The Army’s Installation Management Command Chaplaincy has posted a “Virtual Spiritual Fitness Center.” This office has oversight over chaplain operations on Army Installations and has posted this site apparently as a foray into the virtual space. In February of this year, MAAF contacted IMCOM with a long list of concerns and suggestions.
The IMCOM Chaplain and his staff have said that their contractor hasn’t had time to make changes, after more than 6 months. This is no response at all for two reasons. First, changing a website is easy. That’s what this corrected site is intended to provide. Second, policy changes are made by leaders and not webmasters. Webmasters do technical support, not content. MAAF has patiently waited for months, but there have been no meaningful responses to important changes (aside from deleting a pro-life pregnancy hotline).
Hopefully this simple example of what right looks like will provide a good example of how easy it is to make changes and how far away the IMCOM Chaplain stands from properly carrying out his duties. This will be disseminated to various chaplain representatives, including IMCOM, to invite feedback and hopefully to encourage changes on the IMCOM official site.
Below you’ll find the (I) philosophy of the changes, an overview of (II) the new site, and a detailed review of (III) the old site, including items that were rejected. Note that this review is based on 9/20/2011 and the site may change. (IV) New changes will be commented on if/as they are made to the Virtual Spiritual Fitness Center site.
I. Philosophy of the Changes
The general guidelines of the changes are listed below.
- Don’t bother with graphics, design, or grammar/spellcheck. For example, the current site is “thinner” to accommodate the RSS sidebar, but that is easy enough to change if desired and doesn’t affect the content discussion. Also the header graphic and colors are different, but again, those aren’t relevant to this reform. Grammar and spelling are important, but can be easily updated at any time (comments welcome)
- Do not try to create a “world religions” or “education about religion” site – connect people to chaplain services or their faith-based services
- Eliminate special privilege and bias for one religion over another or for theistic over nontheistic world views
- Stick to chaplain services (not abortion services)
- Maintain current content unless it is unhelpful or violates another guideline (to avoid “word-smithing”)
- Ensure that the top-level has general, non-sectarian chaplain services and links to sectarian references only (including sectarian references at the top level shows bias)
- Wherever possible, allow groups to provide their own content, rather than having members of other groups decide appropriate content
- List current chaplain endorsers, lay leader certifying agencies, and, if necessary, military service organizations to ensure authentic representations
- Use about.com, beliefnet.com, and ehow.com for general, unbiased overviews of different beliefs (this expands on the VSFC example)
- Home – home page with site introduction and chaplain video (content adapted to meet appropriate site purposes, video retained from the original site)
- Religious Preference – this is the key change of the new site, moving all ideology-specific content under its own area to avoid bias or privilege on the top level.
- Various major religious preference groups, keeping in line with the original site format. Youth Groups, if available, are listed within their sectarian areas. Each area, if possible, has a Beliefnet, eHow, and About.com link for general information. Links to chaplain endorsers are retained to provide specific organizational representation for religious preferences, which is the model of official recognition in the DoD. Other, No-Pref/None, and Humanism/Atheism are different categories that provide better representation than the IMCOM categories (see those pages for more explanation).
- For Inspiration – this page includes the previous links as well as others that should be of general interest and very inspirational from a non-sectarian perspective.
- Talk To – this page retains the counseling links, except as listed below, and includes additional chaplain references.
- News – this has news feeds from the IMCOM site and additional feeds that are relevant and provide a wider perspective on religion news.
- Home page – (minor editing) – the text was adjusted slightly to reflect the new philosophy (review both to compare notes). The Pew Forum promotes religion explicitly and is a biased and academic source of information not well suited to this effort. The feed was moved to the news page and the chaplaincy RSS now resides in the sidebar as a replacement.
- Religious Preference – (edited links; moved in content from other areas)
- Spiritual Resources – (moved) – This held links to beliefnet to various, chaplain-selected religious beliefs and links. This was deleted from the top-level navigation because these links belong in the specific religious-preference categories to be selected by the soldier. The content was moved to a more appropriate location, but not removed altogether.
- Spiritual Help – (moved) – this linked to “how to become” links on ehow.com for certain religious beliefs. Promoting conversion t some religion is inappropriate for the chaplaincy, and a link to eHow.com is an irresponsible approach for such a personal activity. Chaplains appropriately counsel and guide individuals in a conversion so long as the individual asks for such guidance without coercion or incentive. eHow.com links were retained under the religious preference categories but link to “how to make xxx part of your life” – living rather than conversion resources.
- Talk To – (retained with two deletions) – “Biblical Hotline – Christian” and “Prayer Hotline – Christian” were single pages with an free phone number for Focus on the Family. Focus is not by any means representative of all Christians and this kind of mis-labelled, top-billing can only be seen as an attempt to promote fundamentalist Christianity through the chaplaincy. Those two links may be added to the Protestant or Catholic sections of the site if those faith groups choose to have that content in their faith area.
- About – (moved) – Links for chaplain-selected religious preference groups to about.com are now found under the appropriate Religious Preference category.
- News – (retained) – a few RSS feeds were suggested (as above) and Pew Forum was moved here as well (from the front page).
- none yet
- “Pregnancy Hotline” linked to a long listing of pro-life Christian ministries. This was deleted as outside the scope of the chaplaincy.
- “Religious Preference” used to be labelled “Faith Group,” but was re-labelled to better accommodate listings outside just “faith.”
- Atheist/agnostic used to be on the top level but was moved under “other” on the IMCOM site.
- “Secular Student Alliance” was added with atheist/agnostic but not associated with the general “Youth Group” listing (presumably to separate theism from nontheism).