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Religious battle lines

"Religious battle lines" Continued...

But Lee and others have growing concerns over why Pentagon officials are meeting with individuals who have such strong animosity toward Christians.

While debunking early reports that called Weinstein a paid military consultant hired to write policy, Lee’s group has asked Defense Department officials to explain what they hoped to gain from Weinstein’s recommendations. Lee worries that Weinstein’s broad interpretation of the existing standards will be unleashed on the military.

Just as importantly, Lee wants a similar seat at the Pentagon table for faith-groups like his. This equal time will be of even greater necessity if the Pentagon does consider a formal definition of proselytizing and attempts to restrict the ability of a person to share his or her faith in certain ways.

“The church needs to understand that at the heart of this issue is that somebody is trying to contain and minimize a certain group of faith people in the military because he thinks they are trying to take over,” Lee said. “People with an angry agenda are trying to influence the military.”

On Thursday, the Pentagon issued another clarifying statement claiming the Defense Department “will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution.”

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a military spokesman, said, “Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one’s beliefs (proselytization).”

But that clarification wasn’t good enough for Rep. Louie Gohmert, R- Texas, who spent four years in the military. He said the damage caused by the military’s messaging is already done, and that lawmakers likely will look at these recent developments when they return to Capitol Hill next week.

“That has never been the constitutional standard, what might bother some other person; that is absurd,” Gohmert said. “I’m hearing from people in the military who are quite upset because it means they have to supposedly lay down their lives to protect every other religion except Christianity, and that is not why they went into the military.”

It seems the Pentagon’s most recent statement will kick off a confusing debate over the differences between evangelizing and proselytization. That discourse will be watched closely by evangelical denominations that endorse chaplains as well as those of faith who are already in the military or who are thinking about joining the armed forces.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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