Chaplains in Action
He’s just run an obstacle course alongside his soldiers at Fort Jackson, near Columbia, S.C.
Randles, 32, loves coming alongside soldiers at the shooting range, on the obstacle course, in the mud—doing whatever these men and women in basic combat training are ordered to do. As he sweats through pull-ups, he’ll often hear shouts of, “Hey, that’s the chaplain!” And then, on Sunday, many of those soldiers show up at chapel.
About 1,000 people make up each 10-week cycle of new enlistees in Randles’ battalion at Fort Jackson (the U.S. Army’s largest basic combat training facility). On average, 250 or 300 of those soldiers attend Randles’ Sunday chapel, billed as the “General Protestant Service,” one of a dozen religious services offered weekly. He regularly baptizes soldiers who’ve made genuine decisions for Christ during basic combat training.
“Cycle after cycle, I’m seeing God transform lives—from shivering in fear, to brave and ready to take on the world,” Randles says, obvious joy in his voice.
That “shivering in fear” has, in the past, included new enlistees who have sought discharge from the Army by stating that they are homosexual.
Prior to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a handful of soldiers had come to Randles saying they had an alternative lifestyle and didn’t feel they could continue in the military. The decision and authority to grant a voluntary separation from service rests with a unit’s commander, not the chaplain. Randles would let the soldier know that. Then, in confidence, he would address whatever issues were raised, from a biblical point of view.
Randles says he’s still allowed to do that. In chapel services, counseling sessions, retreats—all aspects of his ministry—he’s still free to speak about his faith. He is allowed, in fact expected, by the military to hold to the distinctives of the EFCA, with whom he is ordained and which is his ecclesiastical endorsing body.
And as long as the Defense of Marriage Act remains in place, Randles believes that if he ever were asked to perform such a wedding, military rules would allow him to refer that wedding to someone else.
The military might well experience a series of changes following the repeal of DADT, but chaplains can’t simply hold their breath, waiting. Instead, they are taking advantage of unceasing opportunities to offer a spiritual voice, both on the front lines and in strategic roles behind the scenes.