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Chaplain's Corner: Faith that makes a difference

By Air Force Chaplain (Maj.) Ronald Reitz | 673d Air Base Wing Chaplain | Jan. 29, 2015


The "Chaplain's Corner" offers perspectives to enhance spiritual/religious resiliency in support of Air Force and Army Comprehensive Fitness programs.

Comments regarding specific beliefs, practices, or behaviors are strictly those of the author and do not convey  endorsement by the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, the Army, the Air Force, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, or the 673d Air Base Wing.

I have been privileged to teach courses about religion to college students. One of the class sessions is about religion and conflict. The students usually easily identify conflicts in which religion was a factor.

Students often cite the Inquisition; the Crusades; the conflict in Northern Ireland; Israel and Palestine, and other current examples where extremists claim one faith or another as examples of the impact religion has on society.

Examples where religion has contributed to social calm, to social progress, and to social betterment are often more difficult for the students to identify.
Yet I see evidence of these positive contributions of religion all around.

In 1837, at the age of 17, Florence Nightingale felt God calling her to do some work, some ministry. She wasn't sure what, but she pursued that calling.
She became interested in nursing, which was not seen as a prestigious or important position in the early 1800s.

She went on to serve as a nurse in military field hospitals during the Crimean War.

She revolutionized nursing and caring for the sick and wounded. She advocated clean and sterile environments for patients, when such was still unheard of. She established training hospitals for nurses.

Her efforts led to legislation in England to provide better care and improved standards for nursing, as well as improved healthcare and benefits for soldiers.
In 1893, a London-trained lawyer moved to South Africa to champion the rights of the poor and to fight discrimination.

He advocated satyagraha, a form of passive social resistance and disobedience through non-violent means to create social change. He worked for 20 years in South Africa before moving to India.

In India he struggled to help people out of poverty, worked for women's rights, and sought to end oppression based on the caste system.

He became a leader in the civil rights movement and independence movement in India which led to India's independence in 1947.

The teachings and ministry of Mohandas Gandhi are traced to his Hindu faith and his spiritual and religious beliefs.

Gandhi's practice of satyagraha influenced a civil rights leader in the United States two decades later.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. cited the teachings of Gandhi and the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as influences in his practice of civil disobedience in the Civil Rights movement.

King was born Jan. 15, 1929. He was a Baptist pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia along with his father. Later, he was the pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

From that church, the March on Selma and the Montgomery Bus Boycott were organized. Dr. King preached his sermon following the Selma marches from the state capitol, across from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. 

Today, Dr. Martin Luther King Day is a federal holiday designated the third Monday of January, the Monday closest to his birthday, celebrating his life and legacy.
Part of his life and legacy was his faith, which motivated him to accomplish great positive social change.

He followed other great examples including Gandhi, Nightingale and many others who lived out their faith to make a positive difference in their world.
Faith makes a positive difference, not just for the leadership examples mentioned here, but for the world.

Hospitals, hospices, charities, and universities were founded by men and women of faith who lived out their beliefs in society and sought to make a
positive difference.

Inspired by their faith men and women have fought to eliminate slavery, to promote civil rights, to help the poor, to improve health-care, and much more.
What positive difference does your faith make in your own life, and in the world around you?

May the life and legacy of Dr. King be more than a history lesson; may it also be an inspiration to discover what we believe and live out our faith in positive ways to impact the world for the good of others and the betterment of society.