By David W. Virtue

In 2007, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) had one military chaplain, an Army Captain. The ministry become part of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) at its founding in 2009, while continuing to be overseen by CANA. There are now more than 200 endorsed chaplains with 65 percent of them working in the United States Armed Forces, Veterans Administration, and Federal Bureau of Prisons. The remaining chaplains are in endorsed civilian ministries such as law enforcement, hospice, hospital and industrial missions. This is more than double the number of chaplains the Episcopal Church has. ACNA is adding to that number almost weekly.

This chaplaincy ministry has been the brainchild of a feisty, no nonsense former fighter pilot and combat veteran who flew F-111s and F-16.He was considered by his peers to be among the very best of the best winning medals and accolades from the USAF throughout his career. Bishop Derek Jones is a deeply committed Evangelical Anglican who was at one time a priest in the Communion of Episcopal Evangelical Churches (CEEC). He was approached by former TEC Bishop Dave Bena, who is now with the Convocation of Anglican Churches in North America (CANA), about giving oversight to one CANA chaplain in the Armed Forces. Jones prayed over the idea and saw the strong connection CANA had with the Anglican Province of Nigeria and hence into the Anglican Communion. He took on the challenge to develop the vision and task of building a chaplain ministry for CANA. He has not looked back.

Bishop Jones is now entrenched as an expert in chaplain ministry serving on the Executive Board of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces (NCMAF), with the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty (CALL) and as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) to the Senators and Representatives in Washington DC. He spoke at length with VOL about this emerging ministry and how it is shaping his life, the lives of Anglican Chaplains, and the life of Anglicanism in North America as well as his hopes for the future.

VOL: You are 51, your fighter pilot days are clearly over, now it seems, God has called you to something new. The driving force of your life seems to be a mission for souls in the military. Is this accurate?

BISHOP JONES: Yes, the military in particular, but certainly in all places where chaplains live and work. My entire life has been in and around the military and politics. The military environment involves life and death as part of its mission and work; and we who are bearers of the Gospel message need to be there to minister to those who need it the most – those on the front lines. And, also, as importantly, the families behind the lines that love and support our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. But, this is just part of it… our society at large so desperately needs the message of the Gospel, so the aperture is much wider than simply the military.

VOL: How did all this begin?

BISHOP JONES: Back in 2007, I was endorsing a small group of chaplains for the CEEC when I was approached by CANA Bishop Dave Bena to see if I would consider building a pastoral ministry of Chaplains for CANA (the ACNA did not yet exist). Bishop Bena and Bishop Martyn Minns wanted to cross the Anglican spectrum and not be narrowly Episcopal or Anglican, but to have a ministry by which Anglican chaplains, connected globally to the worldwide Anglican Communion, could evangelize and minister; and they believed I best understood how to get such a ministry going – the right people, the right paperwork, the right experience, and the right credentials.

VOL: How successful have you been?

BISHOP JONES: It’s the Lord’s work, but we’ve been privileged to oversee incredible growth and ministry. We now have over 200 chaplains and even as we speak new chaplains are coming on board. 

VOL: Tell us a little about your background before the ACNA?

BISHOP JONES: I was ordained in the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches (CEEC). The CEEC was birthed as a result of a more general work of the Holy Spirit among the Christian churches which has become known as the “Convergence Movement”, and sometimes referred to as the “Convergence of the Streams” renewal. It is not a schismatic Anglican body, but grew out of Robert Webber’s Canterbury Trail Anglicanism of the 90’s. While there are about 100 parishes in the US, the CEEC continues to have a strong international presence. 

VOL: So why the ACNA?

BISHOP JONES: I was in a “continuing” Anglican body only because I could not reconcile the “faith once handed down” with what the Episcopal Church was doing in polity and practice as they moved further away from Christianity. But, being connected to my Anglican Communion roots was, and is, important to me personally. I am thankful that God set in motion the circumstances that allowed me to enter into a close working relationship and friendship with Bishop Minns and Bishop Bena in CANA. I was privileged to observe how they as the CANA leadership worked and supported Archbishop Duncan as he, in turn, began to lead this burgeoning new orthodox Anglican presence in the US and Canada called ACNA. Like many others in those early days, I saw Archbishop Duncan as the “poster child” of defiance to the liberalism of The Episcopal Church. So to be part of this orthodox movement has been humbling and a blessing. Many may have forgotten that (the Province of) Nigeria was the first to recognize the ACNA. Without that recognition, I’m not sure where we would be today… the support of CANA in seeding the growth and expansion of the ACNA is unquestionable… and I am honored to be part of that as a bishop in CANA and the ACNA under the leadership of Archbishop Duncan.

VOL: What is your model for ministry?

BISHOP JONES: While really an amalgamation of the better parts of several chaplain organizations, our ministry is mostly patterned after the Archdiocese of the Armed Forces of the Roman Catholic Church – which I will add has proved to be a good and resilient model; and very ministry focused and culturally relevant. Unlike the old Episcopal Church model where individual bishops maintain control of individual chaplains and only “loaned” them to an endorsing bishop, our model has the chaplain under the oversight of the one and same bishop who provides endorsement. This gives the chaplain a far more secure base from which to do their ministry. The chaplain can trust the person overseeing them spiritually also knows how to take care of them professionally; that the bishop and staff know what their mission and ministry involves and requires because they are chaplains too. Historically, chaplaincy has been a “ministry in the margins” and not the main page of the book. ACNA chaplaincy is a main page ministry. (Jones did have high praise for the former Episcopal Church’s endorser, Bishop George Packard, when speaking about the early days of CANA’s chaplain ministry. Bishop Jones is a notable expert in structures and models relating to chaplaincy even having helped write and review the military Joint Publication on Religious Affairs for the military and other pertinent documents.)

VOL: What is ACNA’s involvement and influence in the Washington political scene inside the beltway?

BISHOP JONES: ACNA has more of an influence than most may realize; particularly in many recent political issues involving religion and faith. We’re engaged because so much of the ministry of chaplains is influenced by politics and legal precedence. As a “defender of the faith” it is inherent upon me to engage in any and all issues that affect Religious Liberty, Marriage, and other Christian faith related issues that deal with religious rights and institutions. As a founding member of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty and now also serving as its Secretary, I’m proud of the fact that I, as an ACNA bishop, have been able to voice and take action on several issues. For example, I was heavily involved with the writing and shaping of Section 533 of the NDAA, and provided key changes as reviewer and signer of an amicus brief from Chaplain Alliance concerning the DOMA case currently before the Supreme Court. 

VOL: Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, an attorney and former Air Force officer who is the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). and author of With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military seems to be making an impact. How dangerous are his views and influence to religious freedom in the military?

BISHOP JONES: The sole purpose of his foundation is to remove any vestiges of Christianity from the Armed Forces. He first sued the Air Force Academy in 2005. I don’t know that he has ever won a case – most have been dismissed. But he has been successful in his tactics to sway and influence. For example, he did have success in removing Biblical references from an Air Force Nuclear training course regarding “Just War” theory… which is, to me as a military expert, a bit oxymoronic. How can you debate and grapple with Just War theory apart from any religious moral standard? Not possible. Anyway, in his most recent tirade, he is calling on the Department of Defense (DoD) to determine and seek ways in which Religious Liberty can be removed from the military and deny service members this Constitutional freedom – it’s truly sad, un-American, and shows a complete disdain for our Republic.

VOL: He has called Evangelical Christians “monsters” and is now helping the Pentagon craft policies for “religious toleration.” What is your take on that?

BISHOP JONES: Mr. Weinstein certainly works hard at having influence; albeit negative. But, his recent claims of being contacted to do work in this area for the DoD is, to say politely, an overreach – if not simply a falsehood. His greatest successes have been in damaging religious liberty and tolerance in the USAF through harassment of leadership, frivolous lawsuits, and a seemingly never-ending hate diatribe in newspaper opinion sections. My hope is that his latest comments in which he calls Christians “monsters” and equates sermons to “rape” will finally relegate him to his residence in the fringe of our society from where he has deceptively worked since the beginning of his attack on Christians so many years ago. I pray these same recent events have now fully exposed him as the extremist he actually is to those with whom he may have formerly had influence in the USAF and DoD. This isn’t to say that the threat to Religious Liberty in our nation and military isn’t real… it is absolutely real and Mr. Weinstein is but one agent in the attacks against our most basic Constitutional right – Religious Liberty.

VOL: Why are he and so many other anti-Christian groups focusing such attention on the military?

BISHOP JONES: Throughout our history, our military has been held in high esteem (even during Vietnam, public opinion of the military as an institution was still high). We must remember that the military is always an extension or agent of political influence. No one doubts that it was the strength and culture of our military in the hands of President Reagan that directly influenced the Berlin Wall coming down. So it should not surprise anyone that if you wish to propagate a change in society, then perhaps changing the military is the place to start. If you can force a culture change on the military, society tends to adopt it once they see the military “accepting” the change. For example, at the time of the repeal of Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell (DADT) most Americans did not generally accept such an immoral lifestyle to be socially acceptable. Just two years later, there’s been a swing in public opinion to where there is equal division in society. For the Christian, this remains a moral issue regardless of the opinion of society. So, Religious Liberty is as much about a person’s right to express their faith in life and society, as it is a means to protect them from being forced to accept morally unacceptable behavior simply because society says it’s okay.

VOL: Former Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt says military chaplains can no longer pray in Jesus name. Is that true?

BISHOP JONES: This is false. Chaplains can pray in Jesus’ name. While chaplains should use good judgment as they exercise ministry in a pluralistic ministry setting, chaplains are representatives of their faith group and can pray in a manner appropriate for their faith group. While I’m aware that Klingenschmitt claims to have been court martialed for praying in Jesus’ name, he was actually court martialed for disobeying a lawful order, supported by a list of additional malfeasances. So, I would suggest to anyone who is inclined to give financial gifts above the tithe to Christian organizations fighting for Religious Liberty, Marriage, etc., you would be better served in giving to venerable and notable groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, Traditional Values Coalition, Beckett Fund and the Family Research Counsel to name a few. Of course, I believe the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty is the current leader among all organizations in the fight for Religious Liberty in the military and could use support. I have close, and often weekly, interaction with various leaders of these groups. (Jones cited other influences of ACNA clergy in public policy. For example, the leader of the TVC, the Reverend Lou Sheldon, is a Presbyterian turned Anglican Priest and the Venerable Alan Crippen is the founder and leader of the John Jay Institute. All have close working relationships with Bishop Jones.)

VOL: Was the idea of a chaplaincy diocese yours?

BISHOP JONES: From the very start, I indicated to Bishop Minns and Bishop Bena that the best way forward to ensure the ministry effort of chaplains was maximized would necessitate that they have their own diocese. Archbishop Duncan in a meeting with me in April of 2011 also agreed wholeheartedly after researching the question personally. Just a few months ago, Bishop Minns and the Standing Committee of CANA, with the support of Archbishop Okoh (Nigeria), approved a provision for a chaplain diocese to be created (within the ACNA) as a jurisdiction of CANA. However, Archbishop Duncan believes, and we have come to agree, that the nature of the ministry of chaplains – particularly military chaplains – should be, first and foremost, an ACNA initiative. In fact, Archbishiop Duncan made clear to the chaplains gathered in Atlanta just a couple of months ago that it is his desire to see the chaplain diocese come to fruition before he retires – calling such an action “a swan song” of his time as Primate of the ACNA. In keeping with this vision, he is supporting the Deanery for the Chaplaincy’s application to become a Diocese in Formation of the ACNA this coming June, so that it can be made a full diocese in 2014. This new “Diocese of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy” will serve the ACNA well. 

VOL: I understand the Chaplains recently elected you to be the first bishop of this diocese. How were you elected?

BISHOP JONES: Endorsed chaplains have been gathering annually since 2008 for training, education, and fellowship. As I just mentioned, this year’s meeting was in Atlanta, GA. This meeting was different than those in the past in that provisional canons were approved in preparation for becoming a diocese. “Becoming a diocese” is a bit of a misnomer since we have been structured and functioning like a diocese since 2009. Anyway, as part of that gathering, I was elected to serve as the first bishop of the diocese by unanimous affirmation of the chaplains. 

VOL: Do you have any chaplains engaged in church planting?

BISHOP JONES: I have about 30 chaplains engaged in church planting or church ministry expansion in 11 different jurisdictions of the ACNA. It’s important to note that the chaplain ministry is completely self-funded. Chaplains, either through vocational means or through raising their own support, in turn, support the Deanery (Diocese in Formation). So, these church plants remain under our oversight until such time as they attain “church” status. But, I do want to emphasize that this Chaplain ministry is currently a self-funded effort and receives no money from the ACNA. At the same time, besides CANA, there are several jurisdictions who offer continuing support of chaplains in other ways. The Anglican Diocese of the South (ADOTS), for example, provided space and resources for our meeting in Atlanta. So, chaplains giving to dioceses through missionary work by church planting and expansion ministries will help foster continuing and strong relationships as we become a diocese.

VOL: Who is on the executive board of this new diocese?

BISHOP JONES: Chaplain Major General John B. Ellington Jr. USAF (ret) from Huntsville, OH is the chairman. Chaplain Ellington is notable as being the most senior and experienced military chaplain to have served in the history of our nation’s Armed Forces. The co-chairman is Chris Melton, CEO of the White Oak Group and former Chief Financial Officer for IBM. We also have the Rt. Rev. Dave Bena retired Bishop Suffragan of CANA. They, along with William Arnold, Dr. William Crunk, Captain Michael Van Hossier, USN (ret) and Dr. Donald Dennis, create a highly distinguished and influential group. I am thrilled at the support both Archbishop Duncan and Bishop Martyn Minns have given to this esteemed group of leaders serving on our Executive Board. The chaplains see this support of the board and the decision to become a diocese as validation and respect for their ministry.

VOL: What are the ages of your chaplains?

BISHOP JONES: Our youngest chaplain is 25 and recently commissioned to serve as a chaplain is in United States Army. Our oldest chaplain is 82-years old and he is serving as a circuit chaplain to nursing homes and in a hospital.

VOL: In a culture that is rapidly moving away from the Christian faith, many would say post-Christian with a valueless Millennial generation of Nones, why is a military chaplaincy so appealing?

BISHOP JONES: I agree that our Republic has been turned into a democracy and that is not a good thing… democracies can be as tyrannical as a dictatorship. While many claim to be Christians in our nation, we are now living in a post-Christian society where scriptural precepts and doctrine no longer carry the weight of influence in law or of being the moral compass. In this culture as people face life-altering events and death outside of a church relationship, Chaplains become the instrument by which an unchurched nation and populace can find hope, love, comfort and salvation. This is what the chaplain ministry is all about. I am pleased to be associated with such a highly select group of gospel ministers serving in our military, prisons, hospitals, law enforcement… and the list goes on. They do a Gospel work that is oft unappreciated and that work is also often alone and in austere places. It takes a very special person with very specialized training to be a chaplain… and I thank God that we have the very best representing the ACNA in service to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

VOL: And what of your status in the ACNA?

BISHOP JONES: When we become a diocese in formation next month, we potentially become the 3rd or 4th largest diocese in ACNA with just over 200 clergy. I truly believe that these chaplains are the brightest and represent the best ministry the ACNA has happening right now. I keep in regular, sometimes daily, contact with Archbishop Duncan and he is very pleased with the progress we are making.

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