(RNS) According to Air Force data, no training program is
more popular among prospective chaplains than Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary,
part of the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
One out of every five Air Force chaplain candidates studying
at an evangelical seminary is enrolled at Liberty.
Critics say that high rate of enrollment could add to an
imbalance of evangelical Christians among the military’s corps of chaplains.
And some even within the military have raised questions about the quality of Liberty’s
Liberty’s pairing of evangelical Christianity and patriotism
is exemplified during the university’s annual Military Emphasis Week. According
to the school’s website, the highlight of that week is “the patriotic
convocation, occurring the Wednesday closest to Veterans Day, featuring patriotic
music, veteran testimonies and an inspirational message from a Christian combat
Liberty is not accredited by the Association of Theological
Schools, the national accreditation agency for graduate-level seminaries. Instead,
it is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The
Department of Defense requires only that seminaries that train chaplain
candidates be listed with the American Council on Education, which is not an
Retired Air Force chaplain Charles Davidson is a professor
at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and director of the school’s chaplaincy
Davidson launched the program in 2007, taking advantage of a
2004 change in Armed Forces Chaplain Board policy that set training requirements
for the Master’s of Divinity at 72 credit hours. Most seminaries require 90
credit hours. Liberty eliminated Greek and Hebrew from the required coursework,
meeting the Pentagon’s 72-hour level.
Davidson also made the coursework available online, and the combination
has resulted in an explosion of interest in the program, growing from two
students in 2007 to more than 1,000 today.
“The majority” of those students are Army chaplain
candidates, Davidson said. Only about 30 of Liberty’s chaplain-track students
reside on campus.
Such online degrees are a “concern” for Air Force chaplain
leaders, said Col. Steven Keith, commandant of the Air Force Chaplain Corps College
in Fort Jackson, S.C.
“We are taking note of that,” he said. “Resident seminarians,
we feel, are better prepared.”
All military chaplains must first have the endorsement of a denomination
or other institutional religious body before entering a chaplain-candidate
track. Liberty has its own military endorsement arm, Liberty Baptist
Fellowship. Davidson is the endorsing agent, and estimated that the school has
endorsed 180 chaplains or chaplain candidates.
“Praise the Lord, 10 or 15 years from now we could have 600,
700, 800 evangelical chaplains sprinkled throughout the military who are Liberty
graduates,” Davidson said.
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