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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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When Faith and the U.S. Military Collide

Let me begin by pointing out (yet again) that I speak for myself. These are my opinions soldier-708711_1280and reflections. I do not speak for the military or the government. Okay, ready?

This week I read an article saying that Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is once again up in arms about a Christian in the military expressing his faith. This time his furor is directed against an Army Colonel who shared a story about his grandfather’s faith and encouraged Service Members to work on spiritual fitness through prayer. Weinstein’s statement says:

Apparently, Colonel Thomas Hundley can’t figure out whether he’s an active duty senior Army officer or an evangelical Christian missionary? Further, DoD can’t seem to, likewise, decipher whether they are paying him to be one or the other. Where the hell is the adult supervision for senior, active duty officer, Constitutional compliance at DoD?….

Colonel Hundley has absolutely no business or authority under American law to be conflating his Army officer rank, title and position with his professed evangelical Christian faith.

Let’s break down what’s really happening, okay?

1. The military recognizes that spiritual fitness is an important component in overall health. The Army defines spirituality:

Spirituality, as defined by Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, is strengthening a set of beliefs, principles or values that sustain a person beyond family, institutional, and societal sources of strength.

Did you see the part in there that defines spirituality as Christian faith? No? Because it isn’t there. What we’re talking about is the general concept that healthy and fit Service Members have a healthy spirituality WHATEVER THEIR PARTICULAR EXPRESSION LOOKS LIKE.

For the Colonel, his spirituality takes the shape of Christianity.

2. The Colonel did not tell people that his background needed to be everyone’s background. He related a story about his grandfather to share about his own journey, but there was no proselytizing – he wasn’t trying to convert anyone. Sharing personal stories isn’t the same thing as actively trying to convert others.

And finally,

3. Calling people to prayer is really the least offensive way of talking about spiritual growth. All the major religions have a form of prayer and/or meditation. I can encourage Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, Atheists, EVERYONE to engage in spiritual behavior through prayer/meditation. It’s not a behavior unique to Christianity.

Let me give you some personal examples from my own ministry as a military chaplain. My job as a chaplain is NOT to walk around finding people to whack on the head with my Bible and yell, “YOU NEED JESUS!” No, my job is to see to the free exercise of religion for ALL of the Service Members I come across.

Not too long ago I was asked about facilitating a need for Islamic prayer. Easy day! I kid-1077793_1920acquired a Muslim prayer rug for the Religious Ministry Team (RMT) and gave the Service Member space for prayer. I have also given out copies of the Koran, the Book of Morman, Jewish prayer books, and yes, even Bibles, when Service Members let me know they have a need.

So no, the Chaplain Corps is not about making converts. Christians in the military are not hell-bent on making converts. Yes, it is perfectly acceptable for senior leadership to suggest Service Members engage in some form of prayer/meditation as a means to strengthen their spirituality.

On a final note, it is possible for us to hold to our own beliefs while still supporting the rights of others to have their beliefs. This is where we get to the biblical behavior lesson for the day. As Christians we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are also called to treat people the way we wish to be treated. We don’t have to argue the rightness/wrongness of faith. We can be faithful to our own spirituality and still respect the faith and religions of those who disagree with us.

As the Apostle Paul writes in Colossians:

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

 

Dear Christian, How Can You Be in the Military?!

Let me begin with a disclaimer:

I do not represent the United States government or the Chaplain Corps. I speak for myself. My thoughts and opinions are just that – my own. 😉

Now that we got that outta the way, here we go!

A couple months ago a friend asked me about my chosen profession as a military chaplain

LT Chris Linzey, CHC, USN
LT Chris Linzey, CHC, USN

(I’ve spent 5 years in the Army Reserve and am now an Active Duty Navy Chaplain). The questions went like this:

How can you carry out Christ’s commands to love our enemies, to not resist evil, to overcome evil with good, to not kill – now that you’ve taken an oath to the military and abide by its laws? What are you counseling the service men and women?

This post isn’t going to get into the ins and outs of Just War Theory. I’ve written about it elsewhere (as have MANY others who understand it a lot better than I do).

But I do want to address the idea that Christians should not be in the military because we are called by God to be set apart.

1) From a biblical perspective, all of the instructions in the New Testament about loving enemies, overcoming evil with good, etc. are not instructions to officials about the best way to run a government. They are instructions about how we ought to conduct ourselves in our personal relationships. Remember that in the Old Testament the God who commands, “Thou shall not kill” is the same God that allows capital punishment for certain crimes. There is a difference between our personal ethics and our corporate ethics – and this difference isn’t a bad thing. It’s what allows us to pursue peace and healthy relationships while still being a society that deals in justice and punishment.

2) Coming to faith has never meant resigning from military service. Even in the Bible, Soldiers were not condemned for their military service or told to quit. In fact, the Bible tells us about Soldiers coming to faith.

John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…. “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance….” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He answered them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” (Luke 3:3-14)

If being a Soldier in the Roman army were wrong, why are Soldiers not condemned? Rather, they are told to be satisfied with their wages. That means they’re staying in the service!

3) Finally, as a Chaplain, it’s not my job to fight. The two purposes of military Chaplains are a) to spiritually care for service members and b) to advise Command about ethics, moral, and spirituality. In that sense, John the Baptist was the first Chaplain beginning in the New Testament era! He spiritually cared for Soldiers and helped them move in a godly direction.soldiers-praying

I’m not making a case for or against any particular war or military action. We will be debating the morality of military action until the end of time. My only point is that there is nothing intrinsically immoral or ungodly about Christians serving in the military.

In the military we are taught to obey ALL lawful orders. Should the time come when the military gives Christians orders that are unlawful or conflict with personal morality and ethics, Service Members are free to disobey the orders – just know that you will have to face the consequences of that decision 😉

At the end of the day I believe the Chaplain Corps makes the military a better place. We get to speak to issues of ethics and morality. We get to help Service Members pursue spiritual health. And, since the Bible clearly has no problem with God-followers serving in the military, I will not feel guilty about wearing the cloth of my nation.

I proudly serve my God while I proudly serve in my country’s armed forces.

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I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

Losing Religious Freedom

Providing Spiritual Care to ALL Soldiers...
Military Chaplains – Providing Spiritual Care to ALL Soldiers…

***As always, I speak for myself. I represent no government or military organization.***

This morning I woke up to this disturbing news article about a Chaplain’s Assistant facing reprimand for voicing her personal beliefs on her personal Facebook page. Please note that the Chaplain’s Assistant posted her personal beliefs on her personal Facebook page. She was not utilizing government time or equipment to push her faith on someone else. She stated her opinion regarding biblical values. Her Commander threatened her with a reduction in rank and pay if she did not remove the post.

I will be perfectly upfront and admit that the only thing I know about the incident is what was reported in the story. You know as much (if not more) than I do. If the story is true then we are looking at an incredible injustice. So please let me climb up on my soapbox for a few minutes.

There are two sides to this ugly coin:

First, to those who push an agenda of equality and rights and social justice, to those who reported the Chaplain’s Assistant for creating a “hostile and antagonistic work environment” I say this: freedom and equality is a two-way street. You cannot cry out for the freedom to live and speak as you choose and then silence those who disagree with you. It seems as though any vocalizing of disagreement with you is considered hateful and hostile. Is it not possible to disagree without being hateful and hostile?

You have become the oppressor when you try to silence your opposition. If you really believed in the freedom you claim you desire then, as much as you have the ability to live and speak the way you please, those who dissent have that same ability to live and speak as they please. As Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, notes: “Just because a person wears a uniform does not mean they give up their religious liberties and their ability to speak about matters of faith.”

Freedom is a two-way street.

Second, to those who would side with the Chaplain’s Assistant, I have a word for you from the New Testament book of 1 Peter 3:14-18 ~

“Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

Honestly, I’m tired of militant Evangelicals demanding this and that, screaming about injustice and trying to force our way on society. From my reading, the Bible is pretty clear that the world ultimately is not on our side. We belong to God. We do not belong to this world. Peter’s church suffered a lot of persecution at the hand of unbelievers. We should not be surprised when this world turns against us.

Let’s face it, Western Christianity has lived a charmed life for the last 1700 years. We’ve become so comfortable that we’ve forgotten that we’re temporary residents here – we don’t belong here permanently. Peter’s words ring true today just as they ever did: take it all with gentleness and respect. We become pushy when we feel we’re owed something. Instead, we ought to accept it as a natural result of a broken world.

As much as possible I believe those of us in a democratic republic need to keep working towards real equality. That means that everyone gets a voice, even if we disagree with each other. Disagreement isn’t hate – it’s just disagreement. At the same time, don’t forget that we’re just passing through. Things will get worse for Christianity as the years progress (I think history bears this out). It doesn’t matter. Even when we suffer, don’t fear. Don’t be frightened. We still serve Jesus, and that’s our end – eternity with him.

The situation in this news piece really gets under my skin (as a Christian and as an Army Reserve Chaplain). If it is true (as I said, I only know what is reported in the story), I think the Commander was out of line and wrong to reprimand and threaten the Airman. I am disheartened to think that religious freedom is taking a backseat to a pseudo-tolerance (tolerance when you agree with me, I’ll silence you if you disagree with me). But still, Jesus reigns over all. One day all the wrongs of this world will be made right. Until then we persevere with grace, dignity, gentleness, and respect – no matter what comes our way.

Amen, Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

The Decline of Christianity in the U.S. Armed Forces

Right on Target
Right on Target

Let’s start off with the basic disclaimers: I speak for myself. I do not speak for the U.S military. I do not speak for the government. Heck, I don’t even speak for the Chaplain Corps – there is a lot of division among Chaplains as to this topic. So I only speak for myself and my perspective. Got it? Okay. Now, let’s move on.

As a former Chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserve and now a Chaplain in the Navy, one of the topics I am asked about most often pertains to the decline of Christianity in the military. “Are you allowed to pray in Jesus’ name?” “Will you really get punished if you share your faith with another Soldier?” Questions like these are normal from those not familiar with the Chaplain Corps. Every time there is an issue between Atheists and Christians in the military certain conservative news outlets really hype the story and only serve to make things worse.

Case in point: a story came out last week about a Chaplain who writes a regular article for his base’s website. It’s called the “Chaplain’s Corner.” It seems that a recent article he wrote was titled: “No Atheists in Foxholes.” It was an historic look at the origin of this famous expression and the role of faith in WWII. But it seems some Atheists were offended by the piece and demanded it be removed. So the Commander yielded and removed the Chaplain’s article. Now conservative news outlets are stirring the pot and hard-core Evangelicals are upset. How can the military censor religious expression?

Believe it or not, things are going great in the Chaplain Corps. There is not decline of Christianity in the Army. My Commanders are actually very supportive of the Unit Ministry Team and the Chaplain’s role. We’re not being censored, and we’re not being persecuted. Much of the problem lies in a misunderstanding of the role of military Chaplain.

My role is dual-natured. On one hand I am a military pastor. I preach. I pray in Jesus’ name. I serve communion. I perform weddings and funerals. Basically, everything I do as a civilian pastor I can do as an army Chaplain. On the other hand I am a staff officer. I serve and represent the Commander. There are some times and places where I will need to wear my staff officer hat and other times when I wear my pastor hat. The key is to discern which is which.

For my services or Bible studies I have free reign to be authentically me as a Christian pastor. For staff events where I represent the Commander I put my role as staff officer first and serve the Commander and the Soldiers without pushing my personal faith. The Commander was within norms to remove the Chaplain’s article from the base website. A senior Chaplain I know recently commented:

It is common in the military for the chaplain to have a regular spot in the commander’s newsletter or website. I have done this for the past 22 years. However, we have to keep in mind whose newsletter or whose website it is. It is not the chaplain’s. It is the commander’s. Therefore, it is the commander’s message that must be contained in all parts of it, even The Chaplain’s Corner. To take this particular message off the website is not religious censorship because this was not a religious forum. When I write a piece for the commander’s newsletter or website, I typically write about relationships, family support, or morale. I’ll talk about leadership or teamwork. Sometimes I’ll suggest that our Soldiers pursue spirituality and if they want they may come talk with the chaplain about that or any other topic they have in mind. But the commander’s newsletter or website should always be generic.

As a Chaplain, then, it really comes down to understanding where you are and the role you play. At one point in the bible, Jesus sends his disciples out into the world and tells them to be shrewd as snakes but innocent as doves. The Old Testament tells us that there is a time and season for everything.

We are not being shrewd when we push our religion on everyone. There is a time and a place to be forward with our faith. There is a time and a place to fill our other roles. Contrary to what gets hyped by conservative media, it is still okay to talk about faith in the military. But there is a time and place to do it well. We do disservice to our faith when we believe we have to use our faith combatively to confront people.

In the end, the better I do my job as a Chaplain to all Soldiers the better I can do my job as a Christian. What Soldier will even want to be around me if they feel I always use my faith to beat them up? They would dread seeing the Chaplain walk up. But if I love on and care for people no matter what their faith or no-faith background then I have an open door to care for them, to show concern, and to help meet their needs. In the end, I’ve found that people are more receptive to me and my discussion about faith when they know that I will care for them no matter what – without pushing a faith agenda on them.

If you have any questions about faith in the military or the role of a Chaplain, please don’t hesitate to ask.

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*If any of this post has resonated with you, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email the link to your friends and family. Thanks! 🙂

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