Padre Mike Allen (right) holds a 5-year-old boy, as Sergeant Bill Burfitt, a medic with the Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team, administers medication after his examination. Kandahar, Afghanistan, 07 September 2005.

DND photo AR2005-A01-167a by Sergeant Jerry Kean

Padre Mike Allen (right) holds a 5-year-old boy, as Sergeant Bill Burfitt, a medic with the Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team, administers medication after his examination. Kandahar, Afghanistan, 07 September 2005.

Religious Leader Engagement: An Emerging Capability for Operational Environments

by Steven Moore

Padre (ret’d) S.K. Moore, CD, PhD, completed doctoral studies (2008) in the religious peacebuilding of chaplains, inclusive of field research at the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team. As the Director of Development of the Integrative Peacebuilding Module Program at Saint Paul University, Ottawa, he is leading a team of subject matter experts in building an on-line program designed to equip civilian and military personnel for today’s complex operational environment.

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For decades, military chaplains have deployed with their troops to conflict and post-conflict environments around the globe, some still convulsing from the horrific violence that has time and again pitted neighbour against neighbour. The principal role for these clerics in uniform continues to be the provision of support for the troops entrusted to their care. Concomitant with this operational ministry has been an undeniable impulseto engage religious leaders and their faith communities with the view to aiding them in any way possible. This inherent desire of chaplains to make a difference in the lives of othershas led to increasing involvement with indigenous populations in theatres of operation. In one manner or another, Religious Leader Engagement (RLE) has been a successful form of civic engagement in active conflict zones, in peace support operations, with its emphasis on stability and reconstruction, and in post-conflict environments, where brokered cease-fires led to mission mandates enforcing fledgling peace agreements between former belligerents. Historically, where conditions were favourable, chaplains have advanced peaceful relation among fractured communities through humanitarian assistance. In more recent times, creating a safe space for dialogue has led to encountersbetween religious leaders, where conflict, or its residual effects, have left inter-communal relations either strained or non-existent. Shared ritual events and collaborative activities have emerged from such exchanges, engendering trust and renewing cooperation across ruptured ethnic divides. It is this reframing of relation that provides the impetus for beginning the journey of reconciliation. Networking, partnering, and in some instances, peacebuilding, RLE advances what Brigadier-General Jim Simms, Canadian Army Chief of Staff Land Strategy, identifies as essential to the Comprehensive Approach: It is “… about people, organizations and relationships - building understanding, respect and trust...cultivat[ing] involvement by key non-military actors.”1

The shaping of RLE has been a shared journey of a number of military chaplaincies, each testifying to engagement unique to their particular context and presenting circumstances - Canada, the United States, France, New Zealand and Norway having documented their accounts. Australia and South Africa also speak of similar occurrences with local/regional religious leaders and their communities. These have been ad hoc experiences; chaplains advancing the cause of peace where religious leaders have demonstrated a desire to transcend conflict and reach across ethno-religious divides in an endeavour to create a more promising future for their collective peoples.

The above provides a sense of the emerging operational development of RLE as a capability. The remainder of this article will expand upon this theme in three distinct yet related areas: (1) to articulate a number of the causal factors contributing to religion becoming a more forceful element of contemporary conflict and, concurrently, its potential for peaceful applications; (2) to acquaint the reader with RLE as an endorsed capability under development, a collaborative endeavour of the CF Army and Chaplain Branch; and (3) to provide more clarity to a number of the more challenging questions implicated in institutionalizing RLE as an operational construct resulting from the RLE Seminar War Game conducted at the Canadian Army Staff College, Fort Frontenac, CFB Kingston, 16-20 April 2012. 

Religion’s Resurgence

Stretching back decades, western liberal, Marxist, and secular thinkers have spoken compellingly of religion’s retreat from the political and social space to the private sphere, where it would dwindle in influence and relative obscurity. Their rhetoric today tends to “… stress the fact that religion has not so much disappeared as it has changed in its dimensions and function.”2 Increasingly, westerners are coming face-to-face with non-western societies suffuse with religion. “In regions of the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, for example, it is not uncommon for political leaders and government officials to demonstrate (and sometimes exaggerate) the depth of their formal religious commitment.”3 Some scholars openly refer to religion’s ‘recovery’ as its ‘return from exile’ in international relations.4 Citing religion’s resurgence, Katrien Hertog, PhD, senior peacebuilding trainer and facilitator at the London-based NGO International Alert, provides the following synopsis. 

Evidence of religious resurgence became very clear in the Shi’ite-led revolution in Iran, the liberationist movements in Latin America, the emergence of Jewish fundamentalism in Israel, The Christian Right in the United States, Hindu nationalism and Muslim communalism in India, the resurgence of religion in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism, the Islamic revival in the Middle East since the 1970s, Islamist opposition movements in Algeria, Pakistan, Egypt, and Indonesia, and ethno religious conflicts in Sri Lanka, Sudan, Bosnia, Kosovo, or Lebanon.5

Arguably, the forceful reappearance of religion in international affairs has created more than a small stir within the halls of power of Western countries, where more secularist approaches to resolving conflict are practiced. Calls for the inclusion of religious methods of peacebuilding have begun to surface, interestingly enough, originating from both religious and secular sources.6 Reticence within diplomatic circles to employ religious actors as credible partners in conflict resolution is long-standing. The all-too-common response from non-religious actors is ‘for an institution that professes much goodness, there appears to be more than a small degree of evil associated with its activities, both historically and in the contemporary context.’ Notwithstanding the numerous examples of such duplicity in the name of religion, this thinking tends to be reductionist, and, as such, is not always helpful in considering the complexities associated with religion, conflict and peace that face government leaders today. David Smock of the United States Institute of Peace notes that although religion is often an important factor of conflict in terms of marking identity differences, and motivating and justifying violence, religion is not usually the sole or primary reason of conflict. “The reality is that religion becomes intertwined with a range of causal factors - economic, political, and social - that define, propel, and sustain conflict.”7 He contends that religious disagreements must be addressed along side the above if reconciling differences is to be achieved. Of encouragement is the recognition that many of the approaches to mitigating religious violence are found within faith traditions themselves.

Padre Murray H. Bateman (right) and Major Luis C. Cavallo (in background) offers Afghan men cards wishing them ‘Eid Mubarek,’ or ‘Blessed Eid,’ after they are welcomed to Camp Nathan Smith, Kandahar, Afghanistan, 26 September 2008.

DND photo AR2008-K108-66 by Master Corporal Karl McKay

Padre Murray H. Bateman (right) and Major Luis C. Cavallo (in background) offers Afghan men cards wishing them ‘Eid Mubarek,’ or ‘Blessed Eid,’ after they are welcomed to Camp Nathan Smith, Kandahar, Afghanistan, 26 September 2008.

Religious Extremism as a Driver of Conflict

Exacerbating contemporary conflict are extreme expressions of religion. While purely religious conflict is rare, there is a rise in hostilities with explicit reference to religion. For those implicated, the clash frequently becomes a struggle between good and evil, rendering violence a sacred duty.8 Today’s unprecedented co-optation of religion as a means of deepening existing cultural and political fault lines aids in fueling the justification of militancy and terrorism.9 Militant extremism motivated by a religious imperative embraces violence as a divine duty or sacramental act. Holding to markedly different notions of legitimization and justification than their secular counterparts, these organizations indulge without compunction in greater bloodshed and destruction than terrorist groups with solely a political agenda. Noting the role of religious leadership, anthropologist Pauletta Otis explains: “The complexities of conflict may be compounded further when religious leaders who, with their incendiary language, contribute to the congealing of adversarial identity markers, exacerbating the polarization of communities even more.”10 As a vehicle of influence, religion is known for its efficacy, frequently exploited by political leaders prone to supplement their anemic rhetoric with religious ideology as a means to motivate local populations to extreme patriotism and violent behaviour.11
In recent decades, religiously inspired violence has become more pronounced, mainly due to a strategy of elevating religious images to the realm of divine struggle, thus creating in the minds of ardent followers the specter of cosmic war. R. Scott Appleby, Professor of History and Regan Director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame notes: “Rather than break down barriers, in short, religion often fortifies them... Constructed as inseparable from ethnic and linguistic traits, religion in such settings lends them a transcendent depth and dignity. Extremists thus invoke religion to legitimate discrimination and violence against groups of a different race or language.”12 Harnessing such emotive themes is the mainstay for many waging worldly political battles. Convincing youth to commit horrific acts of violence against vulnerable civilian populations becomes much less arduous when such atrocities are deemed to be “… sanctioned by divine mandate or conceived in the mind of God. The power of this idea has been enormous. It has surpassed all ordinary claims of political authority and elevated religious ideologies to supernatural heights.”13 Today, extreme religious expression has given terrorism remarkable power through spiritualizing violence.14 It is this hollowing out of the faith experience that so often precipitates the congealing of ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitudes among the ‘faithful,’ rendering individuals and groups vulnerable to the persuasion of politically ambitious leaders to commit acts of violence against the ‘evil other.

Captain Yves Joseph, a Canadian Forces padre from Montréal, who is originally from Haiti, addresses this crowd in Creole, thereby playing an important role in fostering ties. Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 14 February 2010.

DND photo IS2010-4003-063 by Corporal Pierre Thériault

Captain Yves Joseph, a Canadian Forces padre from Montréal, who is originally from Haiti, addresses this crowd in Creole, thereby playing an important role in fostering ties. Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 14 February 2010.

Religious Contributions to Peacebuilding

A broad spectrum of individuals and organizations - external and indigenous actors, increasingly inter-religious - now collaborate in various venues on a number of levels to bring the irenic attributes of religion to bear on conflict and violence. The impetus of this surge to include religious approaches in resolving conflict - despite the incongruous portrayal religion frequently presents - is the recognition that it possesses social and moral characteristics that often serve as constructive forces for peace and conflict transformation.15 Where religion is a factor in conflict, those endeavouring to bring structural, economic, political, and social change have begun to reflect on these connections.16 In today’s new wars,17 “… there is clearly now a greater imperative to dialogue not just to get to know the religious other, but to form bonds of inter-religious solidarity against the hijacking of religions to legitimate violence.”18 Among the approaches under consideration is the need to discern ways to “… integrate the wisdom, spirit and techniques of the world’s religious traditions into the politics and practice of contemporary conflict management, resolution, and prevention.”19 Instances where leadership has failed to appreciate religion as an element of a presenting conflict have, in some cases, led to unfortunate decisions with disastrous results, culminating in missed opportunities.20 In societies where, due to conflict, centralized authority has ceased to function altogether, religious communities often represent the only remaining institutional and social structure functioning with any degree of credibility, trust, and moral authority among the people.21 The role and training of religious leaders often positions them to better interpret an ongoing conflict. Due to their closeness to the situation, acquaintance with many of the actors, and ease with the language and an appreciation of the issues, religious leaders offer an invaluable perspective of the conflict at hand.22

Kofi Annan, former General Secretary to the United Nations, recognized the unique position religious organizations held in local communities and the potential inroads to resolving conflict they offered globally. In his 2001 Report, Prevention of Armed Conflict:  Report of the Secretary General, he stated the following:

Religious organizations can play a role in preventing armed conflict because of the moral authority that they carry in many communities. In some cases, religious groups and leaders possess a culturally based comparative advantage in conflict prevention, and as such are most effective when they emphasize the common humanity of all parties to a conflict while refusing to identify with any single party. In addition, religious groups could mobilize non-violent alternative ways of expressing dissent prior to the outbreak of armed conflict.23

Annan clearly identifies religious leaders, living authentically among the people within local communities the world over, as a valued resource in conflict intervention. These are individuals tolerant of the other, possessing moral integrity and courage, cognizant of local culture, and capable of inspiring the people to more peaceful means of resolving conflict. This gives added credence to Appleby’s contention that although exploitive leaders frequently appeal to religious identity in order to stir ethnic and tribal division, it is also true that religion may be invoked as a means of transcending differences and unifying rival tribes.24

Kofi Annan speaks at a news conference held at the UN European headquarters in Geneva, 30 June 2012.

Reuters RTR34EWC by Valentin Flauraud

Kofi Annan speaks at a news conference held at the UN European headquarters in Geneva, 30 June 2012.

The Operational Role of Chaplains

Today, military leaders increasingly acknowledge the strategic merit of building rapport and establishing cooperation with the religious segment of society as being critical to the accomplishment of mission mandates. It is under Commanders’ authority and in accordance with their intent that chaplains contribute to meeting these operational objectives through engaging religious leaders and their faith group communities. Networking, partnering, and, in some instances, peacebuilding endeavours among local clerics have proven to be effective means to garnering the much-needed trust of these revered community leaders.

As a multi-faith community, military chaplaincy represents numerous religious traditions, each with its own understanding and interpretation of belief, based upon the sacred texts and teachings of their particular faith tradition. At the core of this inter-faith collaboration resides a hermeneutics of peace that recognizes the pursuance of peace and justice as a sacred priority by peaceable means where possible.25 Religious leaders in uniform, these men and women of faith often witness the horrific acts of violence and its effects known to conflict and post-conflict environments, manifest in the tragic loss of life and livelihood, often accompanied by the staggering movements of refugees in search of safety. It is circumstances in time and space such as these that challenge one’s belief and time-honored traditions, precipitating new self-understandings of chaplaincy. Demonstrative of this expanding hermeneutics of peace is the impulse among chaplains to draw upon the understanding, imagination, and requisite values of their collective faith and traditions to aid conflicting groups in re-humanizing the other.

Figure 1 ~ Operational ministry of chaplains

© S.K. Moore

Figure 1 ~ Operational ministry of chaplains

The term Operational Ministry describes the overall role of chaplains in operations: in support of the troops and among local indigenous populations. The primary purpose for a chaplain’s presence with a deploying contingent is to administer the sacraments, and to provide pastoral support for the troops - the base of the pyramid designated as Internal Operational Ministry in Figure 1. It has always been and must continue to be the principal focus of deploying chaplains. Also benefiting mission mandates is the depicted External Operational Ministry that sees the future role of chaplains extended to the strategic realms of: (1) advising Commanders in terms of the Religious Area Analysis (RAA) of an Area of Operations (AO); and (2) engendering trust and establishing cooperation within communities by engaging local and regional religious leaders - the domain of RLE.

Religious Area Analysis (RAA)

The intent of RAA in operations is to determine the basis for what people do and why they do it with respect to religion. As credentialed clerics, the advanced theological training of chaplains and additional skills development positions them to better interpret the nuances of religious belief that often escape detection - something that could be very costly to a mission. In grasping something of the meaning and reality of the faith perspective, chaplains are more apt to appreciate how the belief system of the grassroots person/community may colour their response to given mission initiatives, plans of action, troop movements, and so on. The nature of command often necessitates sending troops into harm’s way. As such, the availability of all information pertinent to the decision-making process is vital. Advising commanders of the possible pitfalls or backlashes of given courses of action with respect to religious communities is a crucial aspect of their role.

Chaplains at the captain level are now undergoing skills development training in RAA at the CF Chaplain School and Centre (CFChSC) at CFB Borden. The intention is to equip them to provide the religious terrain analysis of an AO for Commanders in the field. Delving into the religious domain, additional granularity has been added to the Horn of Africa (HoA) scenario developed by the Chief of Force Development (CFD), and adapted to the Chaplains in Deployed Operations course. Plenary instruction, coupled with syndicate work over the course of a week focuses upon the Sunni and Shia intra-faith differences and tensions in the HoA region. Each syndicate presents their findings to ‘the Commander’: four points of significant interest gleaned from the open source research, and one point resulting from networking among the religious communities in the AO. In this sense, RAA becomes a living document, due to interfacing with the local religious leadership - a deterrent to what can become sterile analysis. As an operational capability, deploying chaplains will possess the knowledge, and, increasingly, the skills to accumulate and categorize information relating to the religious practices and traditions of indigenous populations within an AO. This information will be gathered from as wide a range of resources as practicably possible in the amount of time allotted prior to deployment. As chaplains become more intentional regarding to RAA in theatres of operation, peacebuilding opportunities with religious communities will lead to partnering with other entities, both within the military milieu and the Whole of Government environment. Based upon the operational experiences of others, the following translates as a theoretical construct of RLE with an emphasis on application - praxis.

Religious Leader Engagement (RLE)

Perhaps perceived as an imposing diagram at the outset, Figure 2 below unpacks in stages in actual presentation. Due to the brevity of this article, the core elements of the RLE construct will be the main focus: building relation, JIMP, the tolerant voice of religion, encounter, and collaborative activities. Additional aspects will be drawn upon for clarity and continuity as needed.

Figure 2 ~Religious leader engagement

© S.K. Moore

Figure 2 ~Religious leader engagement



The RLE construct finds its origins in the Public space of the Joint, Inter-agency, Multinational, and Public (JIMP) principle, “... an [Army] descriptor that identifies the various categories of players (i.e., organizations, interest groups, institutions) that inhabit the broad environment in which military operations take place.” Others may be more familiar with the language of the Comprehensive Approach, which describes this operational space as well. The P, or the Public space, hosts a number of organizations and activities in operations, of which the indigenous population therein is without question the most consequential. Local religious leaders are undoubtedly centres of gravity within indigenous populations - middle range actors who, in non-western societies, where the lines of separation between faith and the public space are markedly less defined, enjoy elevated profiles at community and regional levels. This owes its origins to the seemingly seamless nature existing between religious communities and local culture, and, at times, politics. Due to the common ground of the faith perspective, chaplains are able to contribute much as a result of their ability to move with relative ease within religious circles.

Building Relation

Engaging the other is all about building relation. Often a prominent local religious leader is a voice of reason within their community and frequently among other faith groups, as they move across ethno-religious lines easily. John Paul Lederach, a professor of International Peacebuilding at Notre Dame writes: “The centrality of relationshipprovides the context and potential for breaking violence, for it brings people into the pregnant moments of the moral imagination: the space of recognition that ultimately the quality of our life is dependent on the quality of life of others.”27 Civic engagement of this nature is not an end in and of itself, but should be viewed as one in a series of engagements over an extended period of time as relation develops. Building sufficient levels of trust will require time. The objective of such engagement is not to look for ‘quick fixes’ or ‘bandage solutions’ that will unravel if constant ‘life support’ is not there. The long view must be considered as the most effective approach to achieving lasting results.  

The Tolerant Voice

Identifying the tolerant voice among religious leaders is key to initiating dialogue. These are faith group leaders - community leaders - often desirous of moving beyond conflict, thus transcending the present hostilities and intransigence that pit their respective identity groups against one another. Known as middle-range actors, they enjoy the confidence of the grass roots while moving freely at the higher levels of leadership within their own communities. Their ease of movement affords them relationships that are professional, institutional, some formal, while other ties are more a matter of friendship and acquaintance, hence a high degree of social capital within communities.28 More notable still, “… middle-range actors tend to have pre-existing relationshipswith counterparts that cut across the lines of conflict within the setting...a network or relationships that cut across the identity divisions within the society.”29

Lieutenant-General (ret’d) Sir Rupert Smith of Britain states that contemporary conflict tends to be timeless. The operational objective has become more to win the will of the people, which leads to opponents adopting more of a guerrilla warfare approach. This, in turn, creates greater complexity, making it far more demanding to reach a condition where a strategic decision can be made and solutions found.30 Iraq and Afghanistan have embroiled the international community in protracted conflict, reinforcing Smith’s contention that the post-conflict phase of missions has become exceedingly difficult to attain. Where the will of the people is the center of gravity, those of tolerant voice within religious communities may offer a way forward. Even in the most damaging conflicts, there remain those individuals who resist passing on the violence. Rather, they see it as a clear sign of the futility and evil of violence itself. The imperative is to seek ways of supporting these rare individuals who potentially represent a way forward for the fractured fraternities that leave their communities torn and estranged.31

Captain Mike Allen talks to a group of young children while they wait to be seen at a free medical clinic for the local population of Kandahar, 07 September 2005.

DND photo AR2005-A01-162a by Sergeant Jerry Kean

Captain Mike Allen talks to a group of young children while they wait to be seen at a free medical clinic for the local population of Kandahar, 07 September 2005.

Encounter: The Fragile We of Working Trust  

Facilitating the bringing together of local leadership, most often religious, is the essence of encounter. Creating that safe space for dialogue where none has existed provides occasion for altered perspectives to emerge. It is in encounter that the rigidity of long held stereotypes and the constant barrage of propaganda begin to lose their strength.  Here one does not simply see the other from one’s own perspective but such exchanges facilitate viewing oneself through the eyes of the other - a double vision of sorts.32 Where the willingness to engage the other begins, a re-humanizing of the other has a chance to emerge - seeding reconciliation.

The possibility of future cooperation is built on such exchanges. As trust develops between religious leaders and their communities, damaging effects of inter-communal violence may be lessened among groups due to the channels of communication established across ethnic lines via the religious community leadership. Collaborative activities among faith groups may be one approach to initiating such collaboration. In contexts where conflict is ongoing or still fresh in memory, civic engagement – encounter - may be the best we can hope for as a beginning. Civic engagement that engenders integrative processes is one approach among others to aid in creating and sustaining inter-communal structures that will rebuild conflict-stricken communities.

Collaborative Activities: Towards Personal Trust and Integration

In circumstances where security and opportunity have been favorable, commanders have authorized chaplains to undertake more intentional peacebuilding activities among religious communities. Chaplains from a number of countries have brought religious leaders together who, due to existing tensions, have been incommunicado for a number of years. Dialogue, and, in some instances, collaborative activities have resulted. Social psychologists currently focusing on the dynamics of inter-group reconciliation note the saliency of supra-ordinate goals to such processes. These are jointly agreed-upon objectives that benefit both communities, yet neither group can accomplish alone, achievable only through inter-communal cooperation. With thorough needs analysis - an evaluation process facilitated by the chaplain involving the local religious leadership and military/civilian program developers - a shared project with the right fit may be selected. As such, nascent integration takes root. Through cooperation of this nature, an identity more inclusive of the other begins to develop. It is in such an atmosphere that conflict is transcended, new narratives are written and the healing of memory begins.

Further to their research, a growing number from the social psychology community note that success in improved inter-group relations has often occurred when ‘bottom-up’ attempts at the small-group level have brought together middle- or lower-level leaders (middle range actors/boundary spanners) for face-to-face consultations.33 Transformation occurs more at the interface between individual-level and group-level processes. ‘Bottom-up’ reconciliation is often the most effectual - as individuals interact, social networking evolves, influencing greater numbers. This represents a cross-section of people joining together in common cause - collaborative activities. It is not unusual that unofficial, lower-level channels of communication and cooperation come to the fore when official levels have become mired down. An additional aspect of ‘bottom-up’ movements is the amount of trust that may develop across community lines.
Extended seasons of collaboration create opportunities for building trust. Whereas some contend that trust is a prerequisite for cooperation, field research suggests that it may also be a product of collaborative activity.34 Establishing trust may also be a way of beginning emotional healing, a level of reconciliation necessitating a higher level of trust: it moves beyond the stage of monitoring if commitments are being honored (co-existence), to ‘resembl[ing] the trust of friends or family,’ commonly referred to as inter-personal or simply personal trust (integration). Through continued interaction old attitudes are replaced by new perceptions of the other, an internalization that ‘over time’ leaves its mark on identity. Although old frictions may rear their heads - eventualities over which one has no control - the ties forged through such inter-communal collaboration leaves those involved less vulnerable to such situational changes.35

Of import to any engagement of this nature is the necessity of ‘top-down’ involvement. Any progress made among individuals and small groups must be embedded within structures, requiring the aid of higher-level leadership. Where chaplains are able to facilitate such initiatives between religious/community leadership, partnering with their Inter-agency (JIMP) colleagues will be crucial to sustaining such endeavours - integrative processes that create local ownership.

Leadership must keep before them that every gesture, every movement in improved relations, however small, is a success in and of itself. Given the right circumstances, such positive change impacts human social life with a steady accumulation of positive increments of change. International peacebuilder, Rabbi Marc Gopin of George Mason University, Arlington, Virginia cautions not to confuse “long-term ends with short-term tasks.”36 This is sage counsel for a difference exists between first order goals and those of higher order. In a conflict or post-conflict environment, the former - civil dialogue, cooperation, working trust, i.e. peaceful coexistence - is “evaluated on its own merit without any regard as to how events unfold in the long-term,” a situation which may sustain a degree of unpredictability. High order goals look to what may be accomplished over the long-term: “… justice, the satisfaction of basic human needs, and the creation of a peaceful society that is egalitarian.”37 Realizing such profound objectives often take decades if not a generation or more.

Captain Robert Lauder from London, Ontario, a padre with the Canadian Forces Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), speaks with teachers about children’s school needs at a displaced persons camp near Garhi Dopatta, Pakistan, 01 November 2005.

DND photo IS2005-2259a by Sergeant Frank Hudec

Captain Robert Lauder from London, Ontario, a padre with the Canadian Forces Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), speaks with teachers about children’s school needs at a displaced persons camp near Garhi Dopatta, Pakistan, 01 November 2005.

Implementing Religious Leader Engagement

As an operational construct, RLE may be generalized from one context to another: expeditionary, humanitarian and domestic operations. Since its endorsement as a capability under development by the Army Capability Development Board (ACDB) in June 2011, RLE has moved through the Concepts phase of the capability development process to that of Design. Concomitant with the presentation was an appreciable degree of discussion among the Board members as to the potential benefits and possible impediments to eventual RLE implementation as an operational capability. Most notable were questions relating to Information Operations and Influence Activities. Of concern was the possible erosion of the chaplains’ protected status under the Geneva Conventions. In endorsing the concept of RLE, the Board charged the Directorate of Land Concepts and Designs (DLCD) with addressing these concerns and reporting their findings to the ACDB.

A collaborative effort was mounted between DLCD and the Chaplain Branch spanning the following autumn (2011) and winter (2012), culminating in a RLE Seminar War Game (SWG) at the Canadian Army Staff College, Fort Frontenac, Kingston, Ontario (16-20 April 2012). Representatives from related fields convened for four days of syndicate and plenary deliberation on two fictional scenarios featuring RLE in operations in the Horn of Africa region. Among these were senior members from: the Chaplain Branch (eight members, inclusive of Chaplain General McLean); Senior Mentor [a colonel (ret’d) US Army Chaplain]; Influence Activities Task Force (three); Information Operations (three); Judge Advocate General (one, the JAG); Social Psychologists (four, Defence Research and Development Canada); Conflict Studies, Saint Paul University, Ottawa (one); Defence Analyst (one); Operational Researchers (two); and DLCD (six). The following represents an abridged overview of the findings of these deliberations.

In syndicate at the RLE Seminar War Game, April 2012

Photo courtesy of the author

In syndicate at the RLE Seminar War Game, April 2012


Process dictated that the legal perspective come early in order to provide a frame of reference for the scenarios prepared for syndicate discussion. The two terms, religious personnel and ministry,and their application in the context of conflict, were discussed at length. According to International Humanitarian Law, the term religious personnel refers to military or civilian persons exclusively engaged in the work of their ministry and attached to specific types of organizations,38 i.e., the national forces chaplaincy of a signatory country to the Geneva Conventions. Notable here is the Convention’s usage of the word exclusively in reference to the ministry of religious personnel. It must be understood, where chaplains facilitate dialogue or collaborative activities between estranged religious leaders and their faith communities, the purpose is to seek consensus in the pursuance of peace, the resolution of conflict and reconciliation with their consent - peacebuilding activities that may be viewed as exclusive and legitimate ministry. JAG posited that exclusively engaging in such ministry would not jeopardize the protected status of chaplains. Safeguarding the integrity of RLE as ministry holds much promise for creating good will and improving relations between religious communities engulfed in the on-going conflict of their respective identity groups, or living with its residual effects - post-conflict environments.
Salutary to the understanding of RLE as ministry is the notion of intent, which alludes to the motivation behind such initiatives, the crux of such endeavours. The question that must be posed is, “What is its purpose?” Of necessity, the first order effect of RLE must preserve benevolence as its essential tenet - the incentive of seeking the well being of other persons. In so doing, the integrity of such ministry is assured. In order to guard against straying into activities that constitute contributing to or supporting hostilities, RLE must function within the bounds of ministry that proposes ameliorating the lives of others. This embraces seeking consensus in the pursuance of peace and the resolution of conflict and reconciliation. Endeavours of this nature are not designed to attack the opposing force’s will to fight, and, as such, would not be considered supporting the use of force. In this light, the chaplain’s engagement in RLE does not put in jeopardy his/her protected status as a non-combatant. RLE is best understood to be a unique chaplain capability conducted by credentialed religious personnel within boundaries of discrete religious interaction - a stand-alone line of operation alongside other lines of operation.

Building relation, establishing trust ~ Captain Imam S. Demiray with the Ulema Council of Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. In the form of a Shura, this was the first visit of the regional religious leaders to the PRT. DFAIT Political Advisor Gavin Buchan in foreground.

Photo courtesy of the author

Building relation, establishing trust ~ Captain Imam S. Demiray with the Ulema Council of Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. In the form of a Shura, this was the first visit of the regional religious leaders to the PRT. DFAIT Political Advisor Gavin Buchan in foreground.

Influence Activities

On the surface, similarities may appear to exist when comparing RLE with an Influence Activity (IA) - both are leader engagements, producing some degree of influence as an interactive, personal, and pragmatic method. RLE has as its goal to contribute to the easing of social tensions and resolving conflict by engaging those of tolerant voice (middle range actors) within religious communities. For some, such ministry may appear to be analogous with the act of influencing. As indicated above, the difference lay in intent. As a first order effect, the intent of IA is in direct support of hostile activities simultaneous with and complementary to fires. This represents operational space that is incongruent with the purpose and intent of RLE and antithetical to the protected status of chaplains as non-combatants. The ‘thin edge of the wedge’ emerges when considering the more ‘soft’ IA capabilities, such as Public Affairs (PA) or CIMIC activities, which may be seen as somewhat complementary with RLE initiatives. In addition to IA and PA, Key Leader Engagement (KLE)39 poses as a natural means of embedding chaplains for RLE ministry. By way of contrast, any association with Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) and Military Deception would taint RLE, thus undermining its effectiveness as a peacebuilding capability. In this regard, RLE is unique in terms of its content, expectations and the credentials of those engaged in its ministry. Its intended purpose is not to leverage relationships with religious leaders for military advantage. The aspiration of engagement is not simply to shape outcomes, rather to appreciate the exceptional nature of religion as a catalyst to bridging divides - sometimes within faith communities, at other times, across ethno-religious boundaries - with the first order effect of the well being of the other.

Captain Shaun Turner, DART company padre  (left), and two other Canadian servicemen, pose with two proud Haitian children during Operation Hestia, Jacmel, Haiti, 22 January 2010.

DND photo IS2010-5000-035 by Corporal Julie Bélisle

Captain Shaun Turner, DART company padre  (left), and two other Canadian servicemen, pose with two proud Haitian children during Operation Hestia, Jacmel, Haiti, 22 January 2010.

Information Gathering for Intelligence Purposes

Concurrence was reached early into the SWG that chaplains providing specific information to be fed into a larger Intelligence collection platform would be in violation of ‘direct participation’ in hostilities, thus jeopardizing the chaplain non-combatant (protected) status. More general information identifying perceptions, attitudes, or local issues would fall within the parameters of Religious Area Analysis, and not part of an intelligence debriefing or hostile act planning session. With this as a basis of understanding, the focus shifted to the issue of transparency due to the sensitive nature of information that may be made known to the chaplain. Albeit hypothetical, the potential for a chaplain to be caught in an ethical bind of this nature is credible - maintaining the trust of a religious leader versus divulging information that may be vital to the mission, or, more precarious still, the lives of others.  

An ideal solution to the handling of sensitive information by chaplains does not exist, should it fall into their hands. It becomes a question of determining the most satisfactory approach among lesser desirables. In the event that a chaplain came to possess sensitive information that he/she deemed vital, the consensus was the most effective means of protecting the source (chaplain) and the integrity of the process (religious context and actors) was to exercise the chaplain’s specialist officer status and report to the commander directly. Due to his/her grasp of the total mission, it was determined that the commander is best suited to decide in what manner to dispense with such information.

The above represents the more salient points of discussion during the RLE Seminar War Game - a collective effort of the principal stakeholders in its development. The findings presented here are not to be viewed as conclusive or binding. RLE is an evolving domain and, as such, further research is needed accompanied by continued dialogue among the principals in order to fully appreciate the nuances of this emerging operational capability. That said, one must not diminish the clarity brought and ground gained through the purposeful exercise of the RLE SWG.


The international response to today’s protracted conflicts has given rise to the advent of the Comprehensive Approach, with its JIMP emphasis focusing here primarily upon the Inter-agency and the Public Space aspects of operations. Inter-agency - Whole of Government for others - proposes intensified collaboration of military and civilian entities as a means of enhancing stability and reconstruction efforts. Even more fundamentally, support for adoption of a comprehensive approach stems from a growing consensus that outward-focused, integrated, and multi-disciplinary approaches to security threats and challenges must become the new norm, given the complex problems and challenges posed by a multi-dimensional security environment.40 Military chaplains have already established a track record in working constructively with religious leaders in theatres of violent conflict, thereby contributing to the peace process.  As RLE becomes more institutionalized, the probability of specialist chaplains embedded in PRT-like organizations holding to a civil-military configuration is on the horizon. Concomitant with greater civil-military integration is the incorporation of a ‘Phase 0’ into campaign planning, with its aspiring emphasis upon prevention by attending to strategies designed to preclude and resolve conflict before it has a chance to ossify - operational objectives for the future. These are consequential shifts in focus indicative of a move to greater inclusivity. Converging with such openness, RLE at tactical and operational levels represents an added dimension of mission effectiveness now recognized by leadership at strategic levels. The concept of chaplains with specialized training, conducting RLE-type activities within religious communities, collaborating with their Whole of Government partners, has come of age. As government departments and agencies move toward incorporating a religious element within their approach to peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts, serious reflection must be given to the unique contribution chaplains bring as an operational resource.

Transcending conflict ~ Padre G. Legault with Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Muslim religious leaders in Glamo?, Bosnia, 2003.

Photo courtesy of the author

Transcending conflict ~ Padre G. Legault with Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Muslim religious leaders in Glamoč, Bosnia, 2003.


Editor’s Note: Portions of this article are taken from the forthcoming publication by this same author: Military Chaplains as Agents of Peace: Religious Leader Engagement in Conflict and Post-Conflict Environments.

  1.  Jim Simms (2011). “The Joint Interagency, Multi-national and Public (JIMP) Environment: Military Operations in a Crowded Battlespace,” in M. Rostek and P. Gizewski (eds.), Security Operations in the 21st Century: Canadian Perspectives on the Comprehensive Approach (Montreal and Kingston: McGill and Queen’s University Press, 2011), p. 80.

  2.  Katrien Hertog, The Complex Reality of Religious Peacebuilding: Conceptual Contributions and Critical Analysis (Lexington Books: Lanham, Maryland, 2010), p. 75.

  3.  R. Scott Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000), p. 3.

  4.  See Fabio, Petito, and Pavlos Hatzopoulos (eds). Religion in International Relations: The Return from Exile (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) cited in Megan Shore, Religion and Conflict Resolution: Christianity and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Surrey, England, and Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2009), p. 23.

  5. Hertog, p. 7.

  6.  See Liora Danan and Alice Hunt, Mixed Blessings: U.S. Government and Engagement with Religion in Conflict Prone Settings (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007), at; USAID, Religion, Conflict & Peacebuilding: An Introductory Programming Guide, at; R. Scott Appleby and Richard Cizik, Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy (Chicago: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 2010), at

  7.  David Smock, Religion in World Affairs: Its Role in Conflict and Peace, Special Report 101(Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2008), p. 3.

  8.  Hertog, pp.10-11. 

  9.  Appleby and Cizik, p. 17.

  10. Pauletta Otis, “Religion and War in the Twenty-first Century,” in R. A. Seiple & D. R. Hoover (eds.), Religion and Security: The New Nexus in International Relations (Lanham, Maryland: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, 2004), p. 20; Appleby adds: “Rather than break down barriers, in short, religion often fortifies them...Constructed as inseparable from ethnic and linguistic traits, religion in such settings lends them a transcendent depth and dignity. Extremists thus invoke religion to legitimate discrimination and violence against groups of a different race or language.” R. Scott Appleby, p. 62.

  11. Marc Gopin, To Make the Earth Whole: The Art of Citizen Diplomacy in an Age of Religious Militancy (Lanham, Maryland: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, 2009), pp. 37-38.

  12. Appleby, p. 62.

  13. Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2000), pp. 146, 216.

  14. Ibid., p.217.

  15. Cynthia Sampson, “Religion and Peacebuilding,” in I. William Zartman and J. Lewis Rasmussen (eds.), Peacemaking in International Conflict (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 1997), p. 275.

  16. Judy Carter and Gordon S. Smith, “Religious Peacebuilding” in Harold Coward and Gordon S. Smith (eds.), Religion and Peacebuilding (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2004), p. 280.

  17. Mary Kaldor states that today’s new wars are generated more around identity issues. The claim to power on the basis of a particular identity is among the principal drivers of today’s conflicts: national, clan, religious or linguistic. Such claims often hearken to the past, which leans towards identity politics becoming more exclusive and fragmented—sure footing for conflict. See Mary Kaldor, “Introduction” in New & Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era, 2nd Edition (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2006), pp. 7-8.

  18. Robert Schreiter, “The Theology of Reconciliation and Peacemaking for Mission,” in H. Mellor & T. Yates (eds.), Mission – Violence and Reconciliation (Sheffield, England: 2004), p. 25, cited in Sebastian C. H. Kim, Pauline Kollontai and Greg Hoyland  (eds.), Peace and Reconciliation: In Search of Shared Identity (Hampshire, England and Burlington, Vermont: 2008), p. 37.

  19. Carter and Smith, p. 280.

  20. Ibid.

  21. Sampson, p. 275.

  22. Andrea Bartoli, “Christianity and Peace,” in Howard Coward and Gordon S. Smith (eds.), Religion and Peacebuilding (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2004), p. 158.

  23. Kofi A. Annan, Prevention of Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary General, A/55/985–S/2001/574, United Nations General Assembly, Fifty-fifth Session, 2001, Agenda Item 10, para 147, at

  24. Appleby, p. 61.

  25. Informed by David Little, Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 438.

  26. Peter Gizewski (Strategic Analyst), LCD OR Team, and Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Rostek (DLCD- Land Futures), “Toward A Comprehensive Approach To CF Operations: The Land Force JIMP Concept,” in Defence R&D Canada: Centre for Operational Research and Analysis, DRCD CORA TM 2007-60, September 2007, p. 8.

  27. John Paul Lederach, The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 35.

  28. John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington, D.C.: United Institute of Peace Press, 1997), pp. 41-42. 

  29. Ibid., p. 42.

  30. Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (London: Penguin Books, 2006), pp. 289-292.

  31. Marc Gopin, Between Eden and Armageddon: the Future of World Religions, Violence, and Peacemaking (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 270.

  32. For more on Volf’s “double vision” see Chapter Three, Part 3 “Reconciliation as Embrace,” dissertation of Major S.K. Moore entitled, Military Chaplains as Agents of Peace: The Theology and Praxis of Reconciliation in Stability Operations (Ottawa: Saint Paul University, 2008), pp. 117-143.

  33. Baron, p. 283.

  34. R.M. Kramer and P.J. Carnevale, “Trust and intergroup negotiation,” in R. Brown and S Gaertner (eds.), Intergroup Processes (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2003), pp. 432-450, cited in Baron, p. 287.

  35. Herbert C. Kelman, “Reconciliation from a Social-Psychological Perspective,” in Arie Nadler, Thomas E. Malloy and Jeffrey D. Fisher (eds.), The Social Psychology of Intergroup Reconciliation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 25.

  36. Marc Gopin, To Make the Earth Whole, p. 64.

  37. Ibid.

  38. See Law of Armed Conflict at the Operational and Tactical Levels, Joint Doctrine Manual, B-GJ-005-104/FP-021, 2001, Office of the Judge Advocate General, Department of National Defence, Canada, GL-16, at  

  39. Key Leader Engagement is an Influence Activity used at commander’s discretion. It may be defined as “the conduct of a deliberate and focused meeting with a person of significant importance in order to achieve a desired effect.” Land Force Doctrine Note 2-09 Key Leader Engagement (KLE) – Approval Draft, October 2009, p.1.

  40. Lieutenant-Colonel (ret’d) Mike Rostek, excerpt from an unpublished article.