Military Christians Aren’t the Only Ones Exercising Their Faith
…they’re just the only ones criticized for doing so.
Given the way the American culture has drifted over the past few years and the impact that drift has had on religion, religious freedom, and the military, it might be forgivable that people would assume conservative Christians are the only ones publicizing their beliefs from within the military.
That’s an easy framing, but it is not an accurate one.
It turns out that other “liberal” religious beliefs — and even non-beliefs — have been just as loudly proclaimed over the past few years, even from within the military. For some reason, though, when people speak out with a left-leaning theology, to use a political term, few people seem to care.
For example, military members and military chaplains have publicly advocated views antithetical to their own stated religious beliefs, they’ve called for discrimination against troops with which they’ve disagreed, and they’ve even promoted the idea that whole swaths of religions shouldn’t be eligible for military service.
Why haven’t these “progressive” chaplains and troops been as publicly castigated as their conservative peers?
For the most part, the answer is simple: Tolerance. In general, conservative Christian groups outside the military aren’t trolling for offense and demanding these liberal troops or theologians be court-martialed or punished — as activist liberal groups have done for conservative Christian chaplains and troops. Since no one is complaining, the military hasn’t chosen to censor these liberal-leaning beliefs — as it seems to have done to conservative beliefs in other circumstances.
Some conservative Christians have highlighted these progressive chaplains’ and troops’ statements and positions, but they haven’t demanded they be kicked out or court-martialed because they recognized the right of these troops to hold and express those beliefs — however wrong those beliefs might be.
In one example of how conservative Christians were actively targeted, Michael “Mikey” Weinstein used to keep a backlog of articles written by military chaplains that were published in local military papers, often as a “chaplain’s corner” type column. These columns often included chaplains sharing their religious beliefs, which Weinstein — in the spirit of religious freedom, no doubt — held up for derision, as if the chaplain had done something wrong.
Other examples of criticisms of conservative Christians abound — most from Mikey Weinstein. In most cases, all the Christian had to do was say something, and that was enough.
The more disturbing part, of course, has been the occasional instance in which the US military has seemed to agree with an attack (likely from Weinstein) and has censored, silenced, or otherwise sanctioned a Christian solely because of a complaint. Given Weinstein’s scientific “throw mud against the wall and see what sticks” technique, he is bound to find either an unwitting or receptive ally at some point, even within the military leadership.
By contrast, plenty of troops with liberal religious beliefs — or even anti-religious beliefs — have managed to speak up without criticism. Some examples:
Speaking on religion, Air Force Col Lela Holden wrote that “there are many roads to Texas” — and managed to denigrate almost every religion in her official Air Force article. Not only did no one complain, the article remains posted more than 10 years later.
SrA Jarrod Grammel wrote about his atheist perspective on spiritual fitness in 2013, which was praised by those who normally criticized troops publicly stating their religious beliefs. Ironically, Grammel left the military as a conscientious objector, and his article — routinely cited as evidence of the military’s double standard on public speaking on religious issues — is no longer online.
In 2010, US Army Chaplain (LtCol) Mark Thompson wrote an article explaining that the Bible was really just a book of metaphors, containing as much truth as Garrison Keillor’s stories on A Prairie Home Companion. While Thompson was lambasted locally for promoting unChristian views as a purported Christian pastor, his article was otherwise unnoticed.
As a student of the US Army War College in 2011, US Army Chaplain (Col) Barbara Sherer wrote a paper (PDF) that defined “fundamentalist” as
One who believes the Bible is the inerrant authority on faith and life, salvation is achieved only through faith in Jesus the Christ, and he or she has a personal responsibility to share this belief with non-Christians.
Many people would say those are mainstream Christian beliefs. Chaplain Sherer ended her paper by saying [emphasis added]:
I conclude that in some, but not all cases, fundamentalist [Christian] views are incompatible with [military] service.
Though some might argue her paper contradicts the military’s policies on religious freedom (as well as the US Constitution), her paper stands without any substantial public outcry to date (though it has been rebutted, and it even made the pages of Todd Starnes’ God Less America). Chaplain Sherer continues to serve as an Army chaplain, leading other chaplains and serving Soldiers — including, no doubt, many “fundamentalists” she apparently believes shouldn’t be in the Army because of their religious beliefs.
There are many other examples, of course. An Air Force commander — who was homosexual until the repeal of the ban on transgenders — decried the base chaplain as a “bigot” because of his religious views — and no action was taken despite a few complaints. An Army LtCol quizzically said pre-mission prayers by chaplains endangered the lives of US troops, and no one batted an eye. Unitarian Universalist chaplains and their endorsers — who preach tolerance and acceptance — have taken on a very public and almost hostile view to their fellow chaplains who don’t share their “progressive” beliefs — and yet no one is demanding the revocation of their endorsement due to the Unitarian’s intolerance.
Despite the fact many of these cases of expression of “progressive” religious beliefs directly spoke to or affected the military environment, few seemed to mind. By contrast, Mikey Weinstein has been actively working to have the Pentagon sanction a conservative Christian chaplain for the content of sermons he gave at his civilian church, and for nothing more than the content of his beliefs — two things that have no direct connection to the military environment.
The point is that, with respect to religion, “liberal” views can be just as prominent as “conservative” views within the military — perhaps even more so. But it seems the way they are treated is often very different. After all, in some cases, liberal views are “socially acceptable”, while traditional or conservative views are not.
The primary difference is social activists are trying to make the US military believe the public expression and exercise of conservative Christian views are the aberration — and an unacceptable aberration, at that. In truth, Christian views are just as valid as non-Christian views, and in an environment of actual military religious freedom, each is supposed to be equally protected.
Freedom prospers with its exercise, not with its suppression. When someone — or some group — believes the only way they can “win” is to silence those with whom they disagree, then you know they have already lost.
And that is why Mikey Weinstein, among a few others, feels the need to have the US government silence Christians in the military today.
Truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.