Reverend Chris Antal was a source of faith and hope to those of us who were touched by his ministry while he served in RC South from Kandahar Airfield. He was an Army Chaplain devoted to the work of counseling and helping heal those who suffered moral injuries from their participation in the conflict. An example of the sort of work he was doing was posted here in 2013 with an interview (Song for Healing) conducted with Angel, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
A 2013 posting here (Reverend Chris Antal) described his Veterans Day (2012) sermon that led to an official reprimand. His battalion commander at Kandahar told him that the sermon did not support the mission. He was returned to the US prematurely with a ‘do not promote’ evaluation and removed from active service. He challenged the Army’s actions which were overturned following a Congressional hearing by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Antal was reactivated and promoted to Captain.
On 12 April, Reverend Chris Antal resigned his commission as an Officer in the US Army. The details are covered well in a 16 May article in the Army Times. The letter of resignation and its response from President Barack Obama are found on the web site of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Rock Tavern where Antal currently serves as minister.
A 12 May article in Military.com discusses changes in the wording of AR-165-1 related to Army Chaplain Corps Activities. This text is critical to the disciplinary actions taken following the Veterans Day sermon. At the time of the Kandahar sermon, the wording was, “Chaplains, in performing their duties, are expected to speak with a prophetic voice and must confront the issues of religious accommodation, the obstruction of free exercise of religion, and moral turpitude in conflict with the Army values.” Antal took seriously the expectation that he speak with a prophetic voice. His reprimand in the aftermath of the sermon was in contradiction of that call to prophetic voice. The text now reads, “Chaplains, in performing their duties, are expected to speak with candor as an advocate to confront and support resolution to challenges and issues of the command.” Army Chaplains have now been cast in the role of apologists instead of spiritual counselors.
Reverend Antal’s departure from the Army Chaplain Corps is a real loss for the Army. Chris was a skilled counselor and a blessing to those struggling to make sense of their role in a poorly defined conflict. Reverend Antal continues some of that same work as staff chaplain at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center but these skills are sorely lacking near the battlefield. I hope that there might be some lessons learned from the Reverend Chris Antal’s experience with the Army Chaplain Corps and that the Corps might come to see the benefits of accepting a broader role for the support staff of the spiritual condition of the troops.