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In light of the confusing statements recently by the U.S. military about whether Christians will be prosecuted for sharing their faith, the chief of a chaplains organization says the real question is different.
“The question is why is the military having meetings with [anti-Christian activist Mikey Weinstein] and how is it he appears to have easy access to individuals such as [former Ambassador Joe] Wilson.”
That’s from Brig. Gen. Doug Lee, now chairman of the executive committee for the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty.
WND has reported how the Pentagon’s recent vow to punish Christian evangelism among military members, along with Weinstein’s assertion that such behavior is treasonous, has prompted a legal team to offer to defend any member of the armed services persecuted for expressions of faith.
The Liberty Institute has announced the launch of its Armed Forces Religious Liberty hotline – (972) 941-4543 – along with a petition to support Christian members of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force.
“The Pentagon released an appalling official statement that I didn’t believe at first, but unfortunately it’s true,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of the organization. “They are about to implement a new policy under which any members of the military ‘caught’ talking about their Christian faith will be subject to court martial or imprisonment!”
Shackelford said his group is establishing the emergency hotline “to protect our armed forces members, who can call and get free legal representation when they are persecuted for their Christian faith.”
Weinstein most recently has been criticizing others’ reporting on the dispute.
“Ever since the 4/26/13 Washington Post feature on [Military Religious Freedom Foundation] detailing our meeting with top-level Pentagon officials, a non-stop torrent of shamefully ridiculous coverage has been accusing Mikey and MRFF of being ‘Anti-Christian,’ ‘Extremist,’ ‘Atheist,’ and ‘Leftist,'” a fundraising email on his behalf said.
That, however, is nonsense, Lee said.
“It’s all hyperbole and exaggerations on the part of Mike Weinstein to get support for his worldview and his attempts to rid the military of what he calls an evangelical conspiracy,” Lee said.
The issue was unnoticed until Weinstein made the effort to bring attention to it.
On April 30, the MRFF sent out an email recommending a Washington Post article written by Sally Quinn. The organization encouraged recipients to read “this excellent Washington Post article.”
The recommended article claimed that Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, told Quinn that the biggest problems the military is currently facing are sexual assault and what he calls proselytizing by Christians who happen to share their faith with others.
Wilkerson’s comments were made to Quinn during an interview that also featured former ambassador Joe Wilson and Weinstein as they were on their way to a meeting at the Pentagon.
Wilson told Quinn that if a chaplain would proselytize, it would be a workplace violation. Weinstein went even further and said it was a national security threat and amounted to spiritual rape. He said the chaplain’s role is to minister to spiritual needs.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines proselytizing as “to induce someone to convert to one’s faith; to recruit someone to join one’s party, institution, or cause.” This definition would include a Christian sharing their faith in any attempt to persuade them to become a Christian, no matter how benign the approach might be.
The article praised by the MRFF appears to have been intended to refer to this definition as it mentions an Air Force blue book which says, “Leaders at all levels must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion.” It even suggested that noncompliance could result in court-martial.
The result of Weinstein’s promotion was that the issue got attention.
In a followup, Weinstein told Fox News the military needed to begin prosecuting Christians who shared their faith.
“Someone needs to be punished for this,” he said. “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.”
Pentagon officials issued a statement apparently backing up Weinstein, saying, “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense.”
Weinstein, according to Fox News’ Todd Starnes, told officials at the meeting that U.S. troops who evangelize are guilty of sedition and treason and should be punished, by the hundreds if necessary.
Lee said that’s not close to reality.
“The Washington Post article was one of the most awful, hateful, lying and spiteful articles I have ever read,” Lee said. “These types of stories are giving Weinstein exactly what he wants, which is attention and to question the patriotism of evangelical Christians who are faithfully serving in the military by making these outlandish statements.”
Following a public uproar and the filing of a Freedom of Information Act request by the Alliance Defending Freedom asking for records on the issue, the Pentagon quickly backtracked on its earlier statement.
A statement from Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen said the Department of Defense “never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution.”
Christensen’s statement went on to say the Department of Defense “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),” he said.
The MRFF stayed on its fundraising focus.
“We’re under attack,” a May 3 fundraising email from the MRFF said. “Right-wing and fundamentalist blogs and news sites have begun ruthlessly attacking MRFF and shamelessly lying about the policies put in place to protect all servicemembers’ religious liberty.”
A few days later the organization sent out another fundraising email titled, “MRFF target of fundamentalist hysteria.”
Lee said contrary to what the MRFF is claiming, it was actually Weinstein who pushed for the situation to be a national incident.
“I have a copy of the Air Force document right here,” Lee said. “It’s not in hard copy yet, but everyone has been reading it since August. It is a fairly standard regulation that tries to cover all the bases.”
He went on to say the regulation has been around for years and on its face it is fairly harmless.
“It is actually a fairly good regulation,” Lee said. “All it says is a person in leadership cannot use their position to coerce a person into changing their religion. It has nothing to do with simply sharing their faith with someone.”
Lee explained that despite the Pentagon’s retreat on the issue, members in the military should still be concerned about recent trends against Christians.
“While this issue is a serious matter and we consider how we are increasingly seeing a culture in the military that is opposed to Christianity, this document does not do what has been claimed by Mike Weinstein. When the truth about it comes out he will be made to look like a fool.”
Lee also pressed the question of why the military is meeting with Weinstein.
“Weinstein is not a consultant for the military,” Lee said.