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Ask the Patriarch 174
Referring to God in an Oath of Office

from: Allen S

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I retired several years ago, and this provided me the opportunity to do some thinking and reading regarding the answer to "God, the universe, and everything..." After some sleepless nights and much angst over old thoughts and beliefs,  I've found that the only answer that can be stated as the truth, (and all I sought was the truth), was " we don't know..."

Anything after that may be argued as an opinion, but the base was solid. You have helped me in my search, and I admire and respect your views, so I was hoping you would give me your opinion on an issue, and that may help me come to a decision. I am a member of a veterans organization, and an officer of the Post. This position requires one to take an oath; part of which requires professing a belief in god (which one, now that I think about it, was never specified). I took this oath the first time back when I was "one of the cattle" as my wife puts it. Soon, if I am to retain my membership and position, I will be asked to take this oath again. Normally this would not be a quandary for me; I would refuse to compromise this point, and I would move on to some other endeavor. The problem arises because this organization has become an extremely important part of several of our members lives, and my resignation at this particular time would put the immediate future of the organization in jeopardy. Most of the members are elderly and have lost their spouse. This place provides some relief for these people, and actualy seems to give some a reason to go on. I do what I do because I want to help these individuals as I feel it is the right thing for me to do. So, it seems to me I have two options:

  1. Take the oath and subsequently lie, or
  2. Refuse to take the oath and walk away, damn the consequences...

I will not take any oath lightly. I believe that accepting our Articles of Faith was a form of oath, and I did not do that without much turmoil, as I previously outlined. Do I lie anyway, and continue to serve these people, or keep my integrity intact, and refuse? Sir, I understand that you cannot answer this question for me, nor would I want or allow you to, but an opinion and/or possibly some Church guidance to a congregration member would be greatly appreciated. Does the end justify the means?

Sincerely,

Al S

"I'd rather laugh with the sinners, than cry with the saints... Sinners are much more fun" Billy Joel

The Patriarch replies:

Al:

If this is truly an either/or situation, there is no simple answer. It all comes down to your personal priorities.

Personally, I would not take the oath. But, I've put myself in a position, largely through this website, where agnosticism is my major priority. I would have to stand on principle and refuse to swear by god. I do think that helping others should be a priority in our own lives; I make a point of doing so through secular organizations.

But, I do think you should have a closer look at your situation. Is there absolutely no flexibility? If there is no religious test for membership, and no religious test for those the organization supports, then there should be none to serve as an officer. After all, there was no religious test for those who joined up to serve their country. I would hope this veterans' organization that you belong to welcomes all veterans, regardless of religious affiliation.

In many cases, oaths of office are traditional, and they do not get changed unless questioned. Nobody really thinks about the implications. An alternate oath without reference to a deity might very well be possible if you request it.

You have a certain amount of power here. You are already an officer of the organization. You have experience. It is usually difficult to find people willing to take on these types of duties. The others on the board should be prepared to make some minor adjustments to keep you. It is a lot easier than to do that than it is to identify a replacement who will take the duties seriously.

I don't suggest making a big deal out of the issue (that get's people's backs up and they dig in.) Address it quietly and non-aggressively with the other officers. Make it clear that you are not trying to change the oath for everyone, but just want to give non-believers the opportunity to use a different oath. I would suggest something along the line that requiring non-believers to refer to god in an oath makes the oath meaningless. It diminishes the value of the oath to those that do believe. If your Post has an understanding chaplain, it is possible you can get him on your side - he would quite possibly accept the argument that removing god from the oath that you personally make shows that you respect the beliefs of others and do not want to take their god's name in vain.

Best wishes