A chaplain has to do damage control after a non-commissioned officer informs some Marines that a 20 year-old buddy who had committed suicide was damned:

When Baker went to the guards' barracks that evening, he found three of the young man's closest friends reeling from another shock. As Baker recounts the event his delivery is clipped, his eyes stern: A senior noncommissioned officer had visited the guard detachment and told them they could get through this and needed to realize that their deceased comrade was right then burning in hell. "[They] basically had this bombshell dropped on them," says Baker, whom the marines collared, wanting to know whether their buddy was truly in hell.

The chaplain was "flabbergasted" at the NCO imposing his religious views.

Like all military chaplains, he must negotiate a volatile no man's land between church and state by serving as clergy in a secular institution. As such he is the military's "subject matter expert on religion," an authority he needs to exercise without imposing his own religious views on others.

The case here was clear: The marines approached him for his opinion. And he gave it to them in the hope that it would mitigate their hurt.

"From my understanding, God did not make any of us on earth the ultimate judge, jury, and executioner," he told them. "And if I am correct, I should be the only theologian attached to this Marine unit.... Ultimately, God is your friend's judge," declared Baker, who rebelled against the fire and brimstone approach of his childhood church and chose the Methodists' God of grace.

Hat tip: Eric Kelsey. The full Christian Science Monitor series on military chaplains here.

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