The last Military Religion Question of the Day asked if a military Chaplain’s article about God’s provision was correctly characterized by a critic:
The…Chaplain writes about why women were created (as an afterthought to keep men from being lonely), marriage as a Christian institution, and segues to a blatant Jesus salvation pitch.
The critic did not directly accuse the Chaplain of wrongdoing. Instead, he appears to be holding the Chaplain’s beliefs up for ridicule. Is the mockery justified?
The critic’s interpretation of the Chaplain’s description of “why women were created” is fairly mistaken, making it hardly worth the effort to rebut. In short, all three Abrahamic religions refer to the same religious text statement about “The reason God gives for creating woman…” In a manner of speaking, then, he is denigrating not only Christianity, but also Islam and Judaism.
The critic also misrepresents the Chaplain’s statement on marriage. The Chaplain said it was a divine institution, not a Christian one:
Marriage was given to us by God as one way to meet these needs.
Finally: the critic says the Chaplain “segues to a blatant Jesus salvation pitch.” Did he?
In short, yes. Chaplain Etheridge’s “pitch” is about as close as you can come to saying “come to Jesus” without actually doing it.
But…what of it?
Chaplain Etheridge is a Christian Chaplain, so it is not unforeseeable he believes what he wrote, nor is it unreasonable to conclude he has made similar statements before. Why, then, is his statement of those beliefs held up for ridicule?
Again, the critic doesn’t actually say the Chaplain did anything wrong, and it would be foolish to begin rebutting hypotheticals. Suffice it to say Chaplains are–shockingly enough–both allowed and expected to espouse the views of their religion, whatever it may be. There may be times when an “inclusive” perspective is appropriate, but there is no policy, regulation, or guidance saying public statements by Chaplains are one of those times.
How does this Military Religion Question compare to the nearly simultaneous criticism of Chaplain Hornok? In discussing the accusation against Chaplain Hornok, the analysis rebutted the critic’s accusation Chaplain Hornok had “proselytized.” In that regard, it ignored the question of whether or not Chaplain Hornok was allowed to “proselytize” or otherwise make more explicit statements or invitations about his faith.
Without question, Chaplain Etheridge more explicitly espoused the core tenets of his faith than did Chaplain Hornok. But the critic doesn’t say there was anything wrong with that, nor do the publicly available facts support any such accusations.
The Situation Exposed
Like the previous example, this criticism also came from Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation…but not that Weinstein. This Facebook post was attributed to Casey Weinstein, son of MRFF creator Michael Weinstein. (The MRFF appears to be a family affair, with Casey’s wife Amanda also writing on behalf of the MRFF, Michael Weinstein’s wife Bonnie fulfilling the role of “Development Director,” and Weinstein’s college student daughter Amber listed as an “admin” for the MRFF Facebook page. Only one Weinstein remains publicly unaffiliated with the MRFF’s efforts.)
Just as with public commentaries by Commanders and Chiefs, Chaplains–who work for the Commander–may write articles from and about their personal views and perspectives. Public articles by military Chaplains can address the specific tenets of their faith, as one Chaplain did when he attempted to address the Christian quandary over “celebrating” Halloween or as another did when he tried to explain the reconciliation between Christianity and military service. They can also present explanations of religious events, and there is no requirement they contain qualifiers or caveats to prevent offense to those who may not agree with the faith system or holiday–whether Christian, Jewish (pdf), or Islamic (pdf).
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation prides itself on highlighting instances in which religion (ie, Christianity) “pervades” military publications. (In fact, researcher Chris Rodda recently wrote a short blog composed almost entirely of Christian quotes also from The Quantico Times, as was the quote in this situation; again, she never actually said anything was wrong with those statements.) The MRFF has taken to finding and highlighting the “Chaplain’s Corner” sections of base/post papers (at least, those written by Christians)–of which there are probably thousands published and freely available–in order to “prove” Christians are attempting to surreptitiously convert the US military into some kind of religious warfare machine. That’s not at all the right way to view these articles on faith.
Instead of denigrating someone’s faith, a true religious freedom organization would laud the grand American liberties permitting a military officer to espouse his religious views, whether they be Christian, Jewish, Islamic, or something else. Demanding courts martial or implying Constitutional violations by Chaplains has a chilling effect on religious freedom, it does not support it. Freedom is not protected by the restriction of opposing ideas, but by the encouragement of them. As Thomas Jefferson said:
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… (Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom)
Weinstein (that is, the elder) has explicitly stated his opposition to (or “war with”) a distinct religious faith group. Rather than opposing them with ideology, he has attempted to enlist the power of the state to restrict the actions of specific faith adherents. In these latest examples, he–and his son–have complained about Christian Chaplains espousing their religious views, despite the fact the Constitution protects the Chaplains’ religious freedom and no military or government necessity restricts them–and despite the fact Chaplains of other religions also publicly speak out on their faiths.
A true religious freedom organization would defend the adherents of a faith practicing and expressing their beliefs. But then, Michael Weinstein’s “religious freedom foundation” is anything but.
(As the MRFF’s highlights of these “Chaplain’s Corners” vary little from its standard disdain for the public expression of the Christian faith, future MRFF criticisms of such publications will not be discussed, absent unique circumstances.)