The Army Doesn’t Want Wiccan Chaplains

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The Washington Post reports on the story of Don Larsen, a former Army chaplain who tried to switch his religious designation from Pentecostal to Wiccan and was denied the request, pulled from active service in Iraq, and removed from the chaplain corps despite an unblemished record.

Don Larsen

Don Larsen

“On July 6, he applied to become the first Wiccan chaplain in the U.S. armed forces, setting off an extraordinary chain of events. By year’s end, his superiors not only denied his request but also withdrew him from Iraq and removed him from the chaplain corps, despite an unblemished service record…Larsen, 44, blames only himself. He said he was naive to think he could switch from Pentecostalism to Wicca in the same way that chaplains routinely change from one Christian denomination to another.”

What happened was that the Sacred Well Congregation (a group filled with current and former military personnel), who were already trying to establish the first Wiccan chaplain (they have met all bureaucratic goals and only needed a “viable” candidate), heard of Larson’s desire to switch and tried to become his new endorsing religious body (a requirement of all chaplains).

“When Larsen came along last spring, Sacred Well’s leaders thought they finally had someone the military could not possibly reject: a physically fit 6-foot-4 clergyman originally ordained as a Southern Baptist minister, who holds a master’s degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Moreover, Larsen had spent 10 years as an officer in the National Guard, finished near the top of his class in chaplain’s training and was already serving as a chaplain in Iraq. But Oringderff said that his group, like Larsen, underestimated the institutional resistance. “Each time we advance to a scoring position, they change the rules,” he said.”

While in the process of switching faiths within the chaplaincy (normally a routine process, involving some paperwork), a senior Army chaplain disclosed to the Pentecostal Church exactly what Larsen was switching to and as a result pulled their endorsement of Larsen before Sacred Well’s endorsement could be approved.

“The Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches immediately severed its ties to Larsen. The Sacred Well Congregation could not renew his papers, because it was not yet an official endorser. Lacking an ecclesiastical endorsement, Larsen was ordered to cease functioning immediately as a chaplain, and the Pentagon quickly pulled him out of Iraq.”

Retired Army colonel Jim Ammerman, the president and founder of Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches admits that the church went against longstanding agreements among endorsers in pulling Larsen’s papers. You can guess why they broke normal protocol.

“But if it’s not a valid thing, [Wiccans] run around naked in the woods [and] draw blood with a dagger [in their ceremonies]. You can’t do that in the military. It’s against good order and discipline.”

For more on Ammerman’s view of the military and our government, you should check out these “notes” from a seminar he gave. As for Larsen, he is keeping quiet since he doesn’t want to be kicked out of the military and lose his career in the Guard.

“It’s not my place as a little captain to challenge the decisions or policies or motives or actions of my superiors,” he says. “I got to come home and resume my career in the Guard. I’m very thankful for that. Understand, it’s all I’ve got left. . . . This was a big blunder. I barely survived it. I don’t have another one in me.”

So despite the fact that his superior believes that a “grave injustice” was done, there is little to do for Larsen. No written protocols or rules were broken in Larsen’s exile from chaplaincy, and thanks to these “catch-22s” the Army and other branches of the military can stall Pagan chaplains for as long as they wish. Outside candidates with the Army’s proper credentials and qualifications are going to be rare, and those wanting to switch to a Pagan faith will most likely find their previous endorsements pulled before their new endorsement can be enacted (which leaves them in a sort of chaplaincy limbo).

This attitude that Wiccans and Pagans are devil-worshipers who can’t obey military protocol isn’t going to go away any time soon, and is most likely the reason for the VA’s stalling over approving the Pentacle for military gravestones and markers. If nothing changes in the near future, it may be another ten or twenty years before we see the military willingly approve a Pagan chaplain.