to be agents of peace and reconciliation.