The Navy will remove references to ‘theology’ as a relevant qualification for new secular wellbeing support roles after the Rationalist Society of Australia sought an explanation in regards to its inclusion in recent job advertisements.
In a letter to the RSA last week, Deputy Chief of Navy Rear Admiral Christopher Smith (pictured) said he agreed with our concern about the religious qualification being listed for the position of Maritime Spiritual Wellbeing Officer (MSWO) – a supposedly secular role – on the Defence Jobs website.
Rear Admiral Smith said the references to theology, alongside degrees in other fields of human services, such as social sciences, social work, psychology and counselling, were “open to misperception”.
In the letter (see below), he said he would direct his team to remove the references and assured the RSA that the Navy remained committed to the provision of wellbeing support for non-religious Navy personnel.
In late May, RSA president Meredith Doig wrote to Rear Admiral Smith seeking an explanation as to why Navy considered theology qualifications to be relevant for the secular wellbeing positions.
She argued that this appeared to be “inconsistent” with the purpose of the MSWOs in providing a non-religious pastoral care capability to an increasingly non-religious workforce. In establishing MSWO roles in Navy in 2020, the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal did not list theology as an acceptable qualification.
Rear Admiral Smith said that Navy had long provided pastoral care and spiritual support to all members of the Navy, including non-religious personnel and their families. He added that the recent inclusion of MSWOs and other faith-based chaplains had “enhanced the provision of quality pastoral care and wellbeing support to our members”.
“This inclusion of multi-faith and non-religious pastoral care providers in the Navy Chaplaincy Branch is reflective of Australia’s pluralistic society, and enhances capability through diversity in thought, training and experience,” he said.
“I trust that this information addresses your concerns and wish to assure you that the Royal Australian Navy is fully committed to the provision of non-faith and faith-based pastoral care for our people.”
Despite non-religious personnel now making up about 60 per cent of the entire Australian Defence Force and 80 per cent of new recruits, the Army and Air Force have so far decided not to follow Navy’s lead and provide a similar secular wellbeing service to their personnel.
At last month’s RSA Webinar, former Navy head chaplain Collin Acton argued that the resistance of Army and Air Force to the reform would be having a detrimental impact on their own personnel.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman
Image: Commonwealth of Australia; Department of Defence
Letter from Deputy Chief of Navy Rear Admiral Christopher Smith, 30 June 2022
Dear Dr Doig,
Thank you very much for writing to me on this important topic, and I apologise for the delay in responding.
I agree with your view that references to ‘theology’ in the Maritime Spiritual Wellbeing Officer (MSWO) pages of the Defence Force Recruiting (DFR) website are open to misperception. That was unintentional, and intended only to capture those people interested in joining the Navy as non-religious chaplains who may have undertaken theological studies with a core focus on counselling and psychology units.
Accordingly, I have directed my workforce team to implement the following actions:
- remove all references to ‘theology’ in relation to MSWO education and entry requirements from Defence’s internal and external websites
- review and similarly update Navy’s workforce policies relating to MSWO members
- refine the MSWO narrative to clarify references to ‘spirituality’ and ‘spiritual connection’
In response to your second point, regarding how Navy is properly providing for the pastoral care and wellbeing of non-religious sailors, Navy Chaplains have for over 100 years provided pastoral care and spiritual support to all members of the Navy and their families regardless of their faith or non-religious worldview. The inclusion of MSWOs and Chaplains of faith groups other than Christian has enhanced the provision of quality pastoral care and wellbeing support to our members. This inclusion of multi-faith and non-religious pastoral care providers in the Navy Chaplaincy Branch is reflective of Australia’s pluralistic society, and enhances capability through diversity in thought, training and experience.
I trust that this information addresses your concerns and wish to assure you that the Royal Australian Navy is fully committed to the provision of non-faith and faith-based pastoral care for our people. Thank you for your interest in the wellbeing of our people. It is greatly appreciated.