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Guard chaplains reflect on Floyd protests

ST. PAUL (AP) — Reflecting on a polarized nation in the throes of a bitterly fought election, Stephanie Christoffels started the communal prayer at a fall training of her fellow Minnesota National Guard chaplains by reminding them of Christianity’s two greatest commandments: to love God and neighbor.

“It’s difficult to love our neighbors … to go on Facebook and see what they’re posting,” the Lutheran pastor and only female chaplain in the Minnesota Guard told the faith leaders in military fatigues, each with the cross insignia of a Christian chaplain and many with badges for service in combat zones. “It’s hard to love people that hate us.”

National Guard troops were deployed during this summer’s widespread unrest over racial injustice following George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis, and again this fall in the city as a surge in violent crime collided with heated debate over law enforcement and race.

Now the chaplains say they’re working on two main lessons learned from those tumultuous times: Building bridges within tense communities and bringing faith-grounded calm and comfort to the front lines whenever they may be mobilized again — possibly as soon as next March, when the officers charged in Floyd’s killing go on trial.

“The work isn’t done,” said Buddy Winn, the state chaplain and a Pentecostal pastor in the Twin Cities. “It’s about relationships … to establish some trust, to de-escalate threats. To people of faith I say, ‘pray hard.'”

The role of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu faith leaders who serve as National Guard chaplains nationwide has grown more crucial, and more challenging, as thousands of soldiers and airmen, most of them in their 20s, find themselves mobilized not only for natural disasters and overseas conflicts but also domestic unrest.

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