Chaplain Outreach

This page is for all chaplain activities. Chaplains, chaplain assistants, prospective chaplains, and those who want services from chaplains will find information. This for both military and civilian chaplains in all institutions, and is open to current and prior military as well as civilians. Chaplains read on. Those who want to be new chaplains, to change their endorsement, or to be lay leaders working with chaplains, information is below.

Dear Chaplain

Dear Chaplain: This page and the assistance we offer is outreach to help you help military personnel who seek a secular approach and a nontheist community. While MAAF has run into chaplains interested solely in spreading their own ideas or just doing a Sunday service for their own denomination, we have confidence that that is not the norm and that chaplains in general are sincerely interested in providing support to all service members on the terms of that service member. We’re here to help with information and materials. You know there are nontheists in your unit. Do they come to you for help? Would you really understand their position and community enough to point them in the right direction? Let us help you. Just as importantly, let us show our community that chaplains are willing and able to support atheists and humanists.

If you are unfamiliar with Humanism, consider the following short explanation: Scientific naturalism sees the lens of science as the best way to understand the world, assigning certainty only according to the weight of evidence. Humanists are skeptical of evidence through any source, especially revelation, tradition, or authority. Right actions follow from an ultimate value of human-flourishing, human-based rational ethics and our evolved empathy and instincts as social animals. Tools such as deontology, virtue ethics, consequentialism, and utilitarianism are used in concert to create a solid foundation for ethical action in any given situation. A humanist makes meaning in life by viewing the world through the lens of scientific naturalism, acting according to human-based, rational ethics, and by seeking lasting personal fulfillment through the advancement of oneself, one’s community, and humanity.

For longer primers, view these links: Humanism and Humanists by the Humanist Society, the church organization of humanists, or the MAAF FAQ on Humanism. These summaries should only be a first introduction for any chaplain interested in understanding humanist beliefs and the nontheistic perspective well enough to support humanists and other nontheists in their care.

Humanists are also atheists, but that’s not really the point. Several important stories below lay out issues of belief and policy in more detail:

Additional Page contents

Continue reading on for additional resources:

How to really help

The MAAF Chaplain Outreach Program and is intended to be a minimum standard of commitment to equal treatment of all service members as well as respect for religious diversity within the military. The primary purpose of this page is to empower chaplains to help those nontheists in their care. Chaplains should be reaching out to Buddhists to help Buddhists, Catholics to help Catholics, and to us to help Humanists and other nontheists.

No one has to knock on your door and tell you you’re humanist. People figure it out by themselves and find themselves in need of mentorship and a supportive community. That’s the reason why non-Humanist chaplains must make it part of their job to refer people to humanist groups even if they don’t explicitly request it. We need chaplains to be the educated professionals who have the training and professional integrity to make that referral outside their faith if that is the best fit for the servicemember’s values and beliefs.

Please be the chaplain who finds a way to help rather than finding a way not to help. If you talk to atheists and make no referral, you are not helping. If you have Bibles and Qu’rans and Books of Mormon and nothing to represent the Humanist perspective, then you are abusing your authority to censor content. If you grill Humanists with every question you can think of to turn them away, instead of just helping them, then you are discriminating based on our beliefs. If you require a Bible or other single scripture, you are favoring majority Christian/Jewish religions above Humanism, Buddhism, and Hinduism which often use a variety of scriptures and readings. If you require ceremony and ritual, you are preferring liturgical religions over many Protestant faiths that downplay ritual in favor of personal expressions of faith. When someone says they are Humanist or atheist or even nonreligious, contact MAAF to find a way that you can help them. We want to work with chaplains to provide religious support within the scope of the chaplaincy and direct other political, social, or purely philosophical pursuits elsewhere.

MAAF also supported the application of Humanist Society Celebrant Jason Heap for Navy Chaplaincy. Several organizations and individuals joined an interfaith sign-on letter in support. While there is no current application pending, we hope all chaplains will join over 130 denominational and chaplain leaders in support of humanist chaplaincy. With or without a Humanist Chaplain, the military chaplaincy and those it serves suffer when chaplains deny Humanists equal and authentic Humanist support through the chaplain office.

Additional Resources for Chaplains

Secular counseling

Although the military chaplains should be able to service counseling needs, there are a number of services MAAF recommends for the needs of nontheist service members.

Official Chaplain Headquarters

The following addresses are provided for members and supporters to communicate this program to chaplain leaders to encourage them to contact MAAF for training development, materials, and better support of nontheists. (2017, confirming phone)

  • Office of the Chief of Chaplains, 1380 AF Pentagon, Room 4D286, Washington, DC 20330, 571-256-7729, Maj Gen Dondi Costin (Liberty Baptist Fellowship, Aug 2015), Deputy Brig Gen Steven Schaick (Presbyterian USA, Nov 2015)
  • Office of the Chief of Chaplains, 2700 Army Pentagon, Room 3E524, Washington, DC 20310-3700, 703-695-1133, MG Paul Hurley (Roman Catholic, May 2015), Deputy BG Thomas Solhjem (Assemblies of God, Jul 2015), Deputy for the National Guard BG Kenneth (Ed) Brandt (Presbyterian uncertain, Feb 2017)
  • Chief of Chaplains (N097), 2000 Navy Pentagon, Room 5E270, Washington, DC 20350-2000, 703-614-4043, RADM Margaret Kibben (Presbyterian USA, Aug 2014), Deputy RADM Brent Scott (Jul 2014)
  • Armed Forces Chaplains Board, 4000 Defense Pentagon Rm 2E341, Washington, DC 20301-4000, 703-697-9015, Executive Director Army COL Jay Johns (Texas Baptist, May 2017)
  • Chief, CAP Chaplain Service HQ CAP-USAF/HC, 105 S Hansell St, Bldg 714, Maxwell AFB, AL 36112-6332, 678-920-3980, Chief Col Jay Hughes, Deputies Lt Col Van Don Williams and Lt Col Paul Ward

Humanist Chaplain and Lay Leader Endorsement Program

MAAF recognizes several religious organizations providing authentic Humanists endorsements including the Unitarian Universalist Association, the American Ethical Union, the Society for Humanistic Judaism, and The Humanist Society. MAAF recommends The Humanist Society due to its proper church church legal status, long and distinguished history, strong Humanist values, firm professional ethic, and thorough endorsement process. MAAF offers advice and administrative support for those seeking Humanist endorsement, whatever church they choose (this does not constitute legal advice).

*** MAAF always maintains confidentiality for any currently-serving chaplains interested in switching endorsement ***

You can make a huge difference being a leader in the humanist community (and this applies to atheists, freethinkers, and other nontheists). Being a lay leader requires commitment to humanism and a continuing commitment to personal moral, emotional, and intellectual development. As a certified representative, you can work with the military, veterans affairs, hospitals, and other institutions to support atheists and humanists. While this program is tailored for the military, civilians can apply to work with the military. In addition, endorsement can be used for military and civilian institutions.

The Chaplain resources above explain what we are looking for from chaplains and what kind of humanist tradition our chaplains are expected to represent.

Expectation of MAAF leaders:

  • Commitment to the MAAF expression and tradition of humanist values, including scientific naturalism and human-based rationalistic ethics as well as willingness to serve fellow atheists and humanists
  • Understanding of the MAAF expression and tradition of humanist values as well as the current developments and issues surrounding MAAF, humanism, and humanist thought.
  • Leadership experience and capability to carry out duties of any positions held. The military chaplaincy recently published an additional requirement in response to Humanist chaplaincy, which is a requirement for two years of leadership within the denomination (eg, with the Humanist Society). This is not enforced in many cases, for example for chaplains who convert to a Christian endorser, but it is a requirement for prospective Society chaplains.
  • Application: Complete the application process, including membership, fees, questionnaire, and references.
  • Department of Defense requirements: Lay leaders require dedication more than anything, but the Department of Defense has stringent and Christian-centric standards including a single 72-hour graduate accredited university degree in a related field, two years of congregational leadership experience, and must normally be age 40 or lower. Humanist candidates are restricted only to apply to the active duty (not Guard or Reserve or candidate programs) and must not currently be a military chaplain. These are excessive and unfair restrictions that reduce diversity within the chaplaincy, but they are ones we must work under. Chaplain endorsement can be conferred even if the candidate does not meet Department of Defense requirements, but for now, those interested in military chaplaincy should be aware of restrictions to actually serving.
  • Those interested in DoD chaplaincy will need a 72-hour MDiv program. While humanists may have exceptions in the future, MAAF supports the MDiv route as it provides a wide range of religious instruction that will be valuable in pluralistic chaplaincy work. MAAF recommends the Saybrook University program in conjunction with the Humanist Institute. However, this will only work if the candidate has a full 72-hour Divinity program. Many programs have shown openness to humanist candidates include Meadville-Lombard (UU focus), University of the West (Buddhist focus), Brite (Texas Christian U, Disciples of Christ), Starr-King, Harvard, Andover-Newton, Yale, Claremont, and Union.

Because the Humanist Society has a prior fully-formed endorsement process, MAAF has worked with them to provide administrative support within their existing framework. MAAF also worked directly with the Society to ensure the process reflects the highest standards.

View the endorsement guidelines including the chaplain covenant and then complete the application process. Apply as a celebrant (clergy), lay leader, and/or chaplain. Regardless of endorsement, MAAF or the Society may require additional agreements related to reporting and conduct in certain positions.

MAAF also accepts direct endorsement requests for lay leaders and chaplains, in certain cases. To apply directly, join MAAF and you will be able to present your application. However, the Society process is encouraged.

For any questions, contact MAAF.