The Military Christian’s Response
Updated April 2007. See bottom of page for most recent updates to this story.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) is now representing Mrs. Roberta Stewart, the widow of fallen soldier SGT Patrick Stewart, in her dealings with the Veterans’ Administration (VA). Mrs. Stewart is a Wiccan and desires to have a Wiccan symbol (a “pentacle,” an encircled five pointed star) placed on a VA-funded memorial plaque. (Her efforts have also been reported in the Washington Post.) To be clear, Mrs. Stewart is not seeking a headstone to place on an unmarked grave, as she has scattered her husband’s ashes elsewhere. The plaque she seeks would be placed on a “Wall of Heroes” memorial at a veterans’ cemetery near Fernley, Nevada. When notified that her pentacle was not authorized, the VA offered to produce a plaque with no emblem, but Mrs. Stewart declined. The request for a pentacle was made in January of this year. In June, the AU corresponded with the Veterans’ Administration on her behalf and demanded a response within 30 days to “avoid litigation.” Read more
Daily spiritual struggles, constant challenges to a Christian’s faith, the potential for persecution: with so many negatives, why would any Christian even want to be a fighter pilot?
Many of the articles on this website deal with the pessimistic aspects of trying to be an authentic Christian in a sometimes immoral fighter pilot world. This was primarily a somewhat zealous attempt to “set straight” any “starry-eyed” would-be fighter pilots, and it failed to consider those who honestly know very little (good or bad) about the fighter pilot world. A dearth of positive articles may lead some to believe that there isn’t any good in being a fighter pilot and that there’s no respectable reason for a Christian to be a fighter pilot. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There are awesome and positive things about being a fighter pilot, and the fighter pilot world even has aspects that make it desirable as a Christian career. Read more
As noted in an Air Force article, on June 23 Rabbi Resnicoff finished his year of service as special assistant to the Air Force secretary and chief of staff for values and vision. In a Washington Jewish Week article, Resnicoff noted that “for some Christians sharing one’s faith with others is an essential part of their religion” and “the guidelines do not prohibit such free exercise.” Notably, Mikey Weinstein is quoted as calling Resnicoff an “unmitigated disaster.”
In my last year at the Air Force Academy I developed the same question that I’m sure every Christian in their last year of college does: what is God’s will for my life? While we would all be commissioned in the military, the variety of options available to us meant a plethora of possible career—and thus life—opportunities. Lt Col Stokka, the Officer’s Christian Fellowship staff member at the Academy, taught a lesson to the first class cadets (seniors) that I’m sure he did every year. In it he basically taught that we shouldn’t only seek God’s will when we have a significant decision to make. Rather, we should strive to live as God would have us live everyday. This is rooted in Romans 12:2,
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing, and perfect will.
If a Christian reads the Bible, stays in prayer, and seeks God’s will everyday, then the decisions that he makes should be consistent with the will of God. Rather than depending on emotions and feelings—what he feels God’s will is—he should make his decisions based on the word of God.
Lt Col Stokka assuaged some of our fears about our future assignments by relating some of his personal history. As an Air Force officer he faced reassignment every 2 to 4 years. Read more
…The first phase of pilot training was purely academics, learning the elementary concepts of flight and navigation. The next phase was basic flight in the T-37, a twin engine jet trainer with the pilot and student sitting side-by-side. The 1950s era plane had an agonizing engine sound that earned it the nickname “Tweet.” It was in this aircraft that we were taught the fundamentals of takeoff, landing, and instrument flight. The first flight in pilot training is traditionally called a “dollar ride,” a term which is sometimes applied to the first flight in any flying training program in a new aircraft. The student is so clueless and the instructor pilot (IP) has to demonstrate (and thus fly) so much that the student is essentially a passenger. Traditionally, the student gives the IP of his first sortie a dollar bill as a “tip” for the ride. The dollars are often decorated with magazine clippings (some more risqué than others), phrases, or other details that might characterize the flight, the student, or the IP. Many UPT instructors’ desks are littered with laminated, vandalized dollar bills. The journey from the “dollar ride” to the first solo is amazingly short. Read more
Given the nature and danger of the fighter pilot profession, comradery is strong. Fighter pilot traditions are a means of sharing in that comradery. Given the relative youth of the pilot profession—the Wrights first flew in 1903—the traditions of the Air Force are almost farcical compared to those of the centuries-old Army, Marines, and Navy. While some fighter pilot traditions pass on the history of flying and fighting, many are rooted more in fraternity than reality and simply revel in the exclusivity of the fighter pilot culture. Some fighter pilot traditions are so outrageous and immature that they have taken on the air of reindeer games—they are nothing more than something “special” that one has to be a fighter pilot to understand. Read more
In addition to his demanding daily commitments, a fighter pilot will inevitably be called upon to deploy—meaning he will travel to another destination to accomplish even more responsibilities. These deployments vary in nature and include short-term temporary duties to attend a training class, indefinite commitments to conduct combat operations, and assignment to remote tours that are a year or more long. Each situation presents unique challenges to a fighter pilot’s Christian walk, finances, family, and more. Read more
In 1996, an Air Force chaplain urged his congregation to participate in the “Project Life Postcard Campaign,” an attempt by the Catholic Church to persuade Congress to overturn President Clinton’s veto of the partial-birth abortion ban. Military leadership believed that such actions constituted “political lobbying,” so chaplains were prohibited from encouraging their congregations to participate. With the assistance of the Becket Fund, the chaplain sued and won in District Court in April of 1997. [Becket Fund report]
In 1999, an Air Force lieutenant trained as a missileer asked that he not be placed on alert with an officer of the opposite gender. (This would require him to be in the cramped quarters of a missile control center for days at a time with only the company of the other officer.) Because he felt that the potential for temptation would affect his commitment to his wife, he sought relief under Department of Defense regulations requiring religious accommodation. Several commanders accommodated him; eventually, one revoked the accommodation and gave him an “unprofessional” rating on his OPR. Fearing the OPR would unjustly hinder his career, the lieutenant appealed to a records correction board to have the OPR amended; they partially edited the “unsubstantiated” statements on the OPR. Eventually, the lieutenant sued the Air Force with the assistance of the Becket Fund. A year later (2003), the Air Force settled and removed the OPR and all references to it from his records. [Becket Fund report]
In late 2005 Navy Lieutenant (Chaplain) Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a 1991 USAFA graduate, went on a hunger strike near the White House to protest an effort to have him removed from the military for insisting on praying “in Jesus’ Name.” He said he would maintain his hunger strike until the President signed an executive order codifying the chaplain’s right to pray in accordance with his beliefs. After 16 days, the chaplain ended his strike when his commander wrote a letter stating he was permitted to pray in Jesus’ Name while in uniform. [Klingenschmitt personal website]
Today, two Air Force officers–a chaplain and an F-16 fighter pilot–have joined the defense of an ongoing lawsuit that has pitted the Air Force against Michael Weinstein, a 1977 US Air Force Academy graduate who claimed that his son had experienced the fruits of proselytizing evangelical Christian cadets and officers. According to the Alliance Defense Fund, the two joined the Air Force defense because if Weinstein prevailed, “their ability to share their faith and to candidly discuss religion…would be in jeopardy.” The fighter pilot stated that he felt he had the “right to discuss my faith without censorship or fear of retribution.” [ADF Report]
In the face of public scrutiny of religion in its ranks, it appears the military is slowly distancing itself from religion. The initial Air Force religious guidelines told officers they could not use public expressions of faith, advocate a particular belief system, use “well-intentioned” expressions of belief, or have religious content in their emails. While the first revision of those guidelines softened those stances, the potential that the Air Force could one day become anti-Christian now seems possible. Christian officers must not only assess their actions in the light of regulations but also consider the court of public opinion. An otherwise permissible action could still conceivably result in a detrimental news headline, official complaint, or Congressional investigation; even if a Christian was “acquitted” after a complaint, would the cost—to his professional career or personal witness—be worth it? If even chaplains are investigated for religious offense, what is a Christian fighter pilot to do if he desires to have an active witness for Christ? Read more