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In Theory:

Militant approach to Christianity

June 27, 2009

Newsweek magazine reported this week that a civil rights watchdog group is accusing the military of using its presence in Muslim countries to spread Christianity among the population, a “serious” violation of military protocol. What implications are there for those people who suddenly see themselves staring at the cover of a Christian Bible and are pressured into believing in something they don’t? What actions should the military take, both at the command level and rank-and-file, to prevent this from happening?

First, we must recognize that the vast majority of U.S. chaplains serve their country honorably and abide by the U.S. military Central Command’s General Order No. 1 forbidding active-duty troops from trying to convert people to any religion. What is at issue here is a rogue element of Christian Evangelicals empowered by former President George W. Bush’s administration’s legacy of militant Christian rhetoric.

The tide has now turned with President Obama, especially in the aftermath of his historic speech to the Muslim world in Cairo. It is time to crack down on those few U.S. chaplains who abuse their position to spread their brand of Evangelical Christianity to Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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I am amazed by how our American system of checks and balances is at work today. We are fortunate to have great organizations, such as the civil-rights watchdog group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation, that are monitoring this issue to prevent proselytizing of any religion from becoming an endemic part of U.S. chaplaincy in our armed services.

Also remarkable is the American system of religious pluralism that this issue brings to light. First through the sworn charter of our 2,900 U.S. chaplains to serve all soldiers, regardless of religion, with a respectful and religiously inclusive approach; secondly by the fact that Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder Mikey Weinstein is a Jewish Air Force veteran who established the organization in 2005 after both he and his sons encountered anti-Semitic harassment and proselytizing in the service. Weinstein is now working against the improper mingling of church and state in the military for the illegal evangelical actions toward Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Islam, any form of compulsion in religious matters is strictly prohibited. “There shall be no coercion in matters of religion. The right way is distinct from the way of error . . . (Koran 2:256).

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