Army Atheists Get it Wrong on Chaplains. Again.

The “military director” of American Atheists and coordinator for “Rock Beyond Belief” at Fort Bragg, Justin Griffith, previously misstepped when he tried to ‘humorously’ make the point “there are no chaplains in foxholes.’  (Even some who support him have asked him not to demean the service of chaplains who died in the line of duty or received such accolades as the Medal of Honor.)

Griffith was also so offended by an answer BrigGen Rhonda Cornum gave in a media interview that he misquoted her and allowed another military atheist, Dustin Chalker, to rail on about her misquoted statement.

Now, he’s done it again.

This time Griffith targeted Steven Firtko, who appears to be a US Army chaplain stationed in Europe.  Griffith accused the chaplain of inappropriately “proselytizing.”

His errors started in the first sentence:

An atheist just captured a Chaplain doing the wrong thing. And he’s admitting to it as part of his regular routine.

First, the conversation didn’t “just” occur; it happened months ago.  There’s no harm in sitting on it for whatever reason, but Griffith doesn’t need to add melodrama by misstating the facts.

Second, Griffith is criticizing the Facebook conversation between a chaplain’s personal Facebook account and a civilian — two very important details.  His criticism of the chaplain’s personal use of Facebook is interesting, as Griffith himself makes liberal use of social media to make his own positions known, as he rightly can — as can the chaplain.  As the chaplain’s debate partner was a civilian, any attempt to ‘convert’ him would be wholly outside any issue of military policy of constitutionality.

Griffith made this critique [formatting original]:

I can’t even imagine a scenario where it’s appropriate for a Chaplain to say “turn from your denial before it is eternally too late for you.”

Chaplain Steven Firtko, you are wrong.

Forced or not, you are not supposed to ‘offer’ that the Soldier you are standing near is risking eternal torture if he doesn’t change his mind.

The problem is, much like the prior misquotation of General Cornum, Griffith is misrepresenting the chaplain’s statements.

As already noted, the “turn from your denial” statement was made to a civilian from a personal Facebook page, which is not an inappropriate thing for any American citizen to do, contrary to Griffith’s feigned shock.

The “offer” statement deserves context.  Firtko said [formatting original]:

Even as a chaplain, I only OFFER my services, but never force them.  I ALWAYS respect soldiers right to choose.  I make Faith available, but not required.

Again, contrary to Griffith’s absolutist statement, Firtko accurately described the duties of a chaplain.  A chaplain’s job is to “offer” his services to any member of the military to support them in any way they need.  The chaplain does not say, as Griffith attributes, that he “simply offers Christ to atheist soldiers.”  Again, much like his issue with General Cornum, Griffith has read offense into a very benign statement.

US Army Chaplain Steven Firtko isn’t wrong, despite Griffith’s use of bold italic formatting.  American Atheist “military director” Justin Griffith is wrong.  Again.  Hopefully he’ll learn a little before he steps in it yet again.

This is probably just a short diversion, anyway.  Certainly Griffith will eventually begin highlighting military atheists’ “celebration of reason” and demonstrating the ability to have an ideology independent of the need to criticize religion.  It would be nice to see how the group positively contributes to the needs of servicemembers of like faith, rather than appearing to have the sole ideological purpose of criticizing others — including fellow members of the military — simply for their chosen theology.