US Troops Walk Out on Chaplain’s Sermon

The following account is provided anonymously, and certain details have been intentionally obscured to protect the identities of those involved.

I walked out of a church service last Sunday.

It wasn’t because I had a crying child or a vibrating cellphone. It was because when the singing stopped, the pastor who stood up in front of the congregation to deliver the sermon represented religious beliefs I disagreed with.

Now why, you might ask, was I even at a church whose pastor didn’t hold the same beliefs as me?

Easy: I’m in the US military.

Unfortunately, we don’t always have the luxury of “choosing” our church. Other times, we might choose the chapel on the post, yet watch as the pastor — the chaplain — changes from one year (or even one Sunday) to the next. And every service member will go through the process of moving, which means a new “job,” a new home, and a new church — every couple of years.

The way some people seem to tell the story, the military is being run (or overrun) by conservative, evangelical Christians. While I didn’t necessarily believe that, I did think that America generally has conservative “Christian” beliefs, so I figured most Christian chaplains would probably hold beliefs in the same general area, if not the same denomination, as mine.

Boy, was I surprised.

Everybody knows a Muslim chaplain is an Imam, and their beliefs are reasonably rigid. Catholic chaplains — who are Catholic priests — also have pretty set doctrine. I guess the Buddhist chaplain probably doesn’t, but then if you’re a Buddhist you don’t either, so that probably goes well together. In other words, if you hold one of those beliefs, you can reasonably expect your chaplain will, too.

The same can’t be said of the “Protestant” chaplain, who is essentially any chaplain who is religious but “none of the above” (Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, or Buddhist). Unlike those other faiths, there is no such thing as a set, unified “protestant” religion or denominational doctrine. “Protestant” chaplains can hail from denominations from one end of the spectrum to the other — from ultra-conservative to uber-liberal.

And that’s not conservative or liberal style, but conservative or liberal beliefs.

What that means is you can find chaplains in the military wearing a cross on their uniform who do not believe “sin” is “sin,” or who don’t believe the Bible is actually true, or who think women and men are universally interchangeable — both physically and spiritually.

You won’t find a Muslim chaplain who doesn’t believe that Muhammad is the Prophet. You won’t find a Priest who disowns the role of the Pope. But you absolutely will find chaplains in the military wearing a cross on their uniform who do not believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

And that’s what happened to me last Sunday.

The awkward part is that there’s sometimes no way to even know there’s a problem until the chaplain comes to the front of the chapel — and even then, sometimes not until they start to preach. In my case, I’d been enjoying and benefitting from the sermons of seemingly Godly men for some weeks, until last Sunday when, unannounced, a different chaplain took the podium.

And when she did, I made the tortured decision to leave.

I’m not totally against hearing “different” or even wrong theology. On some occasions, I might actually like to be involved in a “religious gathering” of people whose beliefs were different than mine. If someone invited me, a “protestant,” to the Catholic service, I would have little problem going — but I’d know what I was doing when I went.

When I go to church on an average Sunday, though, the reason I’m going is to fellowship with like-minded believers. When I attend, I realize I may place myself under the teaching of a spiritual leader. It’s not too fun to be “ambushed” by a “spiritual leader” who is neither spiritual nor a leader. It’s not right to attend a Christian service that is “led” by a chaplain who clearly isn’t living out Christian beliefs — the cross on her uniform notwithstanding.

I ran into one of the other chaplains later, and they grimaced a bit when I talked to them about it. It turns out I wasn’t the only one unhappy about the “surprise” visiting preacher, and I wasn’t the only one who left — though the former number did not equal the latter.

It seems the popular thing to do is accuse the military of discriminating against anyone who isn’t a Christian, including claiming the military has chaplains who are too “evangelical.” Those accusations forget that there are also some very non-evangelical chaplains, and they, too, can stand in front of US troops and spread their beliefs — even to a congregation that does not share them.

I don’t begrudge those chaplains their ability to practice their beliefs — nor the (few) religious Soldiers who share them. I do wish they would let people know what their beliefs were and when they were going to preach, which would avoid the awkward moment when significant numbers of the congregation look around almost shocked and walk out.

I appreciate the ability to practice my faith on Sunday morning. I also know the military cannot always have a chaplain that shares my beliefs — even if they wear a cross. My only wish is that others would show me the same due respect.

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19 comments

  • The author of this article belabors a simple point: since chapel attendance is voluntary, I don’t have to attend if I don’t want to. Nothing unusual about that.

    But to devote almost 900 words to this without giving us any substantial information is to waste the time of his readers. By the picture, we are left to assume that this offensive sermon occurred in the Protestant section of the AF Academy chapel.

    But, what was said that caused the author to take offense? The title says “troops,” so how many walked out? The chaplain was a female, so I guess we can assume that she is from a liberal denomination. Did her sermon have anything to do with the new lesbian commandant at the Academy? Or was the sermon heretical in regard to the Bible or some standard Christian doctrine? No information upon which to base a sound evaluation was provided.

    These and many other questions came to mind as I read the article, but by the time I reached the end the only conclusion the author seemed to reach was that he wished visiting preachers would provide a pre-sermon synopsis of the message so he could decide whether or not to attend.

    As a very conservative Christian, an Academy graduate, and a former instructor there, I would probably be in agreement with the author’s foundational complaints, but I have no way of knowing. And, by the way, to hide name and identities seems a bit too timid for my taste, especially in this day and age when fighter pilot boldness is required more than ever!

    Paul openly declared that he was not ashamed of the gospel (Rom 1:16) or to let everyone know where he stood, even in the face of death threats. Why the timidity in this case? Again, we have no way of knowing. What could have been a good article is mostly just a blustery puff piece.

    • @Michael Martin,
      You seem to be frustrated by what you wish this was rather than what it is. It does not appear he(?) was trying to talk about the theological issues, or how many left, or even sermon content. The two takeaways appear to be (1) there are “non-Christian chaplains wearing crosses and preaching at Protestant services” and (2) there are more than just “evangelical Christian chaplains” in the military (despite claims to the contrary). Those two points may have been obvious to you, but it seems they weren’t to him. Perhaps they aren’t to others, and his story will be informative to them.

      This story wasn’t about “standing up for the Gospel.” Could it have been? That’s an interesting question.

  • I have heard that many military commanders who are Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals try to impose their faith traditions on their troops against their wills and degrade and harrass men/women who refuse to convert. If I were a base commander and any of my officers or noncommissioned officers were engaging in such practices—with or without my knowledge—and I found out about it—it would come to a screeching halt—and if it did not—and I would use every possible legal tool available in the Uniform Code of Military Justice to stop it and severely punish my officers who were doing it. The United States of America is a free country and religious freedom is the law of the land. Each member of the American military should have the right to freely choose their own religion (or no religion) and faithfully practice that religion or (nonreligion), within reason and common sense, without interference from officers, noncomissioned officers, and other enlisted men and women. Nobody’s religion or nonreligion) would be given any special preferences or privileges not enjoyed by the other religions or nonreligions.

    And NO.

    I have never been a member of the military.
    I have never been in combat
    I do not care what you think about any of that.

    Please feel free to visit me at my Christian faith blog anytime you like at the following safe link:

    https://faith17983.wordpress.com/

    • @Charles

      I have heard that many military commanders…

      You’ve heard incorrectly.

      Fortunately you took the time to research what you heard and learned the rumors and accusations were false, because you wouldn’t want to be taken in by “fake news,” right?

    • Michael Martin

      Charles, I took you up on your invitation to visit your blog and found the following statements regarding your blog policy:

      “No comments are allowed in response to the primary posts on this blog…Most Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical blogs do not allow or tolerate any reader dissent, disagreement, or arguments in response to the content of their primary blog posts…You fundies and conservative evangelicals out there on the American landscape have set the trend for gross intolerance of differing opinions on your own blogs. Because you do it unto others…you have no voice here, and you never will have a voice on this blog.”

      In fact, Charles, I found no way for anyone, not just “fundies”, to offer a comment on your blog site. But, fortunately, and contrary to your misrepresentation of conservative blogs, I can comment here.

      I’ll say that you definitely follow through on your stated intent. The primary content of your blog site is a “grossly intolerant,” mass of hateful and insulting rants against conservative Christians—even worse than what you do here. It continues ad nauseam, and no one is allowed to disagree or offer facts to the contrary.

      “Please feel free to visit…”, you say. Wow! Why on earth would I want to do that again? Once was more than enough.

    • Anonymous Imperial Patriot

      People like you are just wannabe schutzstaffels.

  • Whoever wrote this article, here is some information that will help you to avoid being deceived by wolves in military clothing (Matt. 7:15):

    1. You need to be aware that most of the military chaplains serving are apostate. Just because they wear a cross, does not mean they are born again believers. Here are some instructions on how to know who serves Christ, or their true master (Jn 8:44): http://christianfighterpilot.com/2016/09/22/bible-believing-military-chaplains-wanted/

    2. Sadly, there are fake Christian that endorse military chaplains also, so it is important that you know who they are also. Consider David Plummer, who operates under the guise of Christianity, yet he writes for a gay affirming advocacy group. See article here: http://christianfighterpilot.com/2016/08/30/bible-believing-military-chaplains-avoid-the-wrong-endorsing-agency/#more-35993

    3. Find a good church home. The chapel is not the church. Devote yourself to a local Bible-believing congregation, and fellowship with the saints (Acts 2:42-47), and stay away from those man-pleasing, pluralistic, watered-down, gospel-less messages at the AFA chapel.

    • @SH
      Not sure how broad your experience has been, but you’re painting all chapels and most chaplains with a pretty wide brush.

      There are some outstanding pastors in uniform as chaplains, and they preach and lead as servants of Christ. There are also congregations within the four walls of a military chapel that might have made Paul proud.

      Because of the nature of the military there may be a great deal of potential pitfalls with the chaplaincy and chapels, but it is not right to indict them all. Besides, “civilian” churches have their own issues, too. Perhaps it would be better to advocate discernment — wherever one finds themselves.

  • Awesome reply to SH there JD, nice to see some objectivity here. I know one thing for sure, our Squadron (assigned) chaplain is a hell fire born again whipper-snapper. He also tells anyone that will listen that being LGBT is immoral. He also will take it like a champ when a LGBT fires right back that he is entitled to his opinion and as far the Military is concerned they are FREE to serve no matter that opinion. No one goes running to a Commander or IG either, we all get along regardless of these differing opinions.

    I can’t say I got much from the article either, but I think what JD said to Michael Martin make perfect sense. I’m a bit puzzled there are non-religious preachers at a chapel tho, isn’t that a contradiction?

    • It’s not a contradiction. The owner of this blog is an extreme fundamentalist like the ones that attend the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) churches. Basically, they believe that every other Christian pastor and church member in the world that is not a member of their exclusive minority club is going to Hell—without any doubt whatsoever. This includes the pastors and members of all the mainline American churches (United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church USA, Northern Baptist Churches, United Church of Christ, etc.). It also includes the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church, and many of the other 44,000 denominations of Christian churches here at home and around the world. In other words, Jesus is only going to save Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals LIKE HIM. These people are so extreme in their beliefs that they believe the word “Christian” is confined only to the members of their exclusive little fundie club, and they use the word “Christian” as a code word to deceive outsiders. When he uses the word “apostate” to refer to military chaplains, he is talking about chaplains like the United Methodist Church chaplain who attended the School of Divinity at Duke University—one of the best and most renowned Christian seminaries in the world. He is telling you that a chaplain with little serious Biblical or theological education who served at rural Possum Holler Baptist Church knows more about Christianity and the Bible than the nonfundie mainline church chaplains who attended the best Christian seminaries in the world. If you believe the slop he is dipping out to you on this blog, I have some expensive swamp land in the Sahara Desert I would like to sell you. Cheap of course.

  • Anonymous Imperial Patriot

    You see, this is what I was talking about, JD.

    You let hate-mongers like Charles post comments, yet refused to publish my comments that contained profanity, or told other hate-mongers to pound sand.

  • William Robinson

    Charles,
    Based on your most recent remarks, you’ve outed yourself as one of the most bigoted respondents ever to have commented on this site. Your gross generalizations and elitist stereotypes illustrate with full force the bankruptcy of your position, namely, that true freedom should be granted only to those who believe just like you and have attended schools of which you approve (which, not coincidentally, echo your belief system). Shameful, really.

  • Anonymous Imperial Patriot and William Robinson.

    With all due respect gentlemen, after studying Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism for the past 25+ years, it is clear to me that the real hate mongering first began when Christian fundamentalism was founded as a peculiarly American religion in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries as a result of new German academic approaches to Holy Land history and Christian theology and in response to scientific advances that ran contrary to a literalist reading of the Holy Bible. The fundamentalist choice was not just to disagree with other Christians, but rather, to start a militant public campaign of hatred against other Christians and against nonChristians that at first lasted until about 1970. The hatred increased in the early 1970s, Paul Weyrich (one of the founders of The Heritage Foundation) led a Republican political movement to hijack American Christian fundamentalism and conservatism evangelicalism into exclusively serving the needs of the Republican Party. This happened at precisely the time in American history when millions of Southern racists, filled with hatred for African-American citizens, left the Democratic Party in protest of its positive stance on black civil rights to become Republicans. Pretty soon, the historic militant hatred of Christian fundamentalism was combined with the hatred for African-American people (and other racial and ethnic groups), and further fused with all the petty hatreds that are historically common to American politics. As a result of their fusion with politics and race hatred (among other things), American Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism have become synonymous with hate mongering in the minds of many Americans since 1970. That hate mongering is evident in many facets of American life today, most recently expressed in the Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical hatred of LGBTQ Americans, where national campaigns to discriminate against and persecute LGBTQ Americans are already underway—and it is not at all unusual to see Christian fundamentalist preachers in pulpits calling for the public execution of gay Americans because they violate the Old Testament law—which the Apostle Paul plainly and literally states in the Book of Galatians and at other locations in the New Testament has passed away for Christians.

    Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism have clearly become centers of hate-mongering in American life. That was not true 125 years ago in this country, but it is today, and many Americans recognize it, broadcast about it, and write about it in numerous American newspapers, magazines, journals, and books—as well as on numerous Christian Internet web sites. The hatred has become all-pervasive.

    The hatred I see on this blog is hatred for any Christian military chaplain who is not a Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical. It is not just a simple religious disagreement with nonfundie pastors. Nonfundie pastors are demonized here as apostates, false teachers, enemies of God, pastors who are going to Hell themselves and leading people to Hell. One would think that the matter is already decided on this blog and God himself has no choice or decision in the matter. The truth of the matter is that honest and sincere Christians, seeking to worship God and follow him in Spirit and Truth, all over the world, have had religious disagreements with each other for 2,000 years. That is why 44,000 different Christian denominations exist all over the world today. The problem comes when these simple religious disagreements cease being simple disagreements and boil over into real militancy, hatred, and hate mongering, and it all follows a pattern in the fundamentalist corners of the major world religions, and Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism are not exempt from it. This pattern is HOW Islamic fundamentalism went violent and crossed the line into hatred and terrorism. Watch and listen closely. This is how it starts, and American Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism are already walking down this path—-not to the end of it yet praise the Lord—but still walking the path:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6f0ZHaoSnf0

    You can accuse me of being a hate monger if you like. However, I would like to reiterate again that American history plainly shows that the hatred first began on the Christian fundamentalist side long, long ago and snowballed over the years. Today we have a situation where any red-blooded, loyal American who criticizes this long pattern of Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical hatred is accused of being the real hater—as you have done to me here. Today it is very much like the situation where a thief commits an armed robbery at a convenience store and kills the lady at the cash register. The police get there in time, tackle the bandit, and shoot him in the shoulder. Never mind that the lady at the cash register is dead. The thief accuses the police of being the real criminals for attacking him and shooting him. So, some of you can accuse me of being a hate monger if you like, just like the thief, but all I am doing here and on my blog is being the policeman who is “calling out” the long historical pattern of hatred and hate mongering that has been associated with American Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. Both religious traditions have worn out their welcome in the eyes of the American public—not because the American public hated Jesus first—but because of the hateful public behavior of so very many Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals in recent times.

    Please feel free to read the following article on my blog about why a famous African-American pastor and scholar just left the Southern Baptist Convention a few days ago and be sure and read the article in “The New York Times” where he first publicly announced his reasons for leaving:

    https://faith17983.wordpress.com/2017/07/19/black-lives-matter-and-the-southern-baptist-convention/

    Have a good day folks. It promises to be a hot and humid one Down South where I live.

    • @Charles
      As the Boy Wonder once said, holy wall of text, Batman.

      You appear to have emplaced yourself as sole arbiter of righteousness, claiming, for example, that you are empowered to “call out” while others who do so are “haters”. It is unlikely anything anyone says here will convince you to come down off you self-designed pedestal, so its probably not worth continuing this conversation. To one point, however:

      The hatred I see on this blog…

      You seem very focused on “hate.” Where do you see hatred here? You mentioned people called “false teachers,” but why do you consider that to be hate? Did not the apostles “call out” (to use your words) false teachers, and command others to do likewise? Did Jesus “hate” when he called out the Pharisees? You seem to have equated “hate” with anything you dislike. Even Truth has become hate to you.

      Here’s something to remember: If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. You’ve created your own definition of “hate” and you wield it like a mace against all who espouse something you dislike — and then claim others are the threat. That’s kind of sad.

      It seems you may have become the picture of that which you claim to oppose.

    • Anonymous Imperial Patriot

      You are a hate-monger. Christian fundamentalism is a beautiful and peaceful form of Christianity that rose as a response to an increasing lack of church attendance, plus a spectacular event in 1833 that awakened a beautiful realization of the wonder of God. Hate-mongers like you, however, judge an entire orchard by one bad bushel; cherry-picking each event until you satisfy your confirmation bias while selectively ignoring things that contradict you.

    • Michael Martin

      “The hatred I see on this blog…”

      Charles, I think you see what you want to see, and I believe it’s mostly a reflection of yourself.

  • Thank you for all the thoughts and opinions guys. I really appreciated the honest interaction on both sides. It has been my experience that:

    1) Talking to Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals is like talking to a tree stump because they come into every discussion with an adversary with a predetermined decision that they will not be moved in anything they believe—no matter what the other person has to say.

    2) Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals are highly talented at blinding themselves ( what the Bible refers to as spiritual blindness) to the true nature of their own sins, behaviors, and follies.

    I have seen a lot of both No.1 and No. 2 in our discussion here. Therefore, gentlemen, I think we shall have to agree to disagree–and I hope part amicably.

    I would like to thank the owner of this blog for his service as a fighter pilot. Most Americans love you and respect you for the work you have done in keeping us all safe and free–and that includes me and my family. Many thanks to any of you other folks here who have served in the military.

    Back in the 1980s and 1990s, I worked as a subcontractor for the National Guard Bureau at Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs, Maryland. I enjoyed the work and had both the privilege and pleasure of visiting many Air National Guard bases and stations all over the eastern United States and out in Oklahoma City. I have always loved military aircraft. My interest was first sparked at age eight when my dad brought home a plastic model airplane kit as a gift. It was the old SAC XB-70 bomber—white paint and all. I loved that airplane. You will recall that they built only two of those for experimental purposes, and it never went into service, but it was one pretty, sleek, fast airplane.

    I had an interesting experience at the Air National Guard base in Montgomery, Alabama. We had just finished doing a full morning of office work and had to cross the tarmac on foot to get to a meeting in another building. About 100 feet away, a bunch of guys were getting ready to test out the engine in an F-16 that had just had some mechanical work done on it. Apparently, they wanted to see how far they could rev the engine with the F-16 in a stationary position. They did not see us walking across the tarmac and started slowly throttling up the engine. As we were crossing, the sound got so loud that it was reaching the famous “pain threshold.” I have never experienced anything quite like that sound-wise. That hydrazine fuel blend has a really impressive punch to it!!! My favorite fighter plane was the U.S. Navy’s old F-14—and no—my interest in the plane happened years before that movie came out. I liked the variable wing geometry, but I also know that it and the F-15 were criticized for being “too large” at one time. Oddly, the Soviets criticized it for being too large too—something I could never understand because their own contemporary fighters were about as large and some of them were made out of sheet metal steel rather than aluminum, which is why some Soviet fighters in that era had to have much more powerful engines than American fighters—to lug all that extra weight.

    Well, good-bye gentleman. I wish you the best. May God richly bless you all.

    • Good bye Charles.

      On your blog site you said to conservatives, “No comments are allowed…you have no voice here, and you never will have a voice on this blog.”

      You might want to consider changing that policy and grant to conservatives the same courtesy that was extended to your here. You know, “Do unto others….” That might improve your own sight as per your #2 above. Just a thought.

      Sincerely, may God bless you too.

  • William Robinson

    Charles,
    If you’re honest with yourself, numbers 1 and 2 above apply strongly to you. That you can’t or won’t see that is the problem in this or any discussion you may have.

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