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Dr. Warren Throckmorton Christian Blog and Commentary

On Religious Proselytizing and the Military: Spokesman’s Original Comments Used Out of Context

  • 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 ewthrockmorton@gcc.edu.
  • 2013 May 03
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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.

Related posts:

Is the Military Preparing to Court Martial Christians?

Department of Defense Statement on Religious Proselytizing