IN THEORY:

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.

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).

The way forward is to support the continued vigilance and oversight of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and to enforce the current anti-proselytizing regulations of U.S. chaplains. In the larger perspective, we must continue to promote respect and mutual understanding of all faiths. When this is put into action through all the avenues of U.S. international relations, then America can establish its moral authority as the leader of the free world.

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

The Newsweek article describes a problem in the U.S. military about certain personnel proselytizing in non-Christian countries using military resources. It also describes how the U.S. military has dealt with this issue so far and the fact that the U.S. military may still need to take additional action to address this issue fully.

The article indicates that the U.S. military already has policies in place regarding proselytizing. Such policies may need to be enforced more strictly or modified to more fully address this issue.

From my perspective, I do not think that it is appropriate for U.S. military representatives to proselytize in their official capacities as representatives of the U.S. This is especially true in non-Christian countries where such activities are illegal or are not welcomed.

As Christians we feel that it is important for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be shared with the world. We take our example from the declaration of Jesus Christ to his 11 disciples prior to His ascension, saying “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15 KJV)

However, in doing so, laws need to be respected, and individuals should not be forced to listen. Rather, the Gospel should be preached to those who are willing to hear the Gospel and to accept Christ. For those countries that do not currently allow for the preaching of the Gospel, prayers should be offered to soften the hearts of government officials to pave the way so that the Gospel may be preached in those countries in the future.

BISHOP FRED L. CARPENTER

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Our Religious Science faith is a compilation, correlation and integration of the major religions of the world with a strong Christian bias. As such, we honor all faiths because we believe that an individual’s chosen spiritual practice is a serious and profound decision. Pressuring people into believing something other than a faith they’ve lived with and practiced since birth is unethical and definitely not in integrity.

Every religion has its militants who seem determined to convince certain populations of dire circumstances if they don’t convert. In the early days of California, Native Americans were told if they didn’t become Christians they wouldn’t go to heaven. One of the Native Americans responded with, “If there are Christians in heaven, I don’t want to go there anyway.”

Most chaplains’ educational programs are designed to familiarize the potential chaplain with the world’s religions for the purpose of ministering to individuals in ways that honor their faith and do not proselytize any other religion. My question is, “How did these chaplains complete the program successfully and still insist on evangelizing to those who do not hold their same beliefs? What ever happened to the separation of church and state?”

Our U.S. military presence is in these countries for reasons other than to be missionaries. It would seem that expecting our military personnel to distribute Bibles and convert local populations is a distraction from their already difficult and dangerous military mission.

Missionary quests must be left to those denominations whose sole purpose is to spread the gospel in other countries. From our commander in chief right down to the infantry, the message of no proselytizing must be clear with immediate ramifications if violated.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” Our soldiers consciously living Christian tenets would, in my humble opinion, be more convincing than fear-based evangelical arguments.

PASTOR BEVERLY CRAIG

Center for Spiritual Living — La Crescenta

I really don’t have the right to say what actions the military should take. The same Newsweek article attributes much of the problem to the resounding absence of liberal Christians in the military chaplaincy — and since I am one such liberal cleric, who did not and will not sign up to serve, I lose the right to say how others should do it.

So rather than lay blame or devise solutions in ignorance, I’ll just elaborate a little on the missing piece of liberal evangelism. All Christians are called to evangelism. “Go and make disciples of all nations” was Jesus’ parting instruction to his followers (Matthew 28:19); we call it the Great Commission.

Some take that call more literally than others, linking Christian imperialism with Christian exclusivity (the claim that you have to believe in Jesus to get to heaven); and sometimes what began as good intentions to save souls ends in brutal results, like the Crusades.

Liberal Christians see evangelism differently. True, we’re called to proclaim our faith, continuing Jesus’ ministry. But our take is that what Jesus proclaimed was the kingdom of heaven, not the kingdom of Christianity; and we believe that the heaven of an infinite and loving God must surely be wide enough to embrace us all.

So we feed sheep; we don’t steal them from other religions. We share our faith; we don’t impose it. And the way we share our faith best is by example — by being so generous in our compassion and so obvious in our peace that people find our faith attractive, and ask us about it.

The sad thing is, liberal Christians are so loath to tell others what to do or believe that conservatives have taken over the public voice and persona of Christianity — and now, it sounds like, the military chaplaincy as well. Since I’m not ready to suit up and go over there myself, I can only retreat to my study, and write articles about what a shame it is that liberal Christians aren’t a more visible and vocal presence in the world. It’s a darn shame.

AMY PRINGLE

Rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church, La Cañada

As a Christian minister and as a thinking American, I am in deep trouble if I look to Newsweek magazine to either inform or enlighten me. I must necessarily take any revelations from Newsweek with a grain of salt, particularly on matters of faith.

Newsweek is so grossly partisan and so patently disdainful of so many values that Americans hold dear that I simply can’t believe its stories anymore. As a preacher, I can spot preaching, and that’s what Newsweek does — badly. The Newsweek article referred to above is a case in point. Its author, feminist and secular fundamentalist Kathryn Joyce, regularly ridicules people of biblical faith.

Far from being an objective reporter, she is a vigorous critic of Christian conservatives. Not only does she imply that Pastor Rick Warren and Saddleback Church condone domestic violence toward women, but she suggests that Christian women who bear too many children are in fact being abused by a patriarchal system foisted upon them.

It should come as no surprise, then, that American soldiers who call themselves Christians or evangelicals should also become the targets of Joyce’s criticism. As her strained and unfortunate article makes clear, she’s on an anti-Bible witch hunt of her own making, accusing our soldiers in Iraq of a secret plot to distribute Arabic Bibles, preferring to believe the allegations of a small, anti-Christian extremist group rather than the testimony of our military commanders.

Because the premise is flawed and the evidence untrustworthy, how can I answer the question? I suppose I can affirm these: The brave men and women in our armed forces do indeed lay down certain freedoms while serving their country overseas. May God keep you safe!

Many of our soldiers carry in their souls the light of the world and the hope of the Gospel. May you burn bright!

Some people are so “Christophobic” that even the thought of other people reading the Bible troubles them. May God grant you grace!

Cultural relativists like to forget that Muhammad told his followers to read the Bible. May they have Bibles to read!

PASTOR JON T. KARN

Light on the Corner Church in Montrose

It would of course be totally inappropriate for U.S. armed forces to proselytize or attempt to convert people toward a certain religious faith. I understand that the actions that led to these accusations were not undertaken by the military per se, nor do they in any way represent official policy. This was apparently the work of several overly aggressive chaplains who represent a group of evangelical churches outside established denominations.

Therefore, the blame falls on these individuals who violated the military code. The chaplains who acted out of line should be disciplined per military regulations, and measures should be instituted to prevent future violations.

I don’t feel it’s ever a good idea to pressure someone into following a religious belief, let alone one that they were not born into. Coercion is never a good approach when it comes to spiritual matters; force may seem to work temporarily, but in the long term it will inevitably fail. The chaplains in question may have meant well, but they need to be taught the basics of religious education and principles.

Especially in conflicts like the ones we face in Iraq and Afghanistan — a situation that Islamic extremists want to cast as a religious war — American troops must take special care to avoid being seen as spiritual crusaders.

According to Jewish law, we are forbidden from proselytizing to those outside our faith. Judaic teachings call for active encouragement of a Jewish lifestyle to people of the Jewish faith only. We are required to use all available methods of education to intelligently and effectively influence people of our faith to greater commitment and wholesome participation.

While other spiritual traditions may take different approaches to the issue of conversion, no religious establishment should ever use our nation’s military forces as a vehicle for active proselytizing.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN

Chabad of Glendale and the Foothills

As a Christian minister and as a thinking American, I am in deep trouble if I look to Newsweek magazine to either inform or enlighten me. I must necessarily take any revelations from Newsweek with a grain of salt, particularly on matters of faith.

Newsweek is so grossly partisan and so patently disdainful of so many values that Americans hold dear that I simply can’t believe its stories anymore. As a preacher, I can spot preaching, and that’s what Newsweek does — badly. The Newsweek article referred to above is a case in point. Its author, feminist and secular fundamentalist Kathryn Joyce, regularly ridicules people of biblical faith.

Far from being an objective reporter, she is a vigorous critic of Christian conservatives. Not only does she imply that Pastor Rick Warren and Saddleback Church condone domestic violence toward women, but she suggests that Christian women who bear too many children are in fact being abused by a patriarchal system foisted upon them.

It should come as no surprise, then, that American soldiers who call themselves Christians or evangelicals should also become the targets of Joyce’s criticism. As her strained and unfortunate article makes clear, she’s on an anti-Bible witch hunt of her own making, accusing our soldiers in Iraq of a secret plot to distribute Arabic Bibles, preferring to believe the allegations of a small, anti-Christian extremist group rather than the testimony of our military commanders.

Because the premise is flawed and the evidence untrustworthy, how can I answer the question? I suppose I can affirm these: The brave men and women in our armed forces do indeed lay down certain freedoms while serving their country overseas. May God keep you safe!

Many of our soldiers carry in their souls the light of the world and the hope of the Gospel. May you burn bright!

Some people are so “Christophobic” that even the thought of other people reading the Bible troubles them. May God grant you grace!

Cultural relativists like to forget that Muhammad told his followers to read the Bible. May they have Bibles to read!

PASTOR JON T. KARN

Light on the Corner? Church in Montrose

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It would of course be totally inappropriate for U.S. armed forces to proselytize or attempt to convert people toward a certain religious faith. I understand that the actions that led to these accusations were not undertaken by the military per se, nor do they in any way represent official policy. This was apparently the work of several overly aggressive chaplains who represent a group of evangelical churches outside established denominations.

Therefore, the blame falls on these individuals who violated the military code. The chaplains who acted out of line should be disciplined per military regulations, and measures should be instituted to prevent future violations.

I don’t feel it’s ever a good idea to pressure someone into following a religious belief, let alone one that they were not born into. Coercion is never a good approach when it comes to spiritual matters; force may seem to work temporarily, but in the long term it will inevitably fail. The chaplains in question may have meant well, but they need to be taught the basics of religious education and principles.

Especially in conflicts like the ones we face in Iraq and Afghanistan — a situation that Islamic extremists want to cast as a religious war — American troops must take special care to avoid being seen as spiritual crusaders.

According to Jewish law, we are forbidden from proselytizing to those outside our faith. Judaic teachings call for active encouragement of a Jewish lifestyle to people of the Jewish faith only. We are required to use all available methods of education to intelligently and effectively influence people of our faith to greater commitment and wholesome participation.

While other spiritual traditions may take different approaches to the issue of conversion, no religious establishment should ever use our nation’s military forces as a vehicle for active proselytizing.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN

Chabad of Glendale? and the Foothills

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After reading the Newsweek magazine article “Christian Soldiers” by Kathryn Joyce, my first response was: “I hope we are not encouraging acceptance of militant missionaries among our troops.”

For me, Joyce’s observations raise some serious issues over respecting the spiritual beliefs of another culture and the free exercise of religion. The 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution addresses the free exercise of religion. We, as American citizens, deeply cherish the right to worship God through the spiritual organization of our choice. Can we extend this same right to the citizens of the Muslim countries?

Admittedly, the missionary zeal of a few military chaplains may have started with the best of intentions; however, guidelines need to be established at the command level and infantry level regarding respect, tolerance and not interfering with the basic civil rights of another culture, especially when the citizens of Muslim countries are in the vulnerable position of rebuilding their homes, businesses, schools and their government.

PASTOR JERI LINN

Unity Church of the? Valley in Montrose

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There is an old saying that just about everybody has heard of: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” The idea behind the saying is that if you are a guest in somebody’s house or somebody’s country, respect the customs of that house or country.

Unfortunately, the U.S. military has some wacko “Christians” in it, and these eager-beavers-for-Jesus think that if they don’t make every attempt in the world to bring a poor soul to Christ that they’ll fry in hell for their lack of trying.

In some countries, any religion that is not Islam is forbidden. While I as an American may oppose such an “exclusivist” point of view, I have no right to ram Jesus down somebody else’s throat, especially if my ramming causes that person to get into trouble with his country’s authorities.

I am, of course, aware of the scripture passage in Matthew 28:19 that says for us to “go and baptize all nations” — but remember that Jesus didn’t force himself on anybody either, and illegally forcing “Christianity” on an unsuspecting Muslim is an act of arrogance as well as disrespect.

It also violates church/state separation, which military commanders have to know. How about a mandatory crash course in the Koran for those military commanders who knew better, but didn’t lift a finger to stop such violent proselytizing?

PASTOR CLIFFORD L.? “SKIP” LINDEMAN

La Cañada? Congregational Church

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Nobody in the military is holding a sword to citizens in any population and demanding they convert or die. This is not the way Christianity is spread, though it has been the way of many in the countries where our Christian soldiers find themselves.

Imagine, not shooting people, but giving them free Bibles. What horror! Please, do we really need military command taking action against this? These countries are also not purely Muslim. Thousands of Christians live in Afghanistan, and hundreds of thousands live in Iraq. Distributing Bibles to people in their own language is similar to the Gideons in America who stand on the street corners and simply smile while offering the word of God to anyone willing to receive them.

Most who accept are not Christians, or they would already have Bibles. This is not coercion, but out of concern for the people’s welfare, the words of life are offered to them. Jesus said, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32). But how can freedom come when truth is inaccessible? Christian troops are only doing what God would have them do, and they don’t appear to be expressly violating any military protocol, certainly none to the exaggerated “serious.”

Chaplains serve as spiritual leaders for their warrior flock, and unless they are free to obey God and lead in the dissemination of scripture, they don’t really represent the faith adequately. Yes, soldiers wear the uniform of our nation, composed of many religions, but Christianity is not like other religions that are happy to live and let die. It compels the compassionate disciple to reach the lost, and that is the entire world without Jesus. It’s a good, American, thing.

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news .?.?. who proclaim salvation” (Rom. 10:15 and Isa. 52:7 NIV).

THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM

Montrose? Community Church

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