Why Secular Soldiers in Australia Aren't Getting Adequate Support

A former top military recruitment official of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) warned that the country’s armed forces must find secular alternatives to religious chaplains, which has increased in recent years, or there would be risks to the members’ health and wellbeing.

Col. Phillip Hoglin, who now serves as a reservist and military researcher, said that while the ADF is becoming less religious, the organization only has a handful of secular support officers. Critics have argued that secular ADF members avoid seeking help from people who hold different views and have conservative views on abortion, sexuality, and relationships.

Even though around two-thirds of the ADF are not religious, the number of Pentecostal and Evangelical chaplains in the force has continued to increase. Ralph Estherby, the man behind this increase, said he fought for his right to be a Pentecostal chaplain, and now he handles more than 100 chaplains in the ADF.

In response to questions from Senator Jacqui Lambie of Tasmania, figures released by the Australian Department of Defence showed that there are 108 Pentecostal chaplains in the force, and on average, each of them just represents about 15 ADF members.

The Australian Christian Churches or ACC (formerly Assemblies of God) currently has 13 chaplains and only 13 members. This network of Pentecostal churches has stated that it “supports the biblical view of marriage as a lifelong, exclusive union between a man and a woman.

Estherby is from the ACC and runs its Chaplaincy Australia ministry. He also sits on the religious advisory committee of the ADF. He said the ADF did not initially allow Pentecostal chaplains in the force, and he fought to be the force’s first appointed chaplain in 2009.

On the other hand, only five nondenominational Christian chaplains are in the force, while 4,217 ADF members identify as such, bringing a ratio of one chaplain for 843 members.

However, when asked if people might be reluctant to seek advice from chaplains whose beliefs and values they disagreed with, Estherby said people did not care what “flavor” a chaplain was. Chaplains are “chosen to be nonjudgmental and non-sectarian.

Wellbeing of non-religious ADF personnel at risk, former recruiter warns | Australian military | The Guardian
by u/AerialFox in AustralianMilitary

But others, such as Col. Hoglin, believe there should be a change. He said the ADF must provide some sort of “secular wellbeing capability” for their members or risk their health. Hoglin wrote in a piece for The Forge, the official website of the ADF, that almost 64% of the force’s members do not identify with any religion (a number that is rising), while there were only a handful of “maritime spiritual well-being officers” in the Australian Navy.

It is almost inevitable that members with no religious affiliation will exceed three-quarters of the total ADF permanent force population by the end of this decade, driven by the newest and future recruits,” Hoglin wrote in his piece, adding that the number of religious chaplains in the force is dwindling.

Principled stances on whether or not religious chaplains can provide adequate, unbiased wellbeing and pastoral care to nonreligious sailors, soldiers, and aviators will become almost irrelevant when the numbers of religious chaplains available to Defence are inadequate,” he also wrote.

Meredith Doig, the President of the Rationalist Society of Australia, said the organization raised their concerns to government officials about “a number of publicly expressed views of other Christian chaplains that we believe most Australians would consider unacceptable and incompatible with providing nonjudgmental care.

Wellbeing of non-religious ADF personnel at risk, former recruiter warns | Australian military
by u/Real_Carl_Ramirez in AustralianPolitics

She mentioned a defense force remuneration tribunal decision on recruiting secular officers in 2020. The Australian Navy said the “capability gap in the provision of mental health and wellbeing care for its members and their families who are reluctant to access pastoral support from navy chaplains based on their religious affiliations.

A spokesperson for the Department of Defence said they will assess the navy trial next year, and the Australian Army and Air Force would take a look at similar programs. They also said ADF members have alternative support services to religious chaplains.

If you like our posts, subscribe to the Atheist Republic newsletter to get exclusive content delivered weekly to your inbox. Also, get the book "Why There is No God" for free.

Click Here to Subscribe

Donating = Loving

Heart Icon

Bringing you atheist articles and building active godless communities takes hundreds of hours and resources each month. If you find any joy or stimulation at Atheist Republic, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.

Or make a one-time donation in any amount.