OPC Chaplain influencing military ethics

Berghaus family-1Chaplain (Major) Paul Berghaus is an ordained OPC minister who serves as ethics instructor for the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence and assistant pastor at the Infantry Chapel in Fort Benning, GA. His work on military ethics and moral philosophy has been published in the Journal of Military Ethics, and this spring he traveled to Europe to present a paper on military ethics education at the European chapter of the International Society of Military Ethics (Euro ISME).

Military and academic personnel representing more than 15 countries and dozens of professional organizations and institutions attended the conference. Chaplain Berghaus was the only active duty member of the US Armed Forces.

“It was a great opportunity to share some of my ideas about the shortcomings of ethics education programs that simply teach ethical decision-making models,” he says. “I also learned a lot about the theories and methods that the militaries of other nations use to teach ethics. Some of those theories and methods surpass the US Army’s approach.”

Chaplain Berghaus explains that the US Army has two principal objectives for military ethics education: 1) to make soldiers competent in ethical decision-making skills, and 2) to develop character. He believes that the Army’s pedagogical theory has not adequately taken into account how decision-making skills, action, and character relate to each other. This “significant” error has led instructors and students to the false conclusion that any soldier taught a decision-making model can act rightly. But it is character that counts.

“Character is a necessary condition for ethical decision-making,” he says. “The priority of virtue conflicts with the Army’s current belief that soldiers, regardless of their virtuous or vicious dispositions, can successfully use a four-step ethical decision-making process to act rightly.”

Instructors use case studies to teach students how to apply the process to different situations. But this combination falsely assumes the soldiers’ proficiency at identifying important moral aspects before beginning the four-step process.

“People have difficulty picking out the morally salient features of a situation,” Chaplain Berghaus says. “When people successfully identify those features, they do not use a decision-making procedure. They have already developed a character that enabled them to exercise keen moral perception.”

Chaplain Berghaus advocates a character mentor program that emphasizes the development of virtue more than decision-making processes.

He says, “The Army must supplement its approach to character development by implementing programs using mentors at the unit level to continuously help soldiers cultivate virtue.”

He is hard at work attempting to implement a character mentor program in several battalions at Fort Benning, where he has been stationed for the last year and expects to remain for another 18 months or so.

Prior to this assignment, Chaplain Berghaus obtained his M.A. in philosophy from Texas A&M University. He explains that his thesis critiqued the Army’s current approach to professional ethics and provided concepts “to help soldiers combat what I believe is a significant threat to their moral development—the fragmentation of their moral selves.”

Before his study in Texas, Chaplain Berghaus served at the US Military Academy at West Point. He has also served as an Army chaplain recruiter in Texas and for nearly a year in Iraq. He is a graduate of West Point (1995) and Mid-America Reformed Seminary (2005).

Paul and Mary have three young sons and an infant daughter. Mary homeschools the couple’s oldest son. At Fort Benning, Chaplain Berghaus teaches introductory courses on professional military ethics to officer candidates and junior officers. He also assists with worship services each Sunday at the Infantry Chapel.

He says, “We have a diverse congregation of active duty service members, veterans, and their families who love the Lord and one another. They have done a wonderful job of welcoming me and our family to the congregation.”

Chaplain Berghaus notes a tension between his gospel call and his institutional context. “Given that context and my own research interests, I teach and apply general concepts of the virtue tradition of moral philosophy rather than a particular form of Christian ethics. Because I am ordained as an evangelist, I prayerfully consider the approach that I take in my ethics courses. There are times when I wonder if I am being faithful to God’s call. I do not expect that I will ever fully resolve that tension. I do know, nevertheless, that the Lord has placed me at Fort Benning as an ethics instructor to care for soldiers as a means of His grace—whether saving or common.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 12 of the September 24, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.

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