Yesterday I received two emails and noticed a couple Facebook posts bearing links to an article entitled, “Pentagon May Court Martial Soldiers Who Share Christian Faith.” The story is not exactly all out in the open at this point, so I’m not going to pretend I’m an authority on this particular story. But these e-mails reveal a “pressure-point” for many Christians in America as well as the increasing number of non-Christians in America. You know how pressure points work: if someone applies minimal pressure in just the rights spot, they can cause a disproportionate reaction in the other person. Church and State issues are a pressure point in our country. The smallest pressure applied to an issue in this category can open up a whole can of accusations, assumptions, defensiveness, and fear. Now, none of these things are particularly prominent in the life of Jesus, so perhaps I could just take this monthly blog space and talk through the issue with both “sides.”
Background: It appears that the Pentagon spent some time seeking the counsel of outspoken advocate for the separation of Church and State in the military, Mikey Weinstein (the Christian Post initially reported wrongly that Weinstein was “hired” by the Pentagon). The facts seem to be that the Pentagon is looking at certain standards for chaplains in counseling situations with non-Christian soldiers and restrictions on how faith is promoted by other military authorities.
Dear President and Pentagon,
Why consult this guy? There are plenty of lesser-known but better-qualified people who could have helped you to develop the policies your thinking about. Weinstein’s language is intentionally provocative and his strategy seems to be founded on attention-getting. You even could have consulted Christians who would want to minimize the relationship between Church and State. Did you want to stir the pot in conservative circles? Just doesn’t seem like a wise move.
Also, you are taking on a very difficult issue. Christians–including chaplains–don’t just share the Gospel because they want to get more people over to our side. We believe that to treat the human as a non-spiritual being is ultimately going to come up short. We believe that there is healing, restorative, wholeness-creating potential in the Gospel, which is rooted in the person of Jesus. So it is possible to share the Gospel (evangelize, proselytize, whatever you want to call it) in a spirit of love, genuinely seeking the ultimate and deepest good of the other. I get it. Sometimes we do share the Gospel in selfish and unloving ways. But pretending like any counselor should–let alone could–just “turn off” her/his beliefs and worldview in seeking the healing of another might not be that realistic or helpful. Most of these chaplains are Christians and Chaplains because they believe that Jesus is actually the best and ultimate source of healing and restoration for themselves and others.
Further, the Constitution does not demand that Church and State exist in utterly separate spheres. Rather, it reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In other words, the religious voice has a place in the public sphere. Government simply may not choose or enforce one religion over another. So the Christian’s voice need not be accepted merely because it is Christian, but it also should not be rejected merely on the grounds that it is Christian. Be very careful, my friends, for trying to order how and when people apply their religious convictions is a messy endeavor.
TTFN, Pastor Jon
OK, deep breaths. In. Out. I understand that headlines like this are concerning. You’ve had quite a run at the top of Western/American society. You’ve enjoyed lots of great benefits in our culture that Jesus never promised. Even so, now that they seem to be fading away, it’s hard. None of us likes to say “goodbye” to something that was enjoyable, comfortable, or made us feel special. It is natural to mourn the loss of our cultural privilege. Christian America was also the air we breathed for many decades. We assumed it. It was dependable. It made church life so much easier. And now, we’re noticing that breathing isn’t quite as easy. You felt like America was built on the foundation of Christianity, and now it feels like each one of these restrictions might be the one that causes the whole thing to cave in. Not fun.
But you also must remember that it’s possible that these “Separationists” have a point. What made America distinct from England, Rome, etc. wasn’t Christianity…it was religious freedom. We can believe what we want without the government punishing us for it. It’s true that the great beneficiaries of this for many years were mostly Christians of various denominations (yes, we Christians have a wonderful history of oppressing ourselves). But doesn’t this founding American principle and justice itself demand we extend the same freedoms to others who believe in different gods with different names, or even no god at all?
So this whole Mikey Weinstein thing. First of all, be careful what you read and pass on. This Weinstein character isn’t government employed. And there is no evidence that the government wants to court martial your average soldier who shares his faith. There isn’t really even evidence that they’re going to adopt Weinstein’s ideas nor that he was the only one they consulted. Don’t spread gossip, or–even worse–slander. You don’t have to be the news-breakers or the watchdogs. Just be patient, get more facts, and listen to a different perspective. By all means, have an opinion. But be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry.
And let’s think through the real issue at hand. It’s a tough one. Think about it. These chaplains are employed by the U.S. Government, who constitutionally aren’t supposed to promote one religion over another. I mean, if our churches were paying these chaplains and donating them to the military, that’d be one thing. But that’s not the case. Moreover, it doesn’t appear we’re talking about worship services. We’re talking about counseling situations and military operations. The military is an authority-based community where soldiers are often deeply emotionally wounded. This is a context ripe for spiritual abuse. Could policies go too far? Yes. But can you also understand that the government wants to make sure their chaplains are really seeking to understand, connect with, and bring healing with their soldiers whether they are Christians or not? And can you see that telling a traumatized non-Christian soldier who is struggling that the only professional he can talk to is someone who will only talk to him about Jesus might not be what’s best for that soldier? And do you really want a picture of a Cross and shield on a plane set out to kill? Is this mixture of Gospel and military something we really want to protect?
One more thing. This whole “Fear” thing. It’s very unbecoming of you, Church. I mean, how many times does God have to tell us “Do not be afraid”? So you get court-martialled for following the Spirit and preaching the Gospel when you weren’t supposed to. So pastors don’t get tax breaks anymore. So you can’t have your Christmas decorations out in front of City Hall. And what if laws were passed that put us in jail for sharing our faith with people? What if we got kicked out of the U.S. because we were worshipping Jesus? What if we became targets for assassination because we were so subverting our culture? We’d be no worse off than millions of our brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world since the time of Jesus. Here’s the problem: We seem to be more fearful and anxious than those brothers and sisters WHO ACTUALLY FACED THAT STUFF! One of those persecuted Christians once wrote: “Perfect love casts out fear.” If we perfectly believed that nothing in all creation could separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, we would be perfectly free from fear. I’m not saying that I’m there. But the point is, if we are afraid, that says more about our lack of faith than it does about our surrounding culture’s godlessness. Let’s not let fear for our own comforts and privileges distract us from the radical life of preaching Good News to the poor, binding up the brokenhearted, and setting the captives free that we have received as followers of Jesus. Don’t promote fear. Let everything you do be done in love. Don’t be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Grace and Peace to you all,