May 21st, 2021

his friend Jesus

A well-meaning phony is still a phony

As James J. Kilpatrick used to write, "The Court of Peeves, Irks, and Crotchets is now in session."

I was approached recently to give advice and maybe teach a session of religious emblem awards for a local troop. They were looking for someone to teach the "generic Protestant" one. I was approached by the Troop Chaplain -- at least, that's what his badge of office said.

Now, let's clear the lesser gripe out of the way first. There is no such thing as "generic Protestantism." There are common curricula, which the various Protestant groups adapt to teach the faith the way they understand it. But a God and Church class taught by a Methodist is going to be very different in some ways from one taught by a Christian (Campbellite), even if we're using the same workbook. Caveat emptor.

The bigger gripe I have is the guy's patch. I've seen it too often. Some guy sees a need to provide religious counsel within the unit and, since there's no chaplain assigned to that unit, he nominates himself and buys himself a patch for it.

BSA's own rules say (or used to say) that a Chaplain is an ordained or licensed minister or seminarian. Sunday School teachers, lay leaders, and what-all don't cut it. In other words, you're supposed to be a real clergyperson to wear that patch, someone called by God and (which is more important in the credentialing context) authorized by a religious body to act as a minister of the Gospel.

Now, I wish more real clergy served in Scouting. There's a tremendous need. And I wish more clergy were better at clerging than they are; just because you're official doesn't mean you're any good at working with youth. And an eager, helpful layperson may in fact be better at the job, even as he or she is available in greater numbers, than the real clergy. For that matter, the particular layperson displaying that patch may be six times more holy than I'll ever be, but that's not the point.

There's an integrity issue here.

Let's look at a cognate field. To be a camp Health Officer, you need some credentials. A physician, a nurse, an EMT, a paramedic, or (at least) someone certified in First Aid can serve in that position. Hey, I carry those last credentials. I could do that. And since I'm the one with the responsibility -- and there's no Health Officer badge of office, why don't I just buy myself a Physician badge and wear that? What would be wrong with that? Well, go ahead and try that, and see how far you get before everybody else in the medical field (not just MDs) rip you a new one. Whatever your function in camp or in your unit, you are not a physician, and to claim you are is a personal fraud.

To be a chaplain is to be recognized as someone who is qualified (I hope) and authorized (we can check on that) to muck about with someone's soul. Someone bound by professional ethics, a code of conduct peculiar to the clergy. Someone accountable to somebody for his or her teaching and advice. The helpful layperson may in fact be better at the job than I am, but if he doesn't have that standing, he is misrepresenting himself when he wears that patch, and devaluing the work that real chaplains do.

It's not that I'm spiritually superior to that guy. I may not be. But nevertheless, I'm the real deal, and he's not. However helpful, spiritual, or wise, he's a phony -- like someone wearing a Physician badge who's not a doctor, or an Eagle knot who never made Eagle, or a Vigil sash who never kept the vigil.