It’s a chilling possibility that up to now has been far-fetched in the U.S. armed forces. Imagine three soldiers huddled on a battlefield: a non-believer on the brink of death from a barrage of gunshot wounds, a devout Christian and an atheist. The Christian compassionately begins telling the wounded warrior about the eternal hope of salvation through Jesus, but the atheist accuses the Christian of proselytizing and threatens to report the matter to superior officers ordered to prevent such activity.
That life-and-death scenario is precisely the type of predicament anti-evangelical forces are trying to create for Christian service men, women and chaplains, according to retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, former U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and now the executive vice president of the Family Research Council.
“They are essentially saying there is no appropriate time for a Christian to try and influence a person by sharing the Gospel,” Boykin said.
The threat against religious liberty in the U.S. military–the very entity that has fought to protect Constitutional freedoms for more than two centuries–has been heightened by recent efforts of liberal anti-Christian groups gaining influence with military hierarchy and even the White House.
“This is a very real issue,” said Boykin. “I think in a very short period of time–I’m talking about within the next year–you could see Christians in our military services just absolutely afraid of sharing their faith in any public forum.”
The Obama Administration boldly intensified the fray with its most adversarial position to date on June 12, issuing a statement saying it “strongly objects” to an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) proposed to address growing hostility toward religious expression by service members.
Fleming’s amendment, which has been approved by the House Armed Services Committee, aims to require the Armed Forces to protect–except in cases of military necessity–the freedom of actions and speech by service men and women reflecting their conscience, moral principles or religious beliefs.
Obama, via the statement, threatened to veto the bill, which had other unrelated proposals, if passed by Congress.
“By limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment,” the statement said on behalf of the President.
That upped the ante for Boykin and others in their battle to preserve the rights of Christians to witness and practice their faith while in the Armed Forces.
“I can only conclude that the President has shown his true colors, he’s shown his real agenda,” Boykin said, “and that the administration has a deliberate plan to reduce the impact that Christianity, in particular, has on our military services.”
In January, Obama objected to changes in the NDAA that were already approved by Congress protecting evangelical chaplains from recrimination if they declined ministerial acts that contradicted their beliefs, such as providing premarital counseling to same-sex couples. At that time, Obama called those safeguards “unnecessary and ill-advised.”
Boykin stands on the front lines of the issue, much as he did during his Army career, where he commanded all Green Berets and was an original member and eventual commander of the Delta Force, the Army’s elite counter-terrorism unit. Widely viewed as an American hero, Boykin also led the 1983 military assault on Grenada, where he was severely wounded, and helped capture Manuel Noriega from Panama in 1989. Now Boykin and others are fighting an ever-widening faith-based battle.
There was a major stir in May after the Pentagon put out a statement that religious proselytizing within the Department of Defense could result in court martials. That came after Mikey Weinstein, perhaps the nation’s most fervent anti-witnessing activist (see sidebar on page 17), met with Air Force officials. The Pentagon clarified its stance with a subsequent statement, saying service members can evangelize, but must not “force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one’s beliefs (proselytization).”
The burning question for Boykin and others is how the Pentagon will distinguish between proselytizing and evangelism, and how subjective the definitions will be since they could be perceived as very similar.
Congressman Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) filed proposed amendments in June to try to prevent unwarranted targeting of Christians in the Armed Forces. He noted an Army band member facing possible court martials after coming under scrutiny for anti-Obama stickers on his car, promoting Chick-fil-A after the restaurant chain’s president spoke about his personal opposition to same-sex marriages, and for reading books by conservative authors while in uniform.
Huelskamp accused the Obama Administration of “creating a tyrannical culture of political correctness in the military.”
The looming threat of court martials continued a disturbing trend of attempts to suppress or degrade Christianity.
In September 2011, it was announced that families and friends no longer could give Bibles to injured soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, a move that came under fire and was overturned.
In February 2012, an Air Force acquisition office removed “God” from its logo.
In January 2013, a cross and steeple were removed and cross-shaped windows were boarded up at a chapel on an Army base in remote Afghanistan.
In April, a U.S. Army Equal Opportunity training brief included a slide listing evangelical Christianity first among “religious extremist” groups. The list also included al-Qaida, Hamas, the Ku Klux Klan, Muslim Brotherhood and the Nation of Islam. The Army said it was an isolated incident.
That same month, an Army officer at Fort Campbell, Ky., sent an email to subordinates calling the American Family Foundation and the Family Research Council, both evangelical organizations, “domestic hate groups” because they oppose homosexuality. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been working intensively to get the “hate” label affixed to biblically based groups.
Retired Col. Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty, and Boykin say they can envision evangelical chaplains being replaced by others with more liberal views.
“They would still be able to say, ‘We have Christian chaplains,’ but what they’ll really have is people not standing on biblical truth [and] compromising in order to stay in the military or to get promoted,” Boykin said.
Overall, there is an atmosphere of fear and concern among chaplains, Crews said, pointing out that the head of chaplains at one military installation sent out a note forbidding chaplains to pray in Jesus’ Name at certain ceremonies.
Crews and Boykin trace the current challenges to the 2010 repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which prohibited military personnel from openly expressing their homosexuality while also protecting against discrimination or harassment of closeted gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
Lt. Gen. Randy Mixon, now retired, was so concerned prior to the repeal decision that he took the risk of publicly calling upon those in active duty to make their objections known. His action then as an active general was deemed “inappropriate” by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“It was not something I wanted to do, but I felt morally obligated as a soldier, as a Christian and as a senior officer to at least speak out,” Mixon said.
“I felt that once that threshold was crossed, it would simply open the floodgates for other things … which I think is playing out right now.”
Shortly after Weinstein made headlines in late April, an active officer spoke out again.
Coast Guard Rear Admiral William D. Lee put a stake in the ground during a speech at a National Day of Prayer event on May 2. He said Christians in the military face the threat of oppression but that he had not and vowed that he would not run from his right to share the Gospel when appropriate.
Lee’s remarks drew multiple standing ovations and garnered nationwide attention.
In an interview with Decision, Lee said adversaries want “shackles” placed on military personnel’s ability to carry out the Great Commission.
“I’ll tell you who I feel for: It’s those younger men and women of faith who don’t have their retirement locked in yet,” Lee said. “They have to make a choice between those two three-letter words they love so much–God and job. And I don’t agree with that.”
Lee recalled once hearing a retiring general advise 48 newly minted admirals and generals in a farewell briefing to “be absolutely apolitical and to check your religion at the door.”
That let Lee know a potential fight was coming for the right to talk about Jesus. His courageous remarks at the prayer event thrust him into the public battle for religious rights.
“I’m not an activist, I’m not on a mission, and I’m not going on offense,” he told Decision. “But I’ll go to the mat on defense if required to in order to fight for the religious freedoms we have under the Constitution.
“I’ve had conversations in the past with fellow flag officers in which we hypothetically asked the question, ‘What issues, based on principle, would you be willing to throw your stars on the table for?’ This is that issue for me–God forbid it should ever come to that.”
Boykin warns that far more is at stake than the future of the military. He says the direction of the nation hangs in the balance, too.
“This is the anchor of our society,” Boykin said. “The military is the most respected institution in America. So if you want to change the rest of society, you have to target the military.
“If they do what they are trying to do, which is to totally change the culture and rob us of the Judeo-Christian values that still reside in the military … the consequences could be catastrophic.”