Thursday, March 30, 2006

Washington Post: Chaplains Group Opposes Prayer Order


Chaplains Group Opposes Prayer Order

Guarantee on Using Jesus's Name Not Needed, It Says

By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 30, 2006; A04

An association that represents more than 70 percent of the chaplains in the U.S. military, including many evangelical Christians, is opposing a demand by conservatives in Congress for a presidential order guaranteeing the right of chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus.

The rising calls for an executive order are based on "confusion and misinformation," because Christian chaplains routinely pray in the name of Jesus, in public, thousands of times a week in military chapels around the world, said the Rev. Herman Keizer Jr., chairman of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces.

"This has been portrayed as though chaplains are not allowed to pray in Jesus's name, without any distinction between what they do all the time in worship services and what they do occasionally, in ceremonial settings where attendance is mandatory," Keizer said.

Known by the initials NCMAF, Keizer's group is a private, 40-year-old association of more than 60 Christian, Jewish and Muslim denominations. It says it represents 5,430 of the 7,620 chaplains in the armed forces. The calls for an executive order to protect the right to pray in Jesus's name have originated in large part from a rival association, the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers. Formed two years ago, it says it represents about 800 chaplains, exclusively from evangelical Christian churches.

The Rev. Billy Baugham, executive director of ICECE, said he was surprised by NCMAF's stand.

"It will just lead more evangelicals to leave them and join us," he said.

Prodded by complaints from ICECE, 74 members of Congress signed a letter to President Bush last fall saying that "it has come to our attention that in all branches of the military it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christian chaplains to use the name of Jesus when praying."

In December, Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) and three other congressmen unveiled a supporting petition that has since swelled to more than 200,000 signatures. Calls for congressional hearings and an executive order have become a staple on religious radio and television broadcasts,
generating protests of White House inaction by conservative Christians, who are usually strong supporters of Bush.

In a letter this month to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Keizer said NCMAF believes that an executive order is unnecessary because the military is "now effectively addressing the current religious concerns."

Keizer, a minister in the Christian Reformed Church of North America, a conservative Protestant denomination, retired in 2002 after 34 years as an Army chaplain. He said the armed services are gradually rolling out guidelines that set a path between "those who don't want any religion practiced in the military, and those who want religion practiced without
any limits in the military." An executive order "would just precipitate more litigation," he said.

In a Feb. 21 instruction to commanders, the secretary of the Navy distinguished between prayers given by chaplains at "divine worship services" -- on which there are no restrictions -- and those delivered at "command functions" that people of many faiths are encouraged or required to attend.

"Absent extraordinary circumstances," any religious elements in a command ceremony "should be nonsectarian," it said. Air Force guidelines issued a few weeks earlier made essentially the same distinction, calling for "non-denominational, inclusive prayer" or a moment of silence at military ceremonies.

Keizer said NCMAF sees nothing wrong with a commander asking a chaplain to offer nonsectarian prayers at such events, as long as the chaplain can decline to participate, with no repercussions.

But Baugham said evangelical chaplains must represent the church that endorses them for military duty, and "they are not authorized to give nonsectarian prayers." He also said he does not believe that chaplains are truly free to pray as they wish in worship services.

"There are chaplains who get their knuckles rapped pretty hard, and we have documentation of this, for praying in Jesus's name in chapels," he said.

(c) 2006 The Washington Post Company

Monday, March 27, 2006

Washington Post: The Air Force's Retreat

The Air Force's Retreat

Monday, March 27, 2006; A14

THE AIR FORCE got it right when it issued a carefully calibrated set of guidelines on religious expression last August. The proposed new rules protected the ability of service members to practice their religion and emphasized the importance of tolerating and accommodating religious beliefs. But -- taking note of the unique setting of the military, where issues of rank and discipline come into play -- the guidelines also guarded against behavior that could make cadets at the Air Force Academy or service members feel compelled to engage in religious activities or disadvantaged if they declined.

Unfortunately, facing a barrage of complaints from evangelical Christian groups and pressure from members of Congress, the Air Force backed down. It has issued a revised set of rules that pose the potential for inappropriate religious pressure on cadets and service members. This pushes the balance in the wrong direction, especially in light of disturbing reports from the Air Force Academy about religious intolerance and inappropriate proselytizing.

One troubling issue in the revised guidelines concerns the ability of superior officers to proselytize or otherwise promote their faith. The original guidelines emphasized that "individuals need to be sensitive to the potential that personal expressions may appear to be official expressions," adding, "the more senior the individual, the more likely that personal expressions may be perceived to be official statements."

The new guidelines move away from this common-sense approach and emphasize superior officers' rights over the dangers of coercion. For example, the guidelines say, "Nothing in this guidance should be understood to limit the substance of voluntary discussions of religion . . . where it is reasonably clear that the discussions are personal, not official, and they can be reasonably free of the potential for, or appearance of, coercion." But reasonably clear to whom? What looks uncoercive to an officer can look awfully official to a cadet.

The original guidelines said that prayer should not be a routine part of official military life, "such as staff meetings, office meetings, classes or officially sanctioned activities such as sports events or practice sessions."

However, they said, "Consistent with long-standing military tradition, a brief non-sectarian prayer may be included in non-routine military ceremonies or events of special importance."

The new guidelines are softer on this issue as well, saying that public prayer "should not usually be a part of routine official business." Although they do not go as far as evangelical groups had wanted in explicitly permitting chaplains to pray "in Jesus's name," they state that chaplains "will not be required to participate in religious activities, including public prayer, inconsistent with their faiths" -- a statement that opens the door to sectarian prayer. It's unfortunate that the Air Force, having struck the balance so well last year, was bullied into this unwise retreat.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Friday, March 24, 2006

You've Got to Be Carefully Taught

"Why here," Chaplain Morton? "Why do you think the Air Force Academy has become such a contentious arena of conservative Christian fervor?" It is a good question, and one I have fielded time and time again as I have spoken with interested individuals across the country. Certainly, an entire constellation of events and contemporary dynamics create the Academy's current crisis. However, one causal theme rises to the fore. The matter is not complicated or difficult to observe. It is however, true to the nature of the Air Force Academy, and essential to the zealous advancement of the religious right. Surprisingly, this keystone issue is summed quite well in a poignant lyric of Oscar Hammerstein II:

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.
(Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rogers, "You've Got to be Carefully
Taught" from South Pacific, 1949.)

This is why the Air Force Academy is an instrumental focus of conservative Christian ideology; because, after all, "you've got to be carefully taught." And teaching, of the "drumming" type, is just what the Academy does best. The Academy is a place where, quite intentionally, the intricate regimen of military life itself, "teaches" Cadets who and what Air Force leaders are to be.

But, all is not well with the Academy's demanding form of leadership development. You see, myth is a crucial ingredient in this particular type of experiential inculcation; and myth is sorely lacking at the Academy. At fifty years old, the Air Force Academy and the Air Force itself is awash in the narcissistic insecurity of institutional adolescence. Bereft of a significant corporate history, the Air Force and the Air Force Academy are desperately seeking an easily articulated and emotionally resonant institutional foundation. In an increasingly diverse and ethically difficult military arena, the Air Force desires to find a unifying moment, a paradigmatic justification, a myth, around which it can construct and normalize effective military leadership. Therefore, in an era of aggressive conservative social construction, the Air Force Academy becomes one of those "perfect storms" of ideological opportunity.

The Academy is physically surrounded by some of the most well-financed, active, and influential institutions of conservative Christian evangelical power. This conservative Christian evangelical community, persistently and aggressively instrumentalizes the social and hierarchical structures of the Academy. Large evangelical mega-churches and nimble conservative para-church organizations purposefully target Cadets. The on-campus and off-campus activities of these organizations are appealing to Cadets because these religious marketers provide opportunities for social interaction and offer a welcome break from the tedium of campus-bound Cadet life. Cadets who become members of these churches or para-church organizations often remain members throughout their military career. The extensive mail campaigns and electronic databases of conservative Christian organizations, maintain uninterrupted contact with associated USAFA grads. These same electronic resources link graduating members and associates with conservative Christian "sponsors" and fundamentalist churches at follow-on assignments.

The Academy's revolving door of returning graduates and retired military officers populate the USAFA faculty and staff with individuals thoroughly committed to pre-packaged and sloganized conservative Christian religious themes. Through sermons and small group interaction, these same faculty and staff are encouraged to engage in on-campus proselytizing activities and urged to use the close-knit structure of military organizations to advance conservative Christian agendas.

One Colorado Springs mega-church conducted a special class focused on USAFA instructors; this class taught teachers how to use the introductory session of any USAFA course as an opportunity to proselytize students. The motivational emphasis of the class was the "Christian obligation" to "obey the Great Commission." This "Christian obligation" was presented as clearly trumping any Air Force Regulation or Constitutional norm.

In addition, conservative Christian organizations urgently and repeatedly advise graduates, faculty and staff, that these military members should "strengthen" the moral fiber of the Air Force and Air Force Academy, by diligently promulgating the moral dictates of conservative Christian ideology. The lines of official governmental power and "Christian obligation" are completely blurred in these emotive cries to "redeem the moral character of future Air Force officers." These ideological tactics create within the Academy, an institutional desire for narrowly construed morality, nostalgically based unity and patriarchal strength. Little wonder then, that this same conservative Christian structure is able to provide a ready-made mythic foundation which seamlessly resolves the Academy's now clearly articulated desires for moral stability.

So, what is the problem? The Academy needs a myth and the conservative Christians provide one. Why is that a big deal? Perhaps because, predictably so, the devil is in the details.

You see, the real needs of the Air Force Academy are quite different from those constructed and preached by conservative Christians. The pragmatic goals and cultural diversity of the Air Force are not coextensive with the morally rigid and nostalgically based socio-political agenda of fundamentalist Christianity. In reality, dynamic critical thinking, social flexibility, and a progressive appreciation of cultural pluralism are the skills essential to good and even great military leadership.

Air Force officers must shake off the dead weight of patriarchy, understand teamwork, and possess an ability to lead diverse individuals to work well toward a common goal. The technical complexities of current and future Air Force weaponry are eclipsed only by the dynamic social and intellectual skills necessary to lead the diverse teams of people that are required to maintain, transport, position and deploy these weapons.

Individual initiative and creativity are always important to military leadership; self-absorbed petulance and rigid dogmatism are not. Current and future Air Force leaders must develop a keen sense of the enterprising value of otherness.

Surprisingly, these skills can be readily acquired by diligent and dedicated Cadets from all sorts of non-religious and religious backgrounds. A commitment to duty and service may be obtained from a wide variety of personal resources, some metaphysically sophisticated and some as banal as sweaty determination.

The Air Force Academy does not need an "official" religion. Moral degradation and character collapse will not sweep the Terrazzo if conservative Christian marketers are returned to their corporations of regressive intrigue.

Indeed, Christian fundamentalism's stifling patriarchy, social fearfulness and sexual hatred must be "carefully taught," however, the Constitution and common sense dictate that the United States Air Force Academy ought not be the chosen forum for such sectarian instruction.

MeLinda Morton
19 Mar 2005

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Standing for Religious Freedom

The United States Air Force’s recently released revised guidelines for religious expression convinces me that creation of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation
( comes none too soon. The battle for religious freedom for members of the United States Armed Forces has been joined. We do not intend to back down or in any way lose this important struggle.


My guess is that if you’re reading this blog you found your way to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation out of concern for our cause. Why not let others know about how the military too often rides roughshod over one of our most cherished American freedoms – from of religion. We need all the help we can muster.


Evangelical Christians are like everybody else; by and large they’re good people and good Americans. But let’s face it: there are some who believe their faith should be the American standard. Unfortunately, some are in positions of authority in the military and in politics.


The MRFF disagrees with their intentions. Keep checking in with this Website to stay abreast of developments as we fight for the rights of non-evangelical Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and those who follow no religion.



n      Mikey Weinstein