Picking our battles


Last week was the first I heard about Walter Reed Medical Center's controversy about outlawing Bibles and religious materials during patient visits. Soon came word that the policy had been rescinded. That problem was solved so fast I didn't realize it was a problem.

Tracking back, here's the story. Last September, venerable Walter Reed Army Medical Center closed its doors in Washington, D.C., partly as a result of its aging facilities and bad publicity about substandard treatment of veterans. On Sept. 14, the hospital officially merged with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., the entire complex renamed Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. That same day, a memo came down from the office of Col. Norvell Coots, commander of the Walter Reed Healthcare system, signed by C.W. Callahan, chief of staff. Titled, "Wounded, Ill, and Injured Partners in Care Guidelines," it lays out Med Center visiting policies for "families and other partners in care" who will be visiting patients: particularly the "wounded, ill, and injured" patients who have returned from combat. The offending clause comes under the heading of "Partners In Care Guidelines," and it's the very last one: "f. No religious items (i.e., Bibles, reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit."

An unnamed Army officer sent a copy of the memo to the Family Research Council, which alerted members of Congress. On Dec. 1 Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) took to the House floor to condemn the action. On Dec. 5, the FRC posted a petition on its website and collected over 20,000 names in 24 hours. Fox News spread the word, and Richard Land demanded that the person or persons responsible be fired. FRC President Tony Perkins saw the incident as part and parcel of "Obama's military," just the latest in a series of anti-Christian maneuvers. Within a week, Walter Reed announced that the policy was rescinded and a rewrite was in process. That didn't take long.

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Plenty of sound and fury in the meantime, though-on both sides. Skeptics rolled their eyes and explained that the policy didn't apply to families or friends, only to "partners in care," thus preventing strangers with loaded Bibles capturing the unwilling ears of wounded warriors. But that's not how the memo reads: Family is included in the broad category of "partners in care," and item f is very clear. And very specific, where the Bible is concerned; no other text is named.

Still, perhaps we could give President Obama, the U.S. military, and Walter Reed a pass on this one. The Washington Examiner was told by a spokesperson that the memo was written incorrectly, and I would agree. The title is a grammar teacher's nightmare: It reads like the partners in care are the patients. But even if item f was deliberate sabotage by some unnamed anti-Christian stealth bomber, the Med Center backed away from it almost at once and offered to rewrite the policy. It might be best to thank them for hearing our concerns, and ask politely to see the policy when it's rewritten.

The expressions of outrage, even if justified, play into the stereotype of Christians as raving religious fanatics. The policy should have been challenged, as it was, but we don't need to be so trigger-happy in assigning motives and defining trends. We're not in the business of defending God. We speak for Him, and trust Him to defend us.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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