Yesterday, I learned that Kenyn Cureton, VP at Family Research Council, removed from view David Barton’s Capitol Tour video. The YouTube video was made private on Dr. Cureton’s You Tube account which means that it will not show up in search results or via link. The video advertised the Watchman Pastors aspect of FRC’s work and had over 4 million views. The video had been a source of contention here and among thirty-three Christian historians who recently made FRC aware of their concerns.
I commend Dr. Cureton and FRC for removing the video which contained several clear errors in a short span of time. On that video, Barton said that Congress printed the first English Bible in America for the use of public schools and repeated his contention that Jefferson sent missionaries to evangelize the Kaskaskia Indians. Barton repeated his frequent claims that 29 out the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence had Bible school or seminary degrees. There were no Bible schools at the time and the word seminary meant any educational institution. The word was not associated with theological education as it is today.
In the past, Barton has argued that those who find fault with his facts are either liberals or misguided. It will be much harder to argue these points in reference to the Family Research Council. Many evangelicals worry about religious liberty but there is no virtue in defending religious liberty with error. In this context, the words of Thomas Jefferson seem appropriate:
Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong.
On April 30, Todd Starnes cited Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen on military policy regarding religious proselytizing (in italics):
The Pentagon confirmed to Fox News that Christian evangelism is against regulations.
“Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense, LCDR Nate Christensen said in a written statement. He declined to say if any chaplains or service members had been prosecuted for such an offense.
“Court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases,” he said.
Using these comments, Starnes made a case that the military was preparing to court martial Christians who openly speak about their beliefs. However, there was more to the quote than Starnes printed. Late yesterday, Lt. Cmdr. Christensen provided the entire response he gave to Starnes when first asked about the military policy on sharing one’s faith. While I don’t have the questions Christensen was asked, here is the statement Christensen gave to Fox News (in italics):
“The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs. The Department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services.
Court martials and non-judicial punishment are decided on case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases.
However, religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense.”
Do you see what Starnes did there? He left out the longer section of Christensen’s answer that affirmed “free access of religion for all members of the military services.” Then he reversed the order of the quotes to make it seem as though the outcome of religious proselytizing cases would be court martial. In fact, Christensen stated the obvious fact that the goal of the DoD is for the punishment to fit the crime, whatever it is. Religious proselytizing, though not permitted, will not necessarily result in the harshest punishments, unless circumstances warrant that penalty. Starnes is not completely wrong but he left out information that would have provided a more accurate picture of the situation.
Todd Starnes was on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show last night and they linked the two statements together out of the original sequence as presented by the DoD spokesman.
Another false aspect being reported (last night on Hannity) is that the Pentagon is walking back from an earlier position. According to Christensen, this is not true. He confirmed that there is nothing new in these regulations and that a ban on proselytizing (coercion) was in place before the recent controversy.
Even if the first statement had been reported in total, I can imagine that many people would have wanted clarification of terms. What is proselytizing exactly and what is acceptable sharing of faith? These are reasonable questions that the DoD addressed in yesterday’s statement. However, the worries over Christians being vulnerable to court martial just for speaking about their beliefs were over the top.
For the most recent DoD statement on religious proselytizing, go here. At that link, you can also see the DoD statement on Mikey Weinstein’s alleged influence on the recent regulations. Starnes said in his April 30 post, that the DoD was “vetting” regulations with Weinstein. According to the DoD, this dramatically overstates the importance of Weinstein’s meeting at the Pentagon. In short, the regulations on religious proselytizing were in place long before the recent meeting with Weinstein.
Social media sources have blown up over the last week with worries that the military is preparing to purge Christians and court martial believers for sharing their faith. To counter these inaccurate reports, Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen told me in an email that the DoD does not target religious groups and respects the religious liberty of all service members. Speaking on behalf of the DoD, Lt. Cmdr. Christensen's full statement is here (in italics):
"The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution. The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members.
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).
If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence. Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case by case basis.
The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs. The Department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services.
Christensen also told me that this statement reflects existing DoD policy and does not reflect any recent change.
On April 30, Fox News pundit Todd Starnes told his listeners that military leaders met with Military Religious Freedom Foundation leader Mikey Weinstein in April to discuss military regulations against sharing one’s religious faith (For a DoD statement on that meeting, click this link). From there, some religious groups and conservative media sources spread concerns that the military was about to go on a purge of Christians who spoke openly about their faith. For instance, Breitbart News posed this headline: Pentagon May Court Martial Soldiers Who Share Christian Faith.” Family Research Council has a petition with the title: Urge Pentagon to Scrub Plan to Court-Martial Christians.
As the DoD statement clarifies, the concern over Christians being targeted seems to be unwarranted. Starnes mentioned an Air Force Instruction as one of the sources of concern. However, a look at the full regulation (in italics below) does not seem so ominous:
2.11. Government Neutrality Regarding Religion. Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order, and discipline. Airmen, especially commanders and supervisors, must ensure that in exercising their right of religious free expression, they do not degrade morale, good order, and discipline in the Air Force or degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force.
2.12. Free Exercise of Religion and Religious Accommodation. Supporting the right of free exercise of religion relates directly to the Air Force core values and the ability to maintain an effective team.
2.12.1. All Airmen are able to choose to practice their particular religion, or subscribe to no religious belief at all. You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own.
2.12.2. Your right to practice your religious beliefs does not excuse you from complying with directives, instructions, and lawful orders; however, you may request religious accommodation. Requests can be denied based on military necessity. Commanders and supervisors at all levels are expected to ensure that requests for religious accommodation are dealt with fairly.
The regulation does not forbid expressing one’s faith to others but does require superior officers to “avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion.” Why would anyone oppose this common sense directive? Using one’s position of authority to compel religious speech or practice should be forbidden and is a protection against manipulation for all soldiers. For instance, this regulation could come into play if an atheist superior officer constantly mocks the religious views of subordinates, implying favor to those who are like-minded. This regulation only covers imposition of religious beliefs and specifically mentions coercion from a military leader as an illustration. Simply expressing one’s religious beliefs is a matter of free speech. However, this can cross over to become a problem when differences are not respected and the cohesion of the group is threatened by religious rivalries and disputes. The military has a compelling interest in maintain such cohesion and Christians should support these regulations as best of for all concerned.
Religious programming is allowed to take place but the source of information about religious matters must come through the chaplains, as indicated by this 2011 memo on the regulation cited above:
So all the talk about chaplains being unable to do their jobs is unfounded. While they cannot treat military members as a captive audience for their advancement of their sect, they can offer information and spiritual guidance to those who seek it. As noted by the DoD statement above, telling others about one’s faith is fine; forcing one’s faith on to others, especially those in a subordinate position, is not.
Last week, I critiqued one of the central claims in the book, The Covenant, by Timothy Ballard. To help prove that the British and Americans are descended from the lost tribes of Israel, Ballard claims Genesis 49:22 as a prophecy of America. In fact, his rendering is tendentious and completely untenable. He also claims that Jeremiah 31 predicts the gathering of the Israelites in America. However, the text of Jeremiah 31 clearly designates where a future gathering will take place, and it is not America. To fully understand Ballard’s claim, you should read the post on Genesis 49. His basis for seeing America in Jeremiah is his faulty reading of Genesis 49:22. When he claims Joseph’s posterity was a land “over the wall (he says this means over the Atlantic),” he begins his reading of Jeremiah on a false foundation. Ballard writes:
He [Jeremiah] declares that they will be gathered from “the coasts of the earth” (Jeremiah 31:8). (Recall that Joseph’s posterity was given a land “over the wall” of water and separate from the rest of the tribes of Israel. If they were to travel over this wall, of course they would begin at “the coasts of the earth.”) He further details this migration, stating that “Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion.” Jeremiah foresees them traveling from the “north country” (Europe?), being gathered from “the coasts” (the British Isles?), and delivered into this new land of its inheritance (America?), saying they will come “with weeping, and with supplication” (the historical record is clear on the difficulties faced by our American founders’ early migration and settlement).* (Kindle Locations 851-857).
Jeremiah 31 specifies where the restoration of Israel will take place. You can read the entire chapter here; I have selected verses which designate the specific elements of the restoration.
Jeremiah 31: 1“ At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.” This is what the Lord says:
I will build you up again, and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt. Again you will take up your timbrels and go out to dance with the joyful. Again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; the farmers will plant them and enjoy their fruit.
There will be a day when watchmen cry out on the hills of Ephraim, ‘Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.’”
This chapter refers to a future time when the tribes of Israel, including Joseph’s descendants, will be restored to Palestine. Three locations are named here – Zion (Jerusalem) and the hills of Samaria and Ephraim) – and they are not in America.
See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return. They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son. “Hear the word of the Lord, you nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands: ‘He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’
This is what the Lord says: “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord. “They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your descendants,” declares the Lord. “Your children will return to their own land.
It is very clear that this chapter pictures a return to the ancient homeland and not a new nation somewhere else. Verse 17 says that Ephraim’s children will return to their own land. There is nothing here about going elsewhere. The following verses make it even clearer where the restoration will take place.
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “When I bring them back from captivity, the people in the land of Judah and in its towns will once again use these words: ‘The Lord bless you, you prosperous city, you sacred mountain.’People will live together in Judah and all its towns—farmers and those who move about with their flocks. I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah. The whole valley where dead bodies and ashes are thrown, and all the terraces out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far as the corner of the Horse Gate, will be holy to the Lord. The city will never again be uprooted or demolished.”
This prophesy is quite specific, referring to the “land of Judah” and “its towns.” Towers, gates, hills and valleys are named with precision. None of these locations are in America. Another aspect of Jeremiah 31 which undermines the British-Israelism argument is in verse 27 where Judah and Israel are referred to as being planted together. According to the Ballard, the northern kingdom of Israel included the sons of Ephraim, who eventually became English settlers in America. In his book, he even calls the settlers “Ephraimites.” Ballard writes
And who were these chosen ones that would settle the New World? They were, for the most part, the European descendants of Joseph, even the Ephraimites, whose responsibility it would be to establish a national covenant in America, and then, building upon this covenant, usher in a renewal and expansion of Christianity. It was to be a covenant land that would bless Judah, help restore ancient Israel, and spread God’s truth and salvation. (Kindle Locations 1744-1752)
Clearly, Jeremiah 31 is about a return to the ancient homeland, and a restoration of the Jews, both Ephraim and Judah. There is nothing in this passage that refers to a re-gathering anywhere else and no American covenant. There are so many problems with Ballard’s approach to these texts that it becomes clear that he is interpreting them in light of Mormon theology and the Book of Mormon. In the first book, titled The American Covenant – the LDS version – the Book of Mormon is cited frequently. As I pointed out elsewhere, these references were removed as an aspect of a possible mission effort to expose non-Mormons to Latter Day Saint theology. Mormons see their membership as being primarily descendants of Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. From the LDS church website:
On another occasion President Joseph Fielding Smith emphatically stated: “The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph.” (Improvement Era, Oct. 1923, p. 1149.)
Mormons view Joseph Smith as a direct descendant of Ephraim.
“It is the house of Israel we are after, and we care not whether they come from the east, the west, the north, or the south; from China, Russia, England, California, North or South America, or some other locality. … The Book of Mormon came to Ephraim, for Joseph Smith was a pure Ephraimite, and the Book of Mormon was revealed to him.” (Journal of Discourses 2:268–69.)
Essentially The Covenant is an elaborate effort to bring Mormon beliefs to the masses with Barton's and Glenn Beck’s help. About the book, Beck gushed:
"I've been looking for a way to articulate this message for years. Ballard finally did it! Everybody needs to read this book, it is the key to restoring America."
In other words, the key to restoring America is a Mormon slant on history and theology. How oddly disturbing, then, for David Barton to also endorse the book in an effusive manner:
The concept of what a covenant truly is and means is unfamiliar to most today, for it far surpasses any legal understandings or obligations with which our current culture is acquainted. God established a covenant with Abraham and his posterity, the Bible recounts not only the duties but also the remarkable benefits produced by that mutual accord. Tim Ballard documents the “extension” of that covenant re-invoked during the establishment of this nation… a covenant made between God and America's early colonists and Founders. The Covenant not only shows the unprecedented blessings America has received as a result of obedience to God but also what every citizen today can do to honor our national covenant with God and thus ensure His continued blessings.
Given his endorsement, Barton seems to believe there is some relationship between the Abrahamic covenant and the arrival of the English to American shores. Barton’s endorsement probably means his evangelical followers will put stock in the Book of Mormon-inspired interpretations of history. If what some of Ballard’s fellow Mormons have said is true, this is exactly what Ballard and Beck hope to accomplish.
About Dr. Warren Throckmorton
Warren Throckmorton, PhD is Associate Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at Grove City College (PA). He co-founded the Golden Rule Pledge which advocates bullying prevention in evangelical churches. His academic articles have been published by journals of the American Psychological Association and he is past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. He is the author with fellow Grove City College professor, Michael Coulter, of the book, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President. Over 200 newspapers have published his columns. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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