Further Analysis of Expanded DoD Faith Groups

Update 8/7: A 7/21 update made the following changes, which all seem to be grammatical and category errors, nothing related to content. Deleted: American Council Christian Catholic Church, Presbyterian Council for Chaplains, National Association of Evangelicals, Chaplaincy Full Gospel Churches, Associated Gospel Churches, and Tioga River (no active members). Entries for Reform Judaism, LDS, Open Bible Standard Churches all received typo correction. One typo was introduced with entry FB now having an unnecessary trailing space. Current listings maintained by the DoD here (link contents may change).

This is a follow-up to original MAAF coverage (with PDF and Excel) of the addition of Humanism of the DoD faith group code listing. The Secretary of Defense on recommendation from the Chiefs of Chaplains added Humanist and over 100 other entries to the list of “recognized faith groups” throughout the armed forces. This article goes into detail on potential issues and fixes that will hopefully be helpful in the implementation process.

Part of the addition of recognized religions must be a more formal association with the Department of Defense and supporting civilian agencies — authentic representatives of those “Faith and Belief Codes.” Just as the Department of Defense invites Sacred Well Congregation and Jewish Welfare Board and the United Methodist Church to support Wiccans, Jews, and Methodists, respectively, they should now be inviting organizations like MAAF, The Humanist Society, the American Ethical Union, and other Humanist organizations to be part of authentic support for Humanists in the military.

Whether that will happen is uncertain. Danae King with the Columbus Dispatch talked with Johnny Michael, a DoD Spokesperson, who said chaplains would not be trained in Humanism,. A chaplain interviewed, Chaplain Colonel Andrew Aquino of the Ohio National Guard, said that instead of formal training, chaplains would just Google information. He seemed to be saying this was the plan for all minority beliefs. This is not the case for Jewish, Catholic, or Orthodox beliefs, among others, for which all chaplains receive specific formal training in their chaplain school training just after entering the military. With no history of Humanist support or endorsed Humanist Chaplains, DoD Chaplains need significant outside support and training before they can effectively care for Humanists.

Before getting into detail below, be sure to see what others are saying. Thanks to others for covering the changes: Daily Mail (Jordan Gass-Poore), Religion News Service (Kim Winston), The Late Show with Stephen ColbertThe Friendly Atheist (Hemant Mehta), World Religion News (Derek Welch), Wondering Eagle Blog (David Bonner), Christian Post (JB Cachila), Columbus Dispatch (Danae King)

The original MAAF report

The new Faith and Belief Codes, just now published, include over 200 listings and there are not surprisingly a few typos and potential issues. We respectfully highlight the following:

Typos and edits:

  • Latter Day Saints is missing an S
  • Reformed Judaism should be Reform Judaism
  • Evangelical Churches, Other is missing a comma

Additions and exclusions:

  • Pentecostal Church of God and Pentecostal Churches of God of America, Inc seem to be the same organization. Independent Baptist Bible Mission and Baptist Bible Fellowship also seem to be the same organization. If so, there should be just one listing.
  • Some listings seem to be invalid, such as Militant Fundamental Bible Church and Lutheran Council in the USA. There are similar-sounding groups but seemingly none with that exact wording that are still active entities.
  • Just as Christian, Jewish, and Wiccan diversity are well-represented, so should be others. For example, Islam should include Sunni, Shi’i, and Ibadi. Humanism would be helped with Humanist Society, American Ethical Union, and Society for Humanistic Judaism additions. These groups have church exemptions and are not just educational or community non-profits. Hinduism and Buddhism are also listed without any reference to distinct sub-types of those beliefs.
  • Still excluded are Satanists. Church of Satan and The Satanic Temple are both ‘Satanist’ but are entirely distinct in organization and values, and presumably in laity as well. Including at least the three – Satanist, Church of Satan, and The Satanic Temple – would be more in keeping with accommodations for Wicca and others. Their population in the military may be small, but it is presumably not smaller than Rosicrucianism or Troth, which are listed. There is no harm in adding more, and the military will benefit by finding a home for new Satanists as well, even if Christians who have a different concept of Satan are initially uncomfortable.
  • We also advocate for Circle Sanctuary to be included. They are a pagan organization that has endorsed lay leaders throughout the force and seeks future VA and DoD chaplaincy. Their outreach and action to support the military, and their military members, should be recognized.

Interests and Oddities

  • Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations was present in the demographics provided to MAAF by the DoD in 2014. This was the only addition to 2014 numbers not found on the 2013 list.
  • Interestingly, the general entry for Wicca is now just “Wicca.” In the previous 2013 version, it was listed as “Wicca (witchcraft).”
  • There are 15 “Other” listings including Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, Pentecostal, Reformed and Presbyterian, Free Will Baptist, Orthodox, Evangelical, Episcopal/Anglican, Holiness, Eastern, Fundamentalist, Restoration, European Free, and just “Other Religions”.
  • The ‘Friends’ are listed which makes sense just in case someone is interested. But in addition to the general denomination, specific organizations, like the Kansas and Ohio Yearly Meetings are listed. This is a bit odd as the Friends national office confirmed to me they have an officially pacifist stance, as Friends may not, “fight for worldly realms with outward weapons,” and would consider any Friends serving in the military to be “out of union” with the faith.

Policy Considerations

  • As noted above, DoD Spokesperson Johnny Michael said that chaplains will not be trained in Humanism. In the same article, National Guard Chaplain Colonel Aquino said chaplains should just Google information for minorities. While there is information available, that is not a professional approach to religious accommodation and chaplains. Direct contact with official Humanist organizations, and Heathen and Hindu, are just as important as the direct connections they now have with Baptist and Catholic and other organizations. Without vetted resources and formal training, any professional would fail at any service, and without vetted resources and formal training, chaplains will fail at supporting Humanists.
  • There also needs to be stronger training for personnel clerks in providing these options to personnel for ID tags. Lonny Heft, currently a Heathen, reported requesting Agnostic when he entered the military. Agnostic has long been an option in every branch. However, when he got his ID tags, he found the clerk had given him Christian. Even since the 2012 addition of Humanist in the Army, trainees at Ft Sill and Ft Jackson have reported similar problems. Even for Jews and Wiccans and others this evangelism by personnel clerks, changing minority belief and atheist options to Christian or ‘No Preference’ is a frequently reported problem.
  • A Sikh option was added though their issue has not been lack of recognition so much as incomplete accommodation. Their religion requires hair growth, weapons, and other practices that military officials have been loathe to approve. Hopefully Sikh religious accommodations and all others that don’t involve restricting the rights of others can be provided.
  • There is inconsistency in the listings as some are individuals and some are beliefs. For example, ‘Hindu’ is listed rather than ‘Hinduism’, and ‘Buddhism’ is listed rather than ‘Buddhist’. Though not really important, it would make sense to list all individual-type identifiers or all belief-type identifiers. It seems like belief would be more consistent especially if organizations will sometimes be listed.
  • There is inconsistency in recognizing groups vs recognizing beliefs. For example, someone might identify as Presbyterian, but Presbyterian Church (USA) and Presbyterian Church North America are different. Baptist is a belief, but organizationally, Southern Baptist Convention and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship advocate very different beliefs for Baptists. Many Christians don’t consider Mormons to be Christian. Messianic Jews consider themselves Jewish but most Jews don’t agree. These challenges creep up as barriers to just letting people self-identify because chaplains may see a listing but not really know what beliefs they are supporting. The point is not ‘right or wrong’, just getting a count accurate enough to help chaplains know how to help troops. That can’t happen without some specificity. Chief among them is that the US Government is bound by the Constitution not to go around pontificating about what is and is not ‘proper’ religion. The way around that, codified in various chaplain and lay leader regulations is to recognize organizations that have a ‘church’ tax exemption from the IRS. The IRS has done the work (a 14-point test, where all 14 points aren’t necessarily required, found in Schedule A of Form 1040 application for nonprofit status, where churches are then awarded a 501c3 exemption for purposes listed in Section 170b1A, (i) in the case of “churches” with “church” applying to temples, synagogues, humanist communities, etc.) Sticking to this ‘church’ listing may be more practical and clean than trying to list different beliefs. This may obviate the need for “Other” categories. For example, from 2013 to 2017, there was a blanket change from things like “Pentecostal churches” to “Pentecostal Churches, Other”. In that case, just “Pentecostal” might be a simple and straightforward operator to eliminate the superfluous ‘other’ added to the list. They did this already somewhat by removing superfluous words like Judaism was Judaism (Jewish) and Baha’i was Baha’i Faith.
  • Non-church, non-denominational organizations should be replaced with faith expressions. This seems to be the right policy to suit the stated purpose of the list. Several groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals, the Associated Gospel Churches, Presbyterian Council for Chaplains and Military Personnel, and Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches* are chaplain endorsers but not churches. These groups are not compliant with current policy except by virtue of being grandfathered (DoD Instruction 1304.28 E3.1.7). If non-church endorsers are to be included, all should be, including the Jewish Welfare Board and Coalition of Spirit-Filled Churches, which have the same organization and grandfathering. But this would also open the door to other non-church military ministries like MAAF to be included. Christian Crusade is also among the codes on the new memorandum, which does not seem to be an organization so much as a bad thing for our enemies to associate with the US military.


* Chaplaincy Full Gospel Churches was incorrectly named in a previous version.
* Kansas Yearly Meeting misspelling was incorrectly referenced in a previous version.

2 Responses to Further Analysis of Expanded DoD Faith Groups

  1. I have, to date, been unable to change my status from Humanist to Atheist in the Air Force personnel system. This may be a delay in coding, but it means I am unable to officially change my religious stance, as the AF has completely migrated to the digital records system.

    • You mean atheist to humanist? Atheist has been available and only humanist is new. The humanist option has most likely months to go with service-level implementation before the new list at the DoD level becomes available throughout the services. However, MAAF and other humanist groups will be collecting and disseminating developments regarding the practical availability of the newly-recognized codes and their adoption by chaplains in the field.

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