Is the military targeting conservative Christians in uniform over gay issues?

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472nd Military Police Uncase the Colors at Fort Wainwright
472nd Military Police Uncase the Colors at Fort Wainwright

On July 19, Fox News' Todd Starnes reported that the Utah Air National Guard is refusing to remove a reprimand against TSgt. Layne Wilson, a 27-year veteran who complained about a gay wedding ceremony at West Point last year. Worse, the military reduced his six-year reenlistment contract to a one-year extension, allegedly coercing him to do so by canceling medical benefits for his wife, who suffers from stage four breast cancer.

The incident is just one of the latest in a long string of reports that seem to indicate the military is targeting conservative Christians serving in uniform over issues surrounding gay rights and gay marriage.

In June, news broke of a Christian soldier with 25 years of service who said he was ordered not to read books by conservative authors.

Master Sgt. Nathan Sommers also told Fox News he is reportedly facing retribution for having anti-Obama stickers on his car and serving Chick-fil-A sandwiches at his promotion party.  Chick-fil-A is the fast food chain under fire over positions held by members of its senior management, who openly oppose gay marriage and espouse conservative Christianity.

MSgt. Sommers has a sterling record with the Army band, has received the Army Commendation Medal and was a soloist at the funeral of former First Lady Betty Ford. 

But his conservative Christian views are causing military officials to scrutinize his beliefs.

These are not isolated incidents, by any stretch of the imagination.

In May 2012, Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., told Fox News that Christians in uniform — including chaplains — are coming under fire for their beliefs.

“There is a war on religious belief in the military,” he said.

According to Chaplain Alliance For Religious Liberty, an advocacy group for military chaplains, an effort is under way “to silence, and in some cases punish, those opposed to gay marriage.”

Those who approve of gay marriage “can speak boldly,” said Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance.  “But if you are opposed, you are silenced.”

In April 2013, reports surfaced of an Army training session in which evangelical Christians, Catholics, some Jews and Mormons were labeled extremists along with the KKK, al Qaeda and Hamas.

The slide that sparked controversy also called “Islamophobia” a form of religious extremism.

The information was reportedly gleaned from, among other sources, the Southern Poverty Law Center, but the SPLC denied being a source for the material and spokesman Mark Potok said the SPLC has never placed evangelical Christianity or Catholicism on its list of hate groups.

The organization has, however, labeled a number of conservative Christian organizations “hate groups” over their opposition to homosexuality.

Using the SPLC “hate map,” Floyd Lee Corkins II, a volunteer at a Washington, D.C. LGBT center, entered the offices of the Family Research Center and opened fire last August, wounding a guard before being taken into custody.

The Army presenter apologized for the training material and reportedly deleted the slide.

The same month, an Army officer at Fort Campbell, Ken., reportedly sent an email to subordinates labeling the American Family Association and Family Research Council as “domestic hate groups” because of its opposition to homosexuality.

The 14-page email reportedly accused the “religious right” of “defamation” in its effort to “beat back the increasingly confident gay rights movement,” and said Christians are “engaging in the crudest type of name-calling, describing LGBT people as ‘perverts' with ‘filthy habits’ who seek to snatch the children of straight parents and ‘convert’ them to gay sex.”

Again, the SPLC was cited as the source for the information, but the organization denied it.

Spokesman George Wright denied the Army is targeting Christians and said the Pentagon is investigating the source of the email. Starnes said it is “unclear” who ordered the email or why.

“The notion that the Army is taking an anti-religion or anti-Christian stance is contrary to any of our policies, doctrines and regulations,” he said. “Any belief that the Army is out to label religious groups in a negative manner is without warrant.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, had a different take.

“It’s very disturbing to see where the Obama administration is taking the military and using it as a laboratory for social experimentation — and also as an instrument to fundamentally change the culture,” he told Starnes. “The message is very clear – if you are a Christian who believes in the Bible, who believes in transcendent truth, there is no place for you in the military.”

Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin now serves as an executive vice president of the FRC after more than 36 years in the military. Since 2008 he said he’s seen a number of attacks on religious liberty. 

Starnes listed eight of those incidents:

  • A War Games scenario at Fort Leavenworth that identified Christian groups and Evangelical groups as being potential threats;
  • A 2009 Dept. of Homeland Security memorandum that identified future threats to national security coming from Evangelicals and pro-life groups;
  • A West Point study released by the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center that linked pro-lifers to terrorism;
  • Evangelical leader Franklin Graham was uninvited from the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer service because of his comments about Islam;
  • Christian prayers were banned at the funeral services for veterans at Houston’s National Cemetery;
  • Bibles were banned at Walter Reed Army Medical Center – a decision that was later rescinded;
  • Christian crosses and a steeple were removed from a chapel in Afghanistan because the military said the icons disrespected other religions;
  • Catholic chaplains were told not to read a letter to parishioners from their archbishop related to Obamacare mandates. The Secretary of the Army feared the letter could be viewed as a call for civil disobedience.

Is the military engaging in a war on Christianity? The Defense Department says no, but the ongoing reports seem to suggest otherwise.

Those who serve in our nation's armed forces take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

That Constitution includes the right to free speech and freedom of religion. Contrary to what some may think, conservatives — in uniform or not — are still afforded the right to their religious views no matter how politically incorrect they are to some.

But it seems that in today's political environment, some are freer than others. 

It's shameful to think that those who put their lives on the line to protect this country are not afforded freedoms specifically enumerated in the document they are sworn to protect.

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  1. It seems many people today don’t value the Constitution, and don’t think there are, will be or could be “domestic enemies”.

  2. Any article that quotes both Todd Akin and Tony Perkins is one that must be taken with the FINEST grain of salt.

  3. Liv Larson Andrews

    I am very glad that Christian symbols are removed from military buildings, and that clergy who seems unable to be conciliatory toward other faiths (Graham) are disinvited from military services.
    That Christians have ever been comfortable with military action has grieved me. Faith in Christ is not connected to the prosperity of any nation. In fact, I believe faith in Christ must criticize prosperity and might in all forms.
    Consider the article in which Stanley Hauerwas, a conservative voice in many regards though no longer in friendship with other conservatives, speculates whether gays as a group are more moral as a group than Christians because of the military’s previous fear of them. It is discussed here by another blogger:
    Hauerwas is doing this to be deliberately provocative, and to point to the deep loss of the Christian practice of non-violence.
    I am hopeful that we Christians can be more bold and more faithful as we lose so-called privileges we used to have in the public sphere. And I pray for the day when my own Lutheran church can more boldly call for peacemaking.

  4. Liv,
    You said:
    “I believe faith in Christ must criticize prosperity…”
    By what standard do you judge people and their prosperity?

    I agree with the need to separate faith from fighting, but equally and without removing constitutional freedom.

  5. Liv Larson Andrews

    Yes, yes. Maybe interrogate is a better word than criticize.
    Prosperity is frequently built by denying or stealing resources from others. The biblical story of exile in the wilderness, with manna provided daily but which rots when hoarded is sort of my norming story regarding property, wealth and stewardship.
    Now, lordy, one can look at my level of prosperity and find all kinds of fault. The pension I have through my own church body may be accruing wealth by investing in oil. Not good, in my mind. But have I summoned the energy and time to investigate that? Nope. So I beg forgiveness.
    But I also think American Christianity is especially marked by silence on the issue of God and wealth. The Bible is not silent. It is quite condemning of wealth, and certainly the worship of wealth is idolatry. What is wealth? I think that I as an American have difficulty answering that question.
    How do you define wealth or prosperity?

  6. I’m afraid I must respectfully disagree to a point, Liv. Having money, per se, is not an issue in and of itself. Abraham was quite rich, after all, as was David and many others. As I read my scriptures, I believe it’s the _love_ of money — the tendency of some to put it before God — what you properly call idolatry, that’s the problem.

    What that has to do with this article, however, escapes me…

  7. Liv Larson Andrews

    Joe, thanks for asking. I was responding more to Eric’s question about judging prosperity. In my first comment, I mentioned prosperity along with might as things a Christian is called to criticize.
    I think faith asks us to interrogate and question even the concept of nation, and along with nation-hood, prosperity and might. On the one hand, prosperity is prayed for all over the Bible. It is promised as one of God’s many gifts. But I believe the version of that prosperity is what we see in Exodus, the gathering of manna (what we need for the day) from God’s hand.
    I think it is a grievous thing when lives are sacrificed to defend not our safety but our “interests,” our access to resources–land, people, minerals, etc–not on our own soil. And I think it is even more grievous that whole companies profit from the making and selling of weapons, and that their executives are also political leaders. Why we fight wars is tangled up in these realities.
    I think Christians should be first in line to advocate for veterans and to care for them in every capacity. And first in line to ask why our wars are being fought.

  8. I tumbled onto the Layne Wilson incident in the process of keeping track of Tony Perkins and his various views (he thinks the Young Earth Creationist Ken Ham is a great Bible scholar and his Answers in Genesis website a resource of genuine scientific knowledge). Perkins channels the Starnes/Fox reporting without any contrary take.

    To see why things are more complex than Starnes’ spin, imagine a guardsman complaining in 1950 should a black soldier intend to marry a white in the chapel, and the critic happens to be convinced not only that interracial marriage was wrong but that blacks shouldn’t be treated equally in the first place (the military was integrated in 1947 but miscegenation laws were on the books in America into the 1960s).

    In that event that guardsman could indeed run into the sea change and abide by the new rules or (if they do object on conscientious grounds) hit the road and find a more congenial military to serve in (South Africa would have been available then at least.

    The United States is not a theocracy, and the military whose interests its serves should reflect its full character and strengths, not serve the narrow factional interests of any one group. I can well understand that a dedicated Christian chaplain should be excused from having to preside over a gay ceremony at a military chapel, but that is not what this affair was about.

    To be sure, many Americans will be as gloomy in the coming years over this as so many were back in the days of integration. My condolences, but welcome to the 21st century, folks.

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