May

01

2013

Joe Carter|8:27 AM CT

Will the Pentagon Prohibit the Great Commission?

[Note: This is the first in an occasional series examining and assessing potential threats to religious liberty in America and around the world.]

The Situation: According to the Associated Press, a group called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is urging the Pentagon to court martial officers whose subordinates feel they're being proselytized. MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein says even a Christian bumper sticker on an officer's car or a Bible on an officer's desk can amount to "pushing this fundamentalist version of Christianity on helpless subordinates." Weinstein and other leaders of his foundation met with top officials at the Pentagon last week.

The Backstory: Weinstein and his group met privately with Pentagon officials on April 23. He told Fox News that U.S. troops who proselytize are guilty of sedition and treason and should be punished to stave off what he called a "tidal wave of fundamentalists." "Someone needs to be punished for this," Weinstein told Fox News. "Until the Air Force or Army or Navy or Marine Corps punishes a member of the military for unconstitutional religious proselytizing and oppression, we will never have the ability to stop this horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing behavior."

"If a member of the military is proselytizing in a manner that violates the law, well then of course they can be prosecuted," he said. "We would love to see hundreds of prosecutions to stop this outrage of fundamentalist religious persecution."

"[Proselytizing] is a version of being spiritually raped and you are being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators," Weinstein told Fox News.

The Pentagon confirmed to Fox News that Christian evangelism is against regulations. "Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense, LCDR Nate Christensen said in a written statement. He declined to say if any chaplains or service members had been prosecuted for such an offense.

Threat Level: Unclear. Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, who served as White House Counsel in the Reagan administration and general counsel to H.Ross Perot, is an anti-religion extremist who is not taken seriously by anyone that is not on the secular political left. But if Pentagon officials become convinced that his peculiar anti-evangelism perspective is indeed within the bounds of military regulations, it could mean that members of the military could be prosecuted from sharing their faith—or even having a faith-based bumper sticker on their car.

Why It Matters: In a recent article for The Huffington Post, Weinstein provides an example of his bizarre hatred of Christianity,

I founded the civil rights fighting organization the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to do one thing: fight those monsters who would tear down the Constitutionally-mandated wall separating church and state in the technologically most lethal entity ever created by humankind, the U.S. military.

Today, we face incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nation's armed forces.

And as with most threats to religious freedom, at the core is the incompatibility between Christianity and normalization of homosexuality:

We should as a nation effusively applaud Lt. Col. Rich for his absolutely correct characterization of anti-gay religious extremist organizations as "hate groups" with no place in today's U.S. military. But we are compelled to venture even further. We MUST vigorously support the continuing efforts to expose pathologically anti-gay, Islamophobic, and rabidly intolerant agitators for what they are: die-hard enemies of the United States Constitution. Monsters, one and all. To do any less would be to roll out a red carpet to those who would usher in a blood-drenched, draconian era of persecutions, nationalistic militarism, and superstitious theocracy. Human history is all too festooned and replete with countless examples of such bleak and forlorn tragedies.

If these fundamentalist Christian monsters of human degradation, marginalization, humiliation and tyranny cannot broker or barter your acceptance of their putrid theology, then they crave for your universal silence in the face of their rapacious reign of theocratic terror. Indeed, they ceaselessly lust, ache, and pine for you to do absolutely nothing to thwart their oppression. Comply, my friends, and you, too, become as monstrously savage as are they. I beg you, do not feed these hideous monsters with your stoic lethargy, callousness and neutrality. Do not lubricate the path of their racism, bigotry, and prejudice. Doing so directly threatens the national security of our beautiful nation.

There was a time—just a few years ago, in fact—when we could laugh off such views by extremists like Weinstein. But the political climate has become increasingly hostile to religious liberties and all threats must be watched more carefully.

The issue, of course, is not that Weinstein's views will be adopted wholesale by the military. The concern is that when the outer boundary of what is considered legitimate opinion expand, what is considered the "center" shifts away from commonsense and rationality. When folks like Weinsten are taken seriously when they call evangelicals "pathologically anti-gay, Islamophobic, and rabidly intolerant agitators" it makes it easier for the public to say, "That's going a bit far. Why not just call them bigots?"

Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator. You can follow him on Twitter.

Categories: Christian Living
  • matthew woodside

    Thanks Joe for picking up on this. Prayers for Chaplains to remain faithful.

  • Maria Szabo

    Thanks Joe Carter for your informative article. When I read it, I keep in mind the words of Jesus as found in Matthew 10:26-28, “Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." The gates of hell may be frightening, however they will not prevail against the true Church of God in Christ Jesus because the God of heaven has set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, it will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever (from Daniel 2). Thanks again for the report, and press on.

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  • Jessica Grimes

    Thank you for covering this. As a wife of a Navy Chaplain- this story concerned me when I 1st heard about it on Breitbart. Pray for our Chaplains- for a hedge of protection around them.

  • Alexander Plump

    America, how have you become like that :( Alexander (Germany)

  • Adam S

    "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account" (Matthew 5:11).

  • MAJ F

    I am currently working at an Army training exercise. Our 0800 BUB (Battle Update Brief) opens every morning with the Chaplain saying a prayer asking for safety for the Soldiers and wisdom for the leaders.

    I can see now this is like "rape" and is "horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing behavior." ... um... NOT!

  • http://januaryrainstorm.blogspot.com/ Mark Z

    "Horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing"
    "Rapists, predators, monsters"
    "Putrid,savage, treasonous"

    And he accuses ME of hate speech??

    • James

      Mr. Weinstein's rhetoric reminds me of one who may be his mentor:
      Adolf Hitler. Twisters of truth, they say "good is evil, what is evil is good".

  • Josh Cramer

    Joe - thanks for the report. Weinstein sure is silly. But, your comment that the center could shift from "commonsense and rationality" smacks of a bit of silliness, too. Appealing to commonsense surely has been proved foolhardy by now. To paraphrase MacIntyre: whose commonsense? which rationality? Wouldn't it be better to say that commonsense is shifting so that Weinstein isn't so far from it? Or, could we just refer to "common nonsense"?

    • Joe Carter

      ***But, your comment that the center could shift from "commonsense and rationality" smacks of a bit of silliness, too.***

      Perhaps. But consider this. Imagine if someone had told you in the year 2001 that in twelve years a large swath of society (including many Christians, almost half the U.S. Senate, the President of the United States, etc.) would not only endorse same-sex marriage but say that those who opposed it were, at best, on the "wrong side of history" or, at worst, were "bigots."

      If someone had told me that I'd have rolled my eyes and told them they were being silly and to stop buying into those slippery-slope arguments. And yet. . .

      On Friday I've planning to write about the Overton Window and how it helps explain how ideas and concerns that seem ridiculous, within a decade, become the dominant view.

      ***Wouldn't it be better to say that commonsense is shifting so that Weinstein isn't so far from it? ***

      That's a good point. I think that is exactly what is happening.

      • Lewtisha Baker

        I keep thinking about what our Bible says about good being seen as evil and evil being seen as good. That time is here and praise God that Jesus' return is near.

  • Levi

    the most distrubing comment is that it is already here, "The Pentagon confirmed to Fox News that Christian evangelism is against regulations. "Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense, LCDR Nate Christensen said in a written statement. He declined to say if any chaplains or service members had been prosecuted for such an offense."

    It's against regulations to practice your first amendment rights? Absurd...

    • Rick Phillips

      It depends on what they mean by "religious proselytization." They may mean that a commander cannot require his soldiers to stand in formation while he reads the Bible to them. (This kind of thing is rare, but not unheard of.) That should be contrary to regulations, and my guess is that is what they are talking about. Your average non-Christian bureaucrat probably does not know what evangelism means in the sense that most evangelicals use it: talking informally to family and friends about Jesus. I have been out of the Army for a few years, but I doubt there are any regulations against it. The big issue is the shift in culture, and because of this we should be praying not only for chaplains but especially for Christian commanders. It has always required a little discretion to be an evangelist in the military culture. But soon even moderation and discretion may not be enough and the Christians will start being persecuted.

  • Melody

    This earth, this country is not our home. Joseph called his family to Egypt and they were welcomed by Pharoah. The Hebrews helped Egypt to prosper but over time the government turned on them.

    This isn't just a weird glitch just because we have a horrible administration in power right now. It is a changing in how people are viewed in our country. It is bizarre.
    People will trash talk people of faith on their Facebook knowing that they have friends with the same faith who will see it.

    People will listen to dialogue then turn around and lie about what is said knowing that everyone will know that it is a lie. But those that want it to be true will swear it is. And it is said over and over until no one questions it.

    There will be nothing left to talk about except the gospel and then people will have to be prepared to suffer for it.

    Hebrew 13:14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

  • Christina

    I find his comments ironic. It's funny to read the word "dehumanizing" considering that through the gospel is how we ultimately learn how to be truly human in the way that God originally intended us to be.

  • Kevin Bowles

    Amazingly, you could take Weinstein's final paragraph where he is describing these "monstrous" Christians... and he might as well be describing the new zealots of the pro gay marriage camp.

    Simply change a few words and you have this...

    "If these... monsters of human degradation... cannot broker or barter your acceptance of their [tolerance], then they crave for your universal silence in the face of their rapacious reign of [ideologic] terror. Indeed, they ceaselessly lust, ache, and pine for you to do absolutely nothing to thwart their [supposed progression]."

    We live in a quickly-changing world where the balance beam of grace and truth is getting more and more narrow.

  • Dave Walker

    It's about time being a Christian in the U.S. actually cost something.

    • NT

      Maybe someone with more time can enlighten Dave on some Church history. I'm tired of the flippant "some persecution will be good for us" responses to religious liberty issues. So many faithful saints have died so that persecution could end, and it ignorant to desire it.

      Yes, the Church will prevail, but not every local church everywhere. I'm sure the church in Alexandria was glad that being Christian would cost so much. Oh that's right, they aren't there anymore.

      By and large the Gospel has spread widest and farthest where people have been the most free. Even current examples pro-persecution folks might point to like China are skewed. Yes, it "costs" Chinese something, but not nearly as much as it used to, and THAT is why Christianity is spreading so rapidly, along with a move of God of course.

      I write this because we need to care about freedom for the sake of the Gospel, and not be so flippant about it. Will we be faithful regardless? Of course, but we should not WANT persecution. Our desire should be freedom.

      • Noah S

        I agree completely with your post; however, please use a different example. My wife's family, who are Egyptian Copts, would take offense at your assertion that the church is no longer present in Alexandria. While, declining, she is still there: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coptic_Orthodox_Church_of_Alexandria

        • NT

          Noah, you're quite right, of course - thank you for the clarification. I trust there will remain faithful believers everywhere, so I only meant to highlight that at one time Alexandria was in many ways one of the 2 or 3 primary hubs of Christianity in the world, but after the Muslim invasion and loss of freedom it ceased to be.

      • YGG

        I'm actually going to agree with NT here. For the sake of our children, our local churches, and many of the things we hold dear, we shouldn't be so flippant about persecution. In fact, I wouldn't advise young men to go into the military for this reason, among many others.

      • Dave Walker

        I'm tired of flippant American Christianity. In the first century God used the persecution of his people to spread the gospel. We are too fat and happy living out our christian spin on the American dream. Jesus said if we are persecuted because of him we should rejoice and be glad because our reward will be great. So let's stop bellyaching about our "rights" and be thankful that God is allowing us the opportunity to grow closer to him through this small affliction.

        • Melody

          Yes we are to rejoice in all circumstances but you are forgetting the part that comes before that.

          And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

          See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

          Rejoice always,
          pray without ceasing,
          give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
          1 Thessalonians 5:14-18

    • DCW

      Dave, I do see what you are getting at, but when Jesus says in John 16:33 that "In the world, you will have trouble," he knows that humans face trouble regardless of where they live or whether they seek it. It's difficult to be a Christian anywhere (if it's not a struggle, then we're not Christians). The point is, it's coming no matter what. But Jesus says, "Take heart, I have overcome the world." We should never seek suffering (and yes, we shouldn't seek only comfort either), and to suggest that we ought to experience hardship more is not a Biblically supported view. Think of how many Psalms plead with God to deliver His people from their enemies. We gotta ask when we say things like that why we are saying them. Could it possibly be arising from selfish motives, that we need to atone for our own sins, thereby invalidating the work of the Cross? Is it Jesus' suffering and righteousness or our own suffering/righteousness that saves??

  • Daniel

    I received this from the North American Mission Board (I'm in the Army as a Chaplain in Training), "On another issue regarding MRFF/Mickey Weinstein meeting with USAF staff, the following is now understood by our office. We have researched the validity and appropriateness of the alleged meeting. We do know that a meeting occurred with senior AF personnel including the AF Chief of Chaplains. Many of the details in the article [fox news and such] are inaccurate, according to our sources.

    "The claims by the MRFF were largely exaggerated, and the meeting that took place only concerned the USAF and USAF guidance (blue book mentioned). There was one USAF Chaplain present at the meeting, along with the SAF JAG, and other officers," stated our source.

    Our sources confirm that Mr. Weinstein is NOT working for DOD, and NO Commission/Group was put together to advise on Religious affairs.

    We appreciate each one of you who have emailed or called about the above issues. We asked you to keep us informed when you encounter concerns, especially those regarding the religious liberties of those you serve.

    Moving forward under God's grace for the Kingdom of God.

    Blessings,

    Chaplaincy Evangelism"

    The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, to my knowledge, has been lobbying/meeting/discussing for years now the validity of the Chaplaincy. Not sure why this meeting was different...sure, it's a sign of things to come, but it will take quite some time..

    • Jon

      Thank you Daniel for this information. Now will this information get as much play on Facebook and the likes as the initial report has been getting? Sadly I doubt it as evidenced by this comment section. The fear being expressed over something that is truly at best an incomplete story seems to be a recurring theme especially with American Christendom. We are in danger of losing our voice and credibility if we are not careful.

      • Daniel

        I do hope there is some follow up. Ed Stetzer wrote a helpful article: http://www.edstetzer.com/2013/05/wait-do-you-mean-the-story-thr.html

        Whether from misconstrued details or informed knowledge, I pray this meeting encourages Christians to pray more frequently for the US military, to befriend soldiers and share the gospel with them, and to be sacrificial toward Christians who are in the military.

  • Adina

    Daniel, thank you for sharing the clarification above. I am the wife of a Southern Baptist (recent graduate of SBTS) Chaplain in the USAF and I am thankful that you shared some clarifying information in the previous comment post.

    A discerning read does show that this is indeed hype.

    From what we know of the military, they go to great lengths to provide and protect religious freedom for our members. My husband shares the gospel with people as a chaplain. He is allowed to, as long as they are free to walk away.

    What everyone is up in arms about is actually there to protect ALL members including Christians. With this rule in place, we, as Christians have the freedom to NOT worship a false god, listen to false teaching or participate in a religious ceremony that is not consistent with our faith. This is important for the protection of our rights.

    Our religious liberties have been at stake, and will always be at stake until Jesus returns. This does not scare me. We WILL suffer, that is a promise from scripture.

    If now is the time, so be it. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

    If the time is NOT now (meaning not this second) then I need to be busy about my Father's business, passionately sharing Christ with everyone I meet. . .not sitting at my computer on Facebook or this blog wringing my hands about the state of our nation. Turning off MY computer for the day.

  • Alex M

    Anyone curious as to what the backstory behind Weinstine's attitude is should watch the documentary Constantine's Sword by James Caroll. Quite the eye opening documentary and it does bring to light the difference between Gospel centered evangelism—we are indeed called to participate in this—which is not out of hate, injustice or disposition but only love, and hateful, demeaning, non-loving, judgmental evangelism—we are called against this very thing. Obviously there's a problem here with freedom of religion, but when freedom of religion turns into the free-exercise of blatant across-the-board hatefulness then an even bigger problem arises.

  • Josh

    If these "helpless subordinates" are under such great duress each time their commanding officer takes a sip from his "He Brews" coffee mug, I'd sure hate to see how they react when under fire in actual combat!

  • Jon Trainer (usaf chaplain)

    Here is a statement on the above from the USA Chief of Chaplains FB page...there has been a lot of inaccurate reporting about this...

    OCCH has verified that this is the OSD statement in response to recent media and public query. Thank you for your concern and prayers:

    "The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution. The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members.

    Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one's beliefs (proselytization). If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence. Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case by case basis.

    The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs. The Department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services.

    We work to ensure that all service members are free to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their religion -- in a manner that is respectful of other individuals' rights to follow their own belief systems; and in ways that are conducive to good order and discipline; and that do not detract from accomplishing the military mission."

  • BryanK

    "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." (2 Tim 1:7)

  • prekrasno

    Those of you who believe the hype that Christianity is somehow under attack in the military are completely ignorant of the truth. As a career veteran still serving after 24 years, I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that this article is pure tripe meant to scare and control you. All of you should be ashamed of yourselves for not thinking for yourselves for once.

    • Joe Carter

      ***I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that this article is pure tripe meant to scare and control you. ***

      Did you even read the article?

  • Robert

    The Pentagon just released four hours ago a document with more specific wording. (www.adfmedia.org/files/20130502PentagonEmail.pdf) Thanks to this document, released today, we now know how one DoD Pentagon spokesman defines proselytizing. "Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one's beliefs (proselytization)." This is great! for now. Unfortunately, this is a more specific definition than the word "proselytize" requires, making this present clarification easily changeable in the future. If you called your Congressman, thank you. If not but you still want to, please request a change in wording, such as "coercion" rather than "proselytize." Obviously, enough people voiced their concerns to invoke an official clarification released from the Pentagon. Thank you again, and job accomplished.

    • http://chanroberts2.wordpress.com/ Chancellor C. Roberts, II

      Especially since "evangelize" and "proselytize" are really synonymous.

      Of course, for years now there have been chaplains who have been reprimanded for using the name of Jesus in their public prayers (especially aboard ship). Prayers have to be "non-sectarian." In other words, they must conform to the government's established religion of ceremonial deism. When I was in the Navy (1981-1992), Religious Program Specialists were specifically told that they had to be supportive of all faiths, and some chaplains have even said that the best Religious Program Specialist is an atheist.

      There are those who would consider any positive mention of religion to be an "unwanted, intrusive" attempt to convert others. Thus, it is not unreasonable that some commanding officer could punish someone of religious faith just for vocalizing that faith.

  • Monica

    Do I hear Daniel story all over again? Even if they pass a law. We pray that the Christians would be like Daniel, choosing life, choosing God The Most High over earthly kingdoms. God is Mighty to save and He will save.

  • Jonathan Nichols

    I'm not sure what to think about this article and not clear what it is promoting, encouraging or suggesting. What is there to do but to stand strong in our faith and pray? There is a lack of bold confidence in the power of the Lamb who was slain. Yes, Christians need to be involved in politics, but not at the cost of putting confidence in that involvement and forgetting the victory Jesus has already won. He has already won! We must be confident, we must be foolishly confident in the weakness of the Lamb who was slain and now lives Forevermore! We must remember this truth!

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  • Scott

    What I'd like to know is, who is going to silence this extremist, hate-group founder of his proselytizing?

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  • http://chanroberts2.wordpress.com/ Chancellor C. Roberts, II

    Is the Pentagon now backpedaling? Was it just a trial balloon? Of course, what some people just don't understand is that evangelizing IS proselytizing - that the goal of evangelism is to "make disciples" (Matthew 28:19). Read the USA Today article linked below.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/05/02/evangelical-pentagon-department-of-defense/2130583/

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  • Myron L. Treber

    As an evangelical Christian, I'm wondering why Mr. Weinstein's comments are not considered hate speech against us.

  • Robert

    Official response from the military is that service members may share their faith as long as they do not harass others:

    http://www.tennessean.com/article/20130502/NEWS/305030027/Military-says-no-court-martials-sharing-faith?gcheck=1

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  • Kerrie

    He has a facebook page entitled Military Religious Freedom Foundation that is very enlightening on the attitude, opinions and general...well, hate...that is prevailing among these people and this man that founded the organization. Very disturbing, the things they are pressing to have removed - basic rights of any person or religion, just geared towards Christians.

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