General Stendahl Becomes Newest Air Force Chief of Chaplains
Are Michael Weinstein’s predictions of a fundamentalist Christian coup in America coming to fruition?
Newly-promoted Chaplain (MajGen) Howard Stendahl was recently appointed Chief of Air Force Chaplains, making him the senior ranking chaplain in the US Air Force. His promotion was one of the first major acts for the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen Mark Welsh:
“We aren’t just pinning on a new major general in the U.S. Air Force. We’re not just recognizing our new chief of chaplains for the Air Force. We’re celebrating the life of service to a pretty significant degree,” said Welsh, who was the vice commander at Air Education and Training Command where Stendahl was the command chaplain.
Oddly, the transition from former Chief of Chaplains Cecil Richardson was not seamless. Chaplain (MajGen) Richardson retired in May; for months, there has been no Chief of Chaplains, despite the fact Chaplain Stendahl has been the Deputy Chief all that time. Both announcements — retirement and assumption — were quiet, and in another odd twist, the official Air Force article on Chaplain Stendahl’s promotion was pulled for some reason.
In one display of his strong understanding of religious freedom in the military, Chaplain Richardson famously answered a question by saying an Airman has to “back off” in talking about Jesus at the same point he has to “back off” in talking about golf. Chaplain Stendahl is also on record emphasizing his role in defending religious freedom, though his nuances are slightly different. From 2009:
“As a chaplain, it is a privilege to provide for and support the religious freedom of every person in the military,” Stendahl said. “The key is to recognize and respect everyone’s Constitutional right to enjoy that freedom.”
[Chaplain Stendahl] knows that people will much more likely seek spiritual counsel if they know their own religious beliefs — or lack of beliefs — will be accepted and respected.
“My responsibility is to make sure every individual knows the chaplain’s office is a place where they will find respect for their own beliefs,” he said. “I am a Lutheran, but that does not mean I would ever attempt to make anyone else believe the way I do. My job is to listen and to ask, ‘How can I serve you?'”
Stendahl feels fortunate that he, personally, has never served in a command where the commander did not recognize the importance of the chaplain’s office and work. “It’s important for all commanders to understand that everyone has a right to his or her belief, even if they are in the minority,” he said.
It is interesting to note that the newest Chief Chaplain comes from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Michael Weinstein once claimed an ELCA chaplain was part of a “fundamentalist Christian religious predation” because of his book on “Christian supremacy.”
Most people outside of Weinstein’s immediate circle of acolytes likely recognize that it takes an extremely uninformed person to make such a statement about the ELCA and its chaplains. Contrary to Weinstein’s claims, the denomination is one of the more liberal Christian churches. In contrast with more conservative Christian denominations, for example, it accepts homosexual clergy and, in fact, one of its military chaplains recently headlined the news for her officiation of a homosexual ceremony in a military chapel.
Of course, if you’ll recall, Weinstein gets to decide what people believe and what religious label they wear, regardless of their actual beliefs. That’s how “religious freedom” works in his world.