While many modern terrorists claim to be holy warriors fighting for a godly cause, there is one group of men and women who can with all sincerity lay an authentic claim to the title, for the chaplains who labor on the battlefield, in prisons and in hospitals truly do battle in the name of God, and do so without taking a life. The story of these men and women who often at great personal risk minister to the religious needs of those of their own and other faiths is the subject of a new documentary by filmmaker Martin Doblmeier. Entitled Chaplains: On the Front Lines of Faith, Doblmeier’s film makes its television debut on December 7 on Public Television’s World Channel.
Other than the fictional Father Mulcahy of M*A*S*H, chaplains military or otherwise are rarely depicted or even noted, except in passing, if at all, in movies and television shows. They are, however, out there on the front lines, and not just those where the bullets fly. As Doblmeier and the chaplains he interviews for his film explain, these men and women of faith can be found on the battlefields of Afghanistan and in the veterans’ wards of hospitals back home, where they help those who suffer from physical wounds as well as the often more deadly threat of post-traumatic stress syndrome or PTSD. The military is not the only place where chaplains serve; they are in civilian hospitals and schools, in prisons, with police on the streets, in retirement homes and hospices, in the workplace and in statehouses and the Congress. They can even be found at sporting events, where men of faith like chaplain Billy Mauldin ministers to the drivers, workers and fans of NASCAR.
Doblmeier’s two-part documentary peeks into the daily lives of chaplains of many stripes and faiths, from Catholic priest and U.S. Army colonel Rev. Paul Hurly who guides more than 100 uniformed military chaplains of numerous religious persuasions in Afghanistan to Khalil Refai, who serves as a volunteer Muslim chaplain with the police department in a Detroit suburb. The flimmaker lets them tell their own story in their own words as his crew follows them as they walk a beat, sit by a bedside, enter a prison cell, offer spiritual comfort to workers at a meat-processing plant or help senators and congressmen find a common ground to avoid a government shutdown. While frequently touching and inspiring, Chaplains: On the Front Lines of Faith, also has its lighter moments, especially when Rabbi Arthur Rosenberg, who is also both an actor and the chaplain at an actor’s retirement community in Los Angeles, is on screen.
Chaplains: On the Front Lines of Faith debuts on Public Television’s World Channel on Monday, December 7 at 7 pm ET, and is available on DVD.