Military Atheists Reform Chaplain Website
Virtual Spiritual Fitness Becomes Chaplain Services for All
The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers has posted a Chaplain Services Center at spiritfit.militaryatheists.org as a response to an ill-conceived and badly-executed “Virtual Spiritual Fitness Center” published by the Army’s Installation Management Command. This reformed mirror site is posted after months of waiting for IMCOM to respond to outreach efforts. MAAF hopes that this effort will help to improve what could be a positive chaplain resource for all service members.
The IMCOM Virtual Spiritual Fitness Center website was reviewed by Rock Beyond Belief, with the complaint that atheism was listed under the category “faith.” IMCOM did resolve that issue by re-labeling the category “Religious Preference” and putting nontheist options in a lower navigation level. The “faith” problem was only the tip of the iceberg, as the Center still includes promotion (not merely facilitation) of religion, conversion instructions, and several special promotions of fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family. The site also has a robust and well-documented wealth of information about Christianity compared to only a few random links about non-Christian beliefs. A soldier could not enter the site without the strong implication that the site was intended to promote Christianity, with the other content being only an afterthought.
The IMCOM Chaplaincy has oversight over chaplain operations on Army Installations and has posted this site apparently as a foray into the virtual space. This is an absolutely critical level of leadership for the military chaplaincy. The policy and philosophy of this site is an indicator of the philosophy of Army chaplains in general, and the indicators are not good.
The IMCOM Chaplain and his staff have continued to say that their contractor hasn’t had time to make changes, after more than 6 months. This is an invalid excuse for two reasons. First, changing a website is easy. This corrected website took one person a few hours to put together. Second, policy changes are made by leaders and not webmasters. Webmasters do technical support, not content. There has been no recognition of the inherent problems with the content of the website, only excuses about why it cannot be changed from a technical manpower perspective. MAAF has patiently waited for months, but there have been no meaningful responses to needed changes (aside from deleting a pro-life pregnancy hotline).
MAAF has offered several times to assist with technical development, but those offers have also been rejected. Hopefully this simple example of what right looks like will show how easy it is to make changes and how a few changes can ensure equal recognition and useful resources for all soldiers in IMCOM. MAAF will also disseminate this site to various chaplain endorsing agencies and leaders, including IMCOM, to invite feedback and hopefully to encourage changes on the IMCOM official site and other sites like it.
The MAAF Chaplain Services site includes a full explanation of the background, philosophy, and changes. This new mirror site is part of the ongoing MAAF Chaplain Outreach Program. Hopefully this will be met by real change and increased openness to atheists and humanists in the military. Hopefully this effort will not be met with indignation and offense at attempts by nontheists to reach out to the theistic community or to question the authority of the chaplaincy. MAAF looks forward to a chaplaincy that increasingly supports all service members, including atheists and humanists.