Going Ballistic Over Military’s Ban on Proselytization

Are you ready to go ballistic over the military’s ban on Christian soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines being court martialed for “proslyetizing?” Well, don’t push that button just yet. In another display of conservative and Christian media (not always the same thing) knowing how to push the buttons of its legion of faithful (in both senses of the word) readers, Fox News, Breitbart.com, and other news outlets have whipped up conservative Christians into a feeding frenzy over the military’s supposed threat to court-martial Christians who dare to share their faith.

When I first saw a Breitbart.com article on Wednesday, with the breathless headline “Pentagon May Court Martial Soldiers Who Share Christian Faith,” I suspected that the conservative website (and other such sites) was trying to bait its mostly conservative audience (including yours truly) into believing the worst about our military leaders. And, why shouldn’t we believe the worst? After all, didn’t President Obama’s Pentagon just last week block SBC.net, the Southern Baptist Convention’s official website, from being accessed on some military bases because of “hostile content?” Well, actually no. As I wrote about last Friday (Pentagon Blocks SBC Website: Diabolical Plot or Glitch?), it turned out the website was blocked, not because of some diabolical anti-Christian plot, but because of undetected malware on the SBC.net network. But, that didn’t stop the usual right-wing suspects from using this glitch — over which they shot first and asked questions later — to gin up support from Christian conservatives to fight against future godless attacks on the faithful. And, by support I mean sending these groups money.

This week’s “Diabolical Attack Against Christians” story (maybe that should be a new Friday blog series) seems to be the Pentagon’s apparent threat to court-martial Christians — and only Christians — who want to share their faith with their buddies on our nation’s military bases or academies. Breitbart’s post led with the Pentagon’s confirmation of their latest diabolical plot:

Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense…Court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis…”.

Although I did not think of it on Wednesday, the Pentagon’s usage of the word “proselytization” reminds me of a quote from The Princess Bride:

Vizzini: Inconceivable!

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

While the Pentagon may use the word “proselytization” in its most negative connotation, I am not sure that they mean the same thing that Evangelicals mean when they use the word. In response to the uproar, the Pentagon released another statement which sought to clarify the prohibition against “proselytization”:

 

Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one’s beliefs (proselytization),”

If that is what the Pentagon means by “proselytization,” then I have no problem with that policy if it is fairly and equally enforced. In fact, I said as much on my Facebook page on Wednesday, before the Pentagon’s latest statement. Anticipating that some of my church members (and others) might jump to the wrong conclusions based on bad (and sensationalized) reporting, I wrote:

Before everyone begins to freak out, we need to make sure we know what the Pentagon means by “proselytization.” Does it mean merely sharing your faith with someone else who is open to hearing what you have to say? Or, does it mean forcing your faith on someone else when they have told you they don’t want to hear what you have to say?

Before answering either of these questions, please note that “proselytization” is not limited to just Christians, as the Breitbart headline suggests. This prohibition against “proselytization” would also apply to other religious groups. As long as people of faith — all faiths — are allowed to openly share what they believe, I have no problem. But, I’m not sure I would want an avowed Muslim, Wiccan, or Mormon continuing to “proselytize” me if I told them I wasn’t interested. The same standard should apply for all religious groups, not just the ones we are a part of or like. Whether in military or civilian life, it’s one thing to be free to share your faith with those who are willing to listen. That right should be protected and not infringed upon just because someone decides to join the Armed Forces. It’s something else entirely different and off-putting to be subjected to continued “proselytization” when you have told the Muslim, Mormon, Wiccan or even Christian that you were not interested.

Now, before some readers (including some from my church) begin to wonder whether or not I  think there are real threats to religious liberty — especially directed toward Evangelical Christians — let me say as clearly as I can, YES I DO!  However, let’s not  allow those who cry wolf (and stand to make a profit) to distract us from the very real threats that we will continue to face as Biblical Christians living in the land of the free and the home of the brave:

Again, protests and petitions on bad facts distract from very real issues. I’ve had the privilege of training Navy chaplains and most recently spoke at the Chief of Chaplains Strategic Planning Retreat. I was welcomed– and evangelicals are welcome there. But there are indeed real issues and concerns about where the military is heading– though they will be obscured by this misdirection. For example, let me say that the Army does not need to be working with Mickey Weinstein, though I imagine they see that now. Also, there are real issues about the implementation about of new directives regarding homosexuality among the chaplain corps and beyond. However, once again, a false alarm distracts us from real issues in our culture and how they impact the military. Those real issues concern me and they should concern you.

Perhaps this will be a reminder to the Obama administration and to military leaders that they need to do more to be clear on their views and protect the views of evangelical chaplains and servicemen and women as our culture is shifting. In addition, perhaps this is a reminder to many Christians that waiting a few days before expressing outrage (particularly when something just seems so odd) is not always a bad thing. (Dr. Ed Stetzer, “Some Thoughts on the Newest Christian Concern: Court-Martials for Evangelism”)

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