Christian fellowship group’s ‘operation’ in Defence seeks to counter ‘Satan’s’ desire for secular reform of chaplaincy

Si Gladman / 10 November 2023

A Christian fellowship group which counts high-ranking military personnel among its members has been conducting an “operation” within the Australian Defence Force to counter “Satan”, who is described as seeking to “secularise the roles of chaplains”.  

The Rationalist Society of Australia has discovered a strategic plan on the website of the Military Christian Fellowship (MCF) detailing what the group has labelled its ‘Operation Fruitful Tree’ 2015-2019.

The document identifies Satan as “the enemy”, saying that he “does not want Defence to have a strong Christian influence”. It says Satan will attack Christians who work in Defence by, among other ways, directly persecuting them for their beliefs, isolating chaplains and encouraging spiritual passivity, and secularising chaplaincy roles.

The strategic plans outlines a number of measures to support Christian chaplaincy, including increasing cooperation with the heads of the Defence Force’s chaplaincy branches and with the scandal-plagued Religious Advisory Committee to the Services (RACS).

One of the key tasks identified in the plan is to have a military chaplain sit as a representative on the MCF’s council.

The MCF’s website says it exists to promote Christianity in the Defence Force and to support its members to live effectively as Christians in Defence.

The group enjoys deductible gift recipient (DRG) status with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. 

Its past patrons have included former Chief of Army and now Governor-General David Hurley. Its current patron is Army Major General Sue Graham.

A screenshot of the strategic plan’s front cover.

From 2009-2018 – the period covered by the strategic plan – Jamie Van Heel was chairman of the MCF. When the RSA was seeking answers from Defence in relation to RACS earlier in the year, Defence identified Mr Van Heel as the Senior Staff for RACS.

While the Navy recognised the need to introduce secular wellbeing support officers into its chaplaincy branch to support its majority non-religious workforce in 2020, the Army and Air Force have not yet followed suit.

In a submission to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide last month, the RSA said RACS – a taxpayer-funded committee of religious clerics with oversight of chaplaincy recruitment – had pursued a pattern of conduct aimed at blocking much-needed secular reform within Defence.

In ‘Operation Fruitful Tree’, the MCF says Defence is “fortunate to have the support of Chaplaincy to foster spiritual and religious ministry” in an increasing pluralistic work environment.

“MCF has a special responsibility to actively support the ministry of Christian Chaplaincy… Chaplains are a key component the Lord uses to minister to people within Defence,” the document says.

“MCF members should support and encourage their local Chaplains by partnering with them to build the Kingdom of God in Defence.”

The RSA provided the Royal Commission with evidence that some chaplains and RACS members viewed the chaplaincy role as a missionary one.

The submission noted comments by the Pentecostal RACS representative about Defence personnel being “sheep” to be brought “into the fold” of the church and comments by the Anglican representative describing chaplains as “missionaries in the Defence Force” who are “participating in the mission of Christ and pointing people to God.”

The Rationalist Society of Australia is actively lobbying and advocating for secular reform of the Defence Force. See the latest updates here.

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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator for the Rationalist Society of Australia. He also hosts ‘The Secular Agenda’ podcast.

Image: Alex de Sousa on Flickr (CC)

All the more reason.