NEW YORK (Jan. 17)
The American Jewish Congress today called on Secretary of the Navy John H. Chafee to repudiate a-Navy Personnel Bureau memorandum urging chaplains to play “a strong role” in the year-long evangelical campaign known as “Key 73.” In a letter to Chafee the AJ Congress charged that the memorandum encouraged Navy chaplains “in effect…to engage in religious proselytization.” Such “missionary activity” is not part of the duties of Naval chaplains, Rabbi Yaakov Rosenberg of Philadelphia, chairman of the American Jewish Congress Commission on Jewish Affairs, wrote.
Dated Oct. 1972 and sent on Department of the Navy letterhead to “Navy Chaplains and Denominational Endorsing Agents,” the memorandum was headed, “Notes from the Chief.” Rear Admiral F.L. Garrett is chief of chaplains. The chief of the Bureau of Naval Personnel is Vice Admiral David Bagley. The memorandum described Key 73 as a “great ecumenical evangelical emphasis calling upon Christians to reach out in obedience to the Great Commission.” It added, “The participating churches will be active in promoting Key 73 within their own fellowships and we will be as supportive as possible within the Naval Service,” the memorandum stated.
Key 73 is a nationwide campaign scheduled to run through 1973 and involving some 130 church groups, including mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, Pentecostals and a number of Roman Catholic dioceses. The campaign’s theme is “Calling Our Continent to Christ in 73.” Its stated purpose is “to share with every person in North America more fully and more forcefully the claims and message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to confront people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by proclamation and demonstration, by witness and ministry, by word and deed.”
NOT PROPER ROLE FOR GOVERNMENT
The Navy memorandum speaks of a “professional packet” of Key 73 materials, including “the major resource manual for Key 73,” and adds: “I strongly urge you to study these materials with devotion and a genuine evangelical concern for your own-people. Unless there should be denominational reasons preventing your participation. I commend to you a strong role in this effort to make the person and Gospel of Christ more meaningful to those we serve.”
In his letter to Chafee, Rabbi Rosenberg declared, in part: “This memorandum and the message it conveys, are completely at odds with the proper function of the Navy chaplaincy. You are no doubt aware that it is sometimes argued that maintenance of a chaplaincy by the Armed Forces violates the constitutional prohibition of religious activity by the government. The answer has been that the function–the sole function–of the chaplaincy is to supply the spiritual needs of those American citizens who are serving in the Armed Forces.”
The October memorandum, Rabbi Rosenberg continued, “is entirely at odds with that assumption. It converts the chaplaincy from a role of service to one of advocacy. It says with respect to Key 73 that ‘we will be as supportive as possible within the Naval Service.’ Support of missionary activity is not, under our constitutional system, a proper role for government.”