If You Were Raped in the Military, Would You Turn to a Fundamentalist Chaplain for Help?

The cliché tells us that war is hell, but for female enlistees, the war on the domestic front—within their units—trumps that of the battlefield. In fact, a recent Veteran’s Administration survey revealed statistics that should have turned the military on its warmongering head: 30 percent of female vets told the interviewers that they had been assaulted by a male colleague and/or supervisor. Worse, 14 percent reported having been gang-raped and 20 percent reported having been raped more than once.

Shockingly, these figures may be low since underreporting of sexual crimes is known to be endemic.

Part of the blame for the reluctance to report may rest with the military chaplaincy, one of the few places soldiers, sailors, reservists, national guardians and marines can turn for counseling. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “the nation’s corps of chaplains leans heavily toward evangelical Christianity, failing to mirror the military it serves.” And 20 percent of today’s 3000 military chaplains were trained at the ultraconservative Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va. Founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1973, the school bills itself as the world’s largest seminary, something it attributes to its “conservative doctrinal position, its sound grounding in Bible teachings, and its reflection of core Christian essentials.” An article found on the school’s website clears up any definitional murkiness: “Liberty is committed to changing the entire world for Jesus Christ, first changing the world with its students, then equipping them to change the world around them.”

Over 1,000 students are currently enrolled in the 72-credit program to become military chaplains. A severe shortage of armed forces clerics—a February 2011 Times Union article blames the deficiency on the military’s rigid age and physical requirements and on the reluctance of pastors/rabbis/imams to exchange the comforts of home for combat—will likely make this dream come true for many of them.

That this bodes badly for women and the LGBTQ community is a given.

Rebecca Turner, Executive Director of Faith Aloud, a St. Louis-based pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ group, notes that, “There is a clear pattern within fundamentalist churches to blame the victim. For them Adam and Eve is historical fact and even today the woman is seen as the temptress and the man the fool who can’t resist her feminine wiles.” Fundamentalist chaplains, she continues, will hear a woman say that she was attacked and assume that she did something to provoke or warrant it. “The military is still a predominantly male, macho culture,” she says. “Add chaplains trained in very conservative ideology and you have the perfect storm of victim blaming for women who step forward.”

Read the rest at RH Reality Check

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Eleanor J. Bader is a freelance journalist from Brooklyn, N.Y., who writes for Truthout, Lilith, the LA Review of Books, RainTaxi, The Indypendent, New Pages, and The Progressive. She tweets at @eleanorjbader1 .