Air Force General Lorenz on “Necessary” Prayer
US Air Force General Stephen R. Lorenz recently retired as the head of Air Education and Training Command. (He is also a former Commandant of the US Air Force Academy.) He frequently wrote commentaries alliteratively entitled “Lorenz on Leadership.” On July 19th, the Air Force published his most recent article, in which he recounted a Chaplain’s run-in over pre-mission prayer:
As the troops were preparing to board the helicopters to an FOB that had recently been under attack, several Soldiers asked the chaplain if he could lead them in a prayer. A lieutenant colonel happened to be with the group and the chaplain, who was a captain, thought as a common courtesy he would ask the senior officer for permission to say a prayer for the troops about to enter combat. The lieutenant colonel replied to the chaplain that, “It would not be necessary” and walked away. The chaplain followed this senior officer’s guidance and did not lead the men in a prayer.
General Lorenz took the Lieutenant Colonel to task:
What bothers me is that the leader appears to have ignored the spiritual needs of his troops…This leader lost a golden opportunity to show his troops that he cared so much about the mission and the people under his command that he respected their spiritual needs as they went into battle.
The result, Lorenz notes, was actually far more egregious:
He also lost an opportunity to stand up for the Constitution and our freedoms that the military fights so hard to protect. [emphasis added]
The Lieutenant Colonel impinged on the religious rights of his subordinates by effectively (even if unintentionally) preventing the pre-mission prayer.
Ironically, some claim the military allowing those prayers violates the Constitution. Obviously, General Lorenz disagrees.
Earlier in the article General Lorenz had already made the point that it didn’t matter what the Lieutenant Colonel’s “own spiritual basis” was. At the end of the article, he notes the need to respect diversity:
To be truly effective leaders, we must respect the diverse people we lead. Each one of them is different and that makes the units of our Armed Forces the strongest in the world today. We must be true to our own beliefs, but as leaders we also have a responsibility to the people we are sending in harm’s way.
And that is key. Respecting diversity or religious freedom does not mean restricting it. One does not have to endorse any specific religion to protect the rights of others to practice theirs, contrary to some critics’ claims. There is a fine line to walk with regard to religion in the military, but in most cases the US military generally does an admirable job of protecting the religious freedoms of its troops. This was not one of those cases. Hopefully the Chaplain is more experienced now (as well as counseled by General Lorenz), and the Lieutenant Colonel somehow learns that its not all about him.
As an aside, the comments on the official Air Force site make for an interesting read, as they run the ideological spectrum themselves:
7/19/2011 4:09:09 PM ET
An adult talking to an imaginary friend would be considered by most to have a psychological problem. However call the imaginary friend God and all is well.
7/20/2011 9:24:47 AM ET
While I agree with the General on the importance of leaders meeting the religious needs of their troops, the PC police have made situations like this more prevelant. Unless he could confirm that all members on the helo were Christians and interested in a prayer session, the Lt Col ran the risk of getting called on the carpet later when the Buddist or athiest on the aircraft felt left out or preached to. The hypersensitivity to not offending anyone at the expense of taking care of the majority has led to this situation and it will only get worse.
Bob Black, Pentagon
7/20/2011 3:24:27 PM ET
The piece clearly states that ‘several Soldiers asked the chaplain if he could lead them in a prayer.’ The chaplain was not forcing participation on those who did not wish to participate…If anything the O-5 acted improperly as he abridged the rights of the Soldiers who DID ask for the prayer. He also prevented the chaplain from perfoming his military duty. Besides if only those desiring a prayer are involved, where’s the harm?
DMPI, Al JBAB DC
Read more at the Air Force site.