Lemoore, Buehring Troops: Fear God, Accept Creationism
There is a long way to go for acceptance of nontheists in the military, and the overriding influence of Christianity is doing nothing to help. Two troubling reports exemplify the problem. In both cases, leaders seem baffled as to what the problem is. The first is from 2-34 Armor Battalion of the 1st Infantry Division, currently deployed in Kuwait from Ft Riley. Every member of the unit is required to say “Fear God” to any passing senior officer. At Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, one chaplain sent over 1200 military personnel encouragement to attend Creationist and other fundamentalist activities for months. Should these activities be overlooked or immediately shut down as part of a military with a healthy religious climate?
CAG does not stand for Creation And God
Bible study is part of a robust chaplaincy program, but in one chaplain at NAS Lemoore, spent months giving special and exclusive promotion to these his personal Creationist ministry. Officers are not commissioned to promote Christianity, not even chaplains are commissioned to do so. When they do so, there should be repercussions.
“Please join us as we worship, fellowship, study and prepare for eternity. … dinosaurs roamed only a few thousand years ago…with men. We have proof from archeology and soft tissue…not to mention sculptures from those who lived with them. … Realize the theory of evolution is still a theory because there is no science to prove it ever happened…and that is a fact! We focus [on] the science that demonstrates the rationale behind the belief in an Intelligent Designer…as opposed to random chance.” – quotes included in weekly encouragement from chaplains to attend Bible Study. Emails were sent to the full installation distribution (LMR_Everyone) and obtained by MAAF.
The chaplain at NAS Lemoore and leaders who condoned the communications have sadly failed MAAF chaplain email recommendations. Good invitations are clear about denominations, have diverse offerings, and send schedules as a service not a marketing activity. The chaplain seems to have forgotten his job is to support the beliefs of sailors, not to use his influence to push his beliefs on them. Asked about this issue months ago, the chaplain (who remains anonymous because this is about military culture and leadership not one chaplain) re-asserted his right to evangelize, re-asserted his scientific authority (without justification), and made no subsequent change in the tone or diversity of his ministerial promotions. Local commanders let the process continue for months thus giving tacit approval to one-size-fits-all chaplaincy and evangelism using official distribution lists.
But what about direct command promotion of religion…?
In Kuwait at 2-34 Armor battalion, the official call and response is “Fear God / Dreadnaught”. That means every person in the unit is expected* to loudly say “Fear God” and salute whenever passing a senior officer. If the statement were “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) or “Om Muniye” (Hail Vedics), would Christians be happy to say it many times a day? They wouldn’t be happy and they shouldn’t be forced to adopt someone else’s belief. The “Fear God” motto leaves out anyone who doesn’t believe in a personal God. What is particularly troubling is that this “Fear God” motto is not part of official heraldry and has been added by local commanders to the call/response, t-shirts, and even to the official unit crest. Commanders have for years set aside official policy and neutrality toward religion in favor of using their position to promote their personal religious beliefs. How have local EO representatives, lawyers, chaplains, and lateral/higher commanders let this go for even one day?
official crest has no religious reference
A spokesperson for 1st Armored Division and 2-34 Armor discussed the issue and declared that professing a belief and fear of God in this manner should be no big deal to atheists…
The use of “Fear God” does not require anyone who uses the word “God” to actually believe in or worship any god or higher power. The word “God” to those who do not believe is just a word. Just as a chapel to some folks is just a building and the Bible or Koran just books. Accordingly, its use does not violate AR 600-20 (Army Command Policy) or other Army regulation or law.
MAAF reiterated that yes, it does matter. And also that a unit motto of “Allahu Akbar” would not be “just a word” to Christians who don’t believe in Allah. Fear of government-mandated religion isn’t about the truth of the religious beliefs, it’s about the believers in power and what they might do to unbelievers. This attempt to deflect the problem by misrepresenting the beliefs of nontheists, turns a blind eye to the command climate and conveniently promotes religion in general and Christianity in particular.
* The representative also stated that saying “Fear God” during a salute is not required, but representatives were not responsive when asked what the alternative was and how those opting for the secular motto would be protected from retaliation. Stating something is optional is just lip service when, as in this case, secular alternatives are likely to draw negative attention or to eliminate benefits associated with religious default options. What soldier would want to be the one who didn’t Fear God in a unit where such a motto is put on the crest, t-shirts, and banners?
MAAF has reached out to unit and government leaders to ask for resolution to these issues. The response has ranged from asserting chaplain rights to proselytize to emphasizing the Biblical foundation for the activities to dismissing the beliefs of nontheists to demanding that a person in the unit come forward. While it is not unreasonable to request a unit member step forward, it is unreasonable to expect military personnel stick their necks out when commanders are aware of the issue and obviously unwilling to change. In these two instances, creationist were sent out by official distribution to the entire unit weekly and commanders hear the Fear God motto many times a day. Beyond these two examples, thus far there are no repercussions for War College evangelism, forced emplacement of Christian Crosses, denial of humanist chaplains, and years of humanist outreach have been resisted. This open, unapologetic promotion of (monotheistic) religion illustrates how far we nontheists and anyone supporting secular government have to go for a military that is neutral toward religious belief.
At NAS Lemoore and at 2-34 Armor Battalion, Christian leaders need to set aside their personal desire for evangelism. Instead, they should prioritize the military mission and value diversity of belief within their units. Free exercise of religion should be facilitated, not supercharged into proselytism by abusing command authority and access to unit resources.