Questions Regarding Navy Base Bahrain Gospel Outreach Concert
At Naval Support Activity Bahrain, a “Gospel Desert Outreach Concert” is scheduled on the final Friday of Ramadan. The Chaplain sent an all-hands email August 16th to announce worship services, Bible classes, Catholic transition, and a concert to “reach people with the Good News”. Such an event brings to mind the clear violations with the Rock The Fort Evangelical Concerts at Ft Leonard Wood and Ft Bragg. The military exceeds its mandate when it sponsors an event by one particular religion to spread their beliefs, in this case Christianity. This installation is also under the authority of General Order 1B, which prohibits “proselytizing of any religion, faith, or practice”. A Christian concert in the public square in front of the Post Exchange on a military base is proselytizing by any definition, especially when many non-American Muslims are likely to be going to and from work. An officer stationed at the installation had this to say:
“As a career military officer working to promote security and stability in a volatile region of the world (and a region that takes their non-Christian religion very seriously), I was concerned that my command has allowed an evangelical event to “reach people with the Good News”. When Christians are posted in a high-traffic area on a military installation specifically to push Christianity on non-Christians, we send the wrong message of why are forces are here and what we do.”
This is an interesting case-in-point about the boundaries of legal and illegal religious programs. The full message, quoted below, has worship services, which, though exclusively Christian, are appropriate uses of the base chapel. One might ask when the Jewish, Muslim, or Humanist services are being held since those personnel are certainly on the installation, but that lack of support is a separate issue. There is a Church School for kids. This is a good example of appropriate religious services to provide for families. The Catholic community is offering a “Rite of Christian Initiation” for those who wish to become Catholic. This is a perfect example of the proper time, place, and manner to seek to convert people. The “Concert”, as advertised, hard to miss is in front of the Navy Exchange/NEX/BX, aka Freedom Souq (It’s like Navy Wal-Mart) and exceeds boundaries.
It may be the case that a small Gospel choir is going to sing in the vicinity of the Exchange. The Choir might have some positive hymns and that might be enjoyed by visitors and Christians alike. But it was billed as an Outreach Concert to spread the Good News (their caps), so it’s fair to expect more than a small gathering. The more of the following conditions that exist during the event, the more this event would be violating regulations:
- Event workers and participants encouraging attendees and passers-by to convert (rather than enjoying the music)
- Songs of conversion or promise of hell for those who don’t convert (rather than praise, values)
- Presenting materials that intend to convert others (rather than supporting existing believers)
- Placing a sectarian religious event in a major traffic area on the installation (where the event can’t really be avoided)
- Promotion by the command (beyond the general chaplain-distributed list of services)
In speaking with several current and prior Christian chaplains about this issue, there was general concurrence that a large proselytizing concert in front of the main Exchange on the installation is a violation. However, the event may have been misrepresented by the email itself, so it’s important to understand the event plans. Even with this information, many expressed a concern that a major Christian event, even if it weren’t overtly-evangelical, would cause a significant conflict with the local Muslim population, some of whom work on the installation. This may lead to demonstrations or threats against Americans. Having the events in the chapel or indoors at the theater rather than in a major thoroughfare in front of the Exchange would be more advisable in terms of managing religious tensions with the local population. Christians and others on the installation would still have every opportunity to attend. NSA Bahrain command has also dictate a long-sleeve and long-pants dress code for all personnel during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is currently being celebrated.
Chaplains were also concerned that a challenge to the event may be seen as limiting religious freedom exclusively to the chapel. They wanted to ensure that having religious meetings, discussions, Bible study, and even large gatherings outside in public places would be protected. There should be a place for talking about religion, in supportive or critical ways, and even inviting others to learn more, about adopting or questioning beliefs, but dedicated events to convert others is often inappropriate in the military context. Being clear and strict about where the boundaries lie will reduce religious tensions while also increasing religious freedoms for everyone.
Update 8/17, 3AM Eastern: The Base chaplain contacted MAAF with this to say: “This event was planned by the young man who thought it up as a way to let people know there are worshiping communities on our base, not win souls. In fact he asked participants to keep it to the music, and not use it as a bully pulpit.” The chaplain also said he rotates the content of the base-wide email including events and services for Jews, Muslims, Latter-Day Saints, and Seventh Day Adventists.” Among other things, MAAF requested further clarification about the location of the event and the chaplain oversight during the event to maintain proper procedures.
It’s important this story generate a conversation that can create policy that is more clear and more clearly applied. In addition, watch this article for follow-ups based on new information as it becomes available. MAAF emailed and called the Navy Installation IG office and emailed the Chaplain at Bahrain to try and encourage action on this issue. I hope the chaplains will be able to cancel and rethink this event before the damage is done. Below is the email that was sent out:
Sent: Thursday, August 16, 2012 4:11 PM, To: M-BA – All Bahrain Email List, Subject: Chapel Announcements August 17
CHAPEL ANNOUNCEMENTS August 17, 2012
Worship Opportunities this Friday – Sunday
Friday 0900 Roman Catholic Mass Main Chapel, 1050 Contemporary Protestant Worship Main Chapel, 1300 Traditional Protestant Worship Main Chapel
Sunday 1200 Roman Catholic Mass Main Chapel, 1730 Church of Christ Building 23 Chapel
GOSPEL ‘DESERT OUTREACH’ CONCERT: There will be a special concert held in the courtyard in front of the Freedom Souq on 17 August at 1900. There will be special music, food, and special messages featured. For more information, please contact the Chaplain’s Office at 439-4507. Members of our gospel congregation are leading this effort to reach people with the Good News.
PROTESTANT CHURCH SCHOOL @ FFSC Building by Chapel: The CHILDREN’S Class meets from 1100-1200 on Fridays. The students are dismissed from the worship service and returned to the chapel to meet their parents. Currently we are taking care of 3 years old-6th Grade. Adult class meets at 0930 at Building 23 on Fridays.
CATHOLIC R.C.I.A.: For those who are interested in the process of becoming Catholic, we are going to start classes at the end of September. Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is a program to teach people about the Catholic Church and the meaning of Her sacraments. If interested please contact: [contact removed by MAAF]
[From the Base Chaplain, name and contact removed by MAAF]