Retired Chaplain Norris Burkes Wrong on Gen Costin, Religious Freedom
Retired US Air Force Chaplain Norris Burkes first came to the attention of this site in 2009, when the syndicated chaplain wrote a column about the burning of Afghan-language Bibles by American troops in Afghanistan (a controversy discussed here). In essence, Burkes approved, and noted:
The possession of such religious material violates something the military calls General Order No. 1.
Though he was dismissive of most input, he did finally concede that he was wrong — General Order Number One says no such thing.
Despite the admission, Burkes declined to change the article, and it can still be found on his website, with the unchanged statement that even Burkes admitted was wrong.
Chaplain Burkes recently popped up again, and for some reason he decided to talk about the months-old news of Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s attempts to have the Air Force Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain (MajGen) Dondi Costin, punished for a prayer (as previously discussed). Burkes makes a few key points, first in reference to Weinstein’s “charity”:
Truthfully, the MRFF is a bit left for my taste, but you have to respect their six nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2014 the Air Force Times finally managed to get Weinstein to confess (after repeated “inquiries”) that the MRFF nominated itself for the Nobel Peace Prize [emphasis added]:
After several inquiries from Air Force Times, Weinstein said MRFF was nominated by Bobby Muller, the co-founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. Muller is also a member of MRFF’s advisory board…
How is that “respectable”? In fairness, Burkes probably didn’t check the facts. (As if to prove the point, 2014 was the last year the MRFF was (publicly) nominated for the Peace Prize.)
In addressing the actual complaint against Chaplain Costin, Burkes said [emphasis added]
Weinstein and MRFF complained because CARL [sic, CALL] is a political lobbying group and military regulations prevent all military personnel from wearing their uniform to a political event…
Weinstein makes a legitimate point that chaplains cannot add their uniformed blessing to any sort of political gathering.
Once again, it seems Burkes failed to check the facts. The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty is not a lobbying group; it’s a non-profit cooperation of chaplain endorsers, not unlike several other conglomerations of endorsers. The Air Force even said one of Chaplain Costin’s official duties was to interact with these endorsers.
Burkes’ apparent failure to check the facts before he published his column makes his own conclusion terribly ironic:
The ease of pressing a computer key encourages us to forward the lies without checking the facts.
Might want to take your own advice there, Norris.
Regrettably, there is little doubt that despite his hedging, Burkes falls on the MRFF side of the aisle. In a second version of the same article, Burkes lead off the article by intentionally trying to capitalize on Weinstein’s notoriety:
[Mikey Weinstein] wants you to pray that people will stop shooting at his house, stop leaving decapitated animals on his lawn, and stop threatening him and his family.
Once again, Burkes didn’t check the facts. While written in the future perfect progressive, Burkes is actually describing historical events. There are no shootings or leaving of animals to stop; those are old stories (and Weinstein has been telling those same stories for years). As to threats and hate mail, they’re hardly unique. Everyone with an online presence receives them, and Weinstein’s group has been known to put out a bit of their own, not that they are ever justified.
The “revised” version of the article took a harder line, calling the ACLJ — one of Weinstein’s more vocal opponents — a “group of haters.” Oddly, the former chaplain called the ACLJ out for its opposition to Mikey Weinstein’s contention that the government should be allowed to dictate the content of chaplains’ prayers. To this Burkes said [emphasis added]
Take it from this retired Air Force chaplain. Military chaplains aren’t restricted as to how they pray unless they are praying in mandatory formations of military folks. In those cases, chaplains must keep their prayers generic.
Once again, Burkes failed to check the facts. To that point, a few years ago the US Navy did have a written policy in line with what Burkes suggests — and the Navy had to remove that policy under pressure from Congress. It’s not constitutional.
It’s one thing to simply not know something, but as Burkes himself said, there’s a serious problem when you don’t know and you still “forward the lies without checking the facts” — which is exactly what Norris Burkes is doing.
Even worse, he’s explicitly doing it from the position of “this retired Air Force chaplain” (otherwise known as an “appeal to authority”). If these are examples of how he conducted himself while a chaplain, it is disturbing to think what US Air Force Chaplain Burkes may have done — or not done — to meet the religious needs of his Airmen over the years.
Norris Burkes has degrees in religion and journalism — and the latter may explain his propensity to try to be a newsmaker. He clearly picked a few keyword phrases that would attract attention. Connecting “Mikey Weinstein” with ‘lies for Jesus’ hit the right buttons for a certain market segment, and, in full disclosure, the recently-retired Burkes is currently trying to market a book.
(That said, if Chris Rodda could afford a lawyer, she’d probably take Burkes on for profiting off the connection of ‘lies’ and ‘Jesus’, given her own “liars for Jesus” line of products. While Weinstein could have his lawyer fire off a letter on her behalf, he certainly won’t in this case — he’s enjoying the positive press and free publicity from an Air Force chaplain.)
Nearly 10 years ago Chaplain Norris Burkes stood up and made factual errors in basic content on the topic of religion and the US military. He eventually admitted his error, but he never corrected it. Here, he’s simply repeated the first part of that pattern: He has basic facts wrong, and, to this point, he’s deflected any responsibility for those statements. It’s unlikely he’ll do more.
For his part, Mikey Weinstein is basking in the attention. Weinstein already makes a point of announcing every time his name shows up on the internet (except when it shows up here, of course), so he’s published multiple links to Burkes’ article in various places — apparently unaware of what a ‘syndicated column’ is.
If Burkes wants to use his history as an Air Force chaplain to advocate for Mikey Weinstein, fine. But he shouldn’t bother pretending to be neutral toward Weinstein’s cause at the same time. If he wants to use a pastoral voice to chide those who fail to check their facts, fine — but he should be prepared when the lack of humility highlights his own inability to follow his own advice.
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:5