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Study: Members of the Armed Services Find ‘Powerful’ Comfort in the Bible

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The Bible, churches, and chaplains are key sources of comfort to American Veterans and Armed Service members, new research from Barna Group and the American Bible Society (ABS) has found. What’s more, these resources are particularly important to those who experience significant levels of trauma.

“Research indicates that many members of the Military community turn to the Bible, their church, and their pastor or chaplain for spiritual and emotional support,” say the authors of “State of the Bible 2020.

There are an estimated 2.1 million members of the U.S. Armed Forces, including those in the National Guard and Reserve units, and over 17 million Veterans. According to Dr. John Farquhar Plake, Director of Ministry Intelligence for ABS, the research “reveals that the Bible, chaplains, and Church communities are powerful forces of comfort and strength for Armed Service members, especially when they’re sent into combat.”

American Bible Society and Barna: The Armed Forces Need the Church

The American Bible Society and Barna conducted their research in the form of a 15-minute survey administered from June 7 to July 12, 2019. Participants included 1,009 Veterans, Armed Service members, and Military families who live within 15 miles of “several large U.S. Military bases.” Sixty percent said they had been deployed to a combat zone at least one time and 38 percent described their current job as a “combat role.” 

“Stress from multiple deployments to combat zones has been implicated in rising levels of depression and suicidality among both Service members and Veterans,” say the report’s authors. Separate research from ABS and Barna “suggests that Military service can cause lasting spiritual and psychological wounds for many Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen,” particularly as members face “wars, bombings, or other types of attacks.”

Recent research from the Department of Defense (DOD) seems to corroborate those findings. While suicide rates vary among different branches of the military and the rates in some branches are trending downward, DOD found the overall suicide rate in all branches increased from 20.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2015 to 25.9 per 100,000 in 2019. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports data showing that “the suicide rate among Veterans is 1.5 times greater than the non-Veteran population.”

The American Bible Society and Barna specifically asked survey participants whether or not they had experienced “physical, psychological or emotional trauma.” Researchers defined trauma as “extreme violence, abuse, or a near-death experience that produces a response of intense fear, helplessness, or horror.” The results, say the authors, were “striking.”

Compared to the average American adult, Veterans and Service members are 42 percent more likely to have experienced a traumatic event and over 89 percent more likely to have witnessed a traumatic event happen to someone who is not a member of their family. Veterans and Service members are 36 percent more likely than other U.S. adults to have observed a traumatic event happening to a member of their immediate family. 

“As Service members and Veterans manage the stresses of their experiences,” say the authors, many turn to mental health professionals and chaplains, and “two out of three reach for the Bible with some regularity.” Fifty-four percent of Veterans said they have seen a counselor or therapist and two in five have turned to Military chaplains. Veterans and Service members tended to have positive views of the benefits of chaplains and therapists. 

The Bible, chaplains, and chapel services were among the most important sources of support to Service members both on and off base. When on base, 68 percent of Service members said they found comfort in friends, and 60 percent found comfort in family. Exercise was important (50 percent), as was food (42 percent) and the Bible (26 percent). Members also mentioned chaplains and chapel services at 16 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

The level of importance attached to three sources of comfort changed when Service members were deployed to combat zones. Among Service members on base who had never been deployed to a combat zone, 38 percent said they relied on their spouses for comfort, 19 percent turned to the Bible, and nine percent sought help from chaplains. But when respondents had been deployed to combat zones four times or more, 53 percent said they relied on their spouses, while 41 percent relied on the Bible and 17 percent relied on chaplains.  

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Jessica is a content editor for ChurchLeaders.com and the producer of The Stetzer ChurchLeaders Podcast. She has always had a passion for the written word and has been writing professionally for the past five years. When Jessica isn't writing, she enjoys West Coast Swing dancing, reading, and spending time with her friends and family.