A senior British Army officer who commanded British troops during the withdrawal from Afghanistan has sparked a heated debate about the future of the Christian religion in the British Army. Lieutenant Colonel Laurence Quinn claims the Army should dispense with tradition and no longer have a dominant religion namely the Christian faith. In an interview with The Mirror newspaper he said;
“For some time I have felt ill at ease with the way religion is tied up in what we do in the Army. Troops should be able to practise their religion, and I think we should facilitate that, but it shouldn’t be bound up in our business. I regularly attended vigils in Afghanistan and they were so sad. But when we pray and say ‘the Lord is with you’, for me that represents a made-up narrative. It also seems insensitive to other belief systems. When I was a commanding ofﬁcer I came to appreciate chaplains – I think they do an invaluable job – but I think we would be better served by them being secular.”
The question here is how much is the British Army willing to change at its fundamental core? The British Army is an institution that stretches back as far as 1707 when the regiments of the English (including Welsh) and Scottish armies joined together under the union. At the time Britain was a deeply Christian country albeit one that was still torn between the Catholic and Protestant faiths. While the Army has changed dramatically since then in both its nature and organization one thing has remained the same and that is it’s ties to the Church of England. It has been as much a part of the British Army as marching.
But Britain has changed since 1707.
The fact of the matter is we are now a deeply multi-cultural society and even then of those who claim to be of the Anglican church many do not either attend services or are in fact simply atheists. Should the Army, and indeed all the other armed services of the United Kingdom, therefore dispense with religion?
This is not a question that can be easily answered. It must be remembered that in the modern British military the Chaplaincy is more than simply responsible for the spiritual well being of the troops. They offer psychological support to men and women who are in extremely difficult situations away from loved ones who they may never see again. However they are still grounded in the Anglican Church and this begs the question of whether Catholic, Muslim or Sikh soldiers feel at ease dealing with Chaplains under these circumstances. In their defence the Army has done much to promote multi-culturism in the ranks but is this enough if you are of a faith other than the Anglican church?
The real question that will come of Lt. Col. Quinn’s remarks is will the Army cater for other religions more in their services or will religious services be dropped altogether for a less religious alternative such as “moral councillors” as he recommends? How would a non-religious Army affect its troops? How will the men and women on the frontline feel at a memorial service for a fallen comrade that has no religious aspect to it promoting eternal life?
One thing is certain however; Lieutenant Colonel Quinn has asked a far reaching question that will not be answered easily and no doubt whatever decision the Army will reach will not please everyone.