Ranger Suicide Prevention Becomes Christian Sermon

Update 12/28: Chris Carroll with Stars and Stripes quotes Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, commander of Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning as saying, “[the chaplains’] role is not to provide religious instruction during non-religious mandatory training classes… Chaplains may appropriately share their personal experiences, but any religious information given by a Chaplain to a military formation should be limited to an orientation of what religious services and facilities are available and how to contact Chaplains of specific faiths.”

This is an entirely appropriate response, providing appropriately for personal expression and reference to religious services but prohibiting specific religious instruction.


Update 12/11: Liberty Institute attacks unit for disciplining chaplain. Update 12/3: the back of the flyer has been added below.

Chaplain to Ranger Battalion troops at mandatory suicide prevention training: “Invite Jesus into whatever you’re feeling.”


click to enlarge

Serving as senior trainer at annual suicide prevention training on November 20th, the battalion chaplain for 5th Ranger Training Battalion presented Christian scripture and solutions. On November 19th, just the day before, in a Congressional spectacle, and under the banner of “conscience protection” and religious liberty, evangelical activists were invited to tell evangelical Members of Congress about their imagined and often fabricated plight of evangelicals in the military. Just a day later, a chaplain used his official position to force his personal religious beliefs on a captive military audience.

Suicide is an epidemic in our military. When the military condones evangelism in mental health training, the epidemic will get worse not better. The document at the right was used during the training presentation and focused exclusively on Christian solutions to suicide. Make no mistake that this would at best separate humanists and non-Christians from scientific and like-minded solutions and very likely do psychological harm by making them feel even more alienated and depressed.

Instruction material: Coming out of the Closet to God: Following the Pattern of David. Including 19 bulletized points, 14 relying directly on Christian scripture. 5th Battalion solution for suicide: “Invite Jesus into whatever you’re feeling.”

Nearly the entire audience of 150 military personnel were junior in rank the the chaplain and compelled to attend this day-long session of various topics including suicide prevention. The Battalion Commander and senior officers were in attendance and apparently condoned the mandatory sermonizing in this event. Discussion with evening staff duty personnel did not produce an immediate response. “If evangelicals in Congress want military chaplains to enforce Christianity in their official duties, then they are getting their wish.” said Jason Torpy, President of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers. “But if we all seek religious liberty and the mental health of our military men and women, then there should be swift action against that chaplain, his endorsing agency, and the Battalion Commander who participated in this wanton abuse of their military authority.”

This event recalls a prior mandatory training event in 2012 where 800 soldiers at Joint Base San Antonio were forced into worship sermon and a candlelit prayer vigil. At the time, whistleblower and Army Staff Sergeant Vicki Gettman had this to say.

“I am scared for the younger soldiers that try to go in there and make complaints because I know that it can be intimidating. I feel bad for all these young soldiers in this situation who are trying to get help.”

She points to a privilege ignored at the Congressional briefing – chaplains are given a captive audience and a position of power to help military personnel, not to treat as their personal flock. This power and access afforded to the chaplain by virtue of the chaplain military responsibilities comes with the responsibility for the chaplain not to inflict his ‘conscience’ on those entrusted to him. The chaplain is carrying out a program of instruction to a captive audience on behalf of the United States Army. That means the program of instruction is Army instruction not a chaplain or commander’s personal religious beliefs. No amount of caveats like ‘this is just for me’ or ‘something to consider’ can hide the coercive and evangelical message being sent by a senior officer. The only solution is to have the personal integrity to keep personal opinions out of official duties.

This event also points to recent issues of command-facilitated proselytism at NAS Lemoore where a chaplain spent months preaching at length about Creationism and against science in his emails to the entire installation. And every subordinate who salutes a senior officer at 2-34 Armor Battalion in Kuwait is “Fear God”. These sorts of religious messages being pushed through official channels are by any definition coercive. Anyone who has the slightest understanding of military culture understands the power of even implied tasks.

Let us all be clear about a few things:

  • The chaplain’s Christian approach to suicide prevention would be 100% appropriate in the context of an opt-in denominational Christian sermon, even if it were given by the chaplain on a military installation. Such an event would be clearly faith-based and optional. A mandatory official training event should not morph into Christian church. MAAF affirms the right of any trainee to have equal access to Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Humanist, and other values-based services, so long as it’s optional.
  • The candlelit vigil at Joint Base San Antonio mentioned above would be entirely appropriate if it were an optional event, even if it were scheduled outside on a military installation. (Though scheduling it in front of the Post Exchange as a way to push religion on passers-by would then cause it to cease to be an optional event.)
  • The Creationist messages at NAS Lemoore are distasteful because they were often justified as science not as faith. But misrepresenting science should be within the freedom of speech and religion rights, so long as official non-optional email distribution lists are not used to spread such featured, undiluted Christian evangelism. Distribution meeting the chaplain email policy recommendations of MAAF provide lots of room for Christian messages on official systems.
  • The Fear God motto of 2-34 Armor Battalion is so outrageous an enforcement of religious fear by the command that it cannot be condoned in any way, yet it continues.

5bn suicide 3Clarifying Information:

  • The event was held in civilian clothes and only for military at the campus of the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega. Civilian clothes were the required uniform since the event was off the installation, but it was no less official or mandatory. They were just borrowing the larger auditorium.
  • The chaplain did provide secular suicide training instructions, and many sessions in addition to suicide prevention were held during the day.
  • The unit is subordinate to Ft Benning and is remote in order to conduct the mountain phase of Ranger School north of Atlanta at Camp Frank D Merrill.
  • This is an issue of military health, effectiveness, and command policy. Any attempt to characterize this issue as someone simply being “offended” is a tactic to blame the victim for the failures of their senior officers.

 Update 12/3: Back of the flyer

5bnsuicidebackUnit personnel, including the chaplaincy and the public relations personnel MAAF contacted while researching the story did not provide the back of the flyer. A source provided this, supposedly the back of the flyer listed above.

The flyer has a giant soldier bowing to a cross, which exacerbates the problem on the other side. As noted in the original article, legitimate secular resources were provided. But that does not excuse overt, mandatory, command-sponsored proselytism.

It’s unclear whether the four featured counseling services on the flyer were selected by the chaplain or if there was proper selection by a team of professional therapists. Alpha Hope is first on the list and provides only “Christian counselors”. This adds to the proselytism found throughout the flyer. ACCARES promotes Christian/herbal therapies. MAM is a single practitioner promoting eye-movement therapy. North Georgia seems to be a general secular practice. While there may be reason to question the others, only Alpha Hope seems obviously evangelical. The phone numbers provided seem exclusively to be military/government resources.

  • http://alphahopecounseling.com/
  • http://www.northgacounseling.com/
  • http://www.accareswellness.org/
  • http://mamcounseling.com/

33 Responses to Ranger Suicide Prevention Becomes Christian Sermon

  1. Pingback: Army Chaplain Refuses To Be Censored On Bible | wchildblog

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  3. Dear Mr. Torpy,
    Have you read the Bible? Do you have a personal vendetta against the Creator to make such disparaging comments against Him and the Book He gave us? For example, what is wrong with statements such as, “A glad heart makes a face happy, but heartache breaks the spirit.”Proverbs 15:13 ?? Or what is wrong with ,”For this very reason, try your hardest to furnish your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with perseverance, perseverance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” II Peter 1:4??
    This Book has the very answers and solutions that will rescue soldiers from taking their lives! And yet your words and influence are intended to drive people away from the very Source that could save them from themselves! God only gives Life and is the source of real love, the very thing that thirsty men and women need to have any hope of continuing on in this life! I would recommend that you do some personal study before making any more accusations that depression would increase because of God and what He has written in His Book. Your article also makes me question what tragedy occurred in your personal life to drive you so to ensure that others have nothing to do with the very Source of Life? I know the Creator, Adonai Elohim, and there is nothing in His nature that promotes suicide. He is the very essence of love, and truth, mercy, understanding, and compassion, the Giver of true life. And He also never changes. But He is a gentlman and He will not force His way into anyone’s life. But after reading this article, I cannot stand by while you criticize this chaplain and his noble efforts to help people. Your stand is in error and I strongly urge you to mend your ways and study out what you don’t know about Adonai Tzavot the Lord of Hosts.

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  20. To all readers and Jason Torpy,

    Thank you for your response Jason. I appreciate the frank, yet polite, conversation. A subject such as this can facilitate a rather heated discussion.

    1. I disagree with you about the examples of historical figures being inconsequential. It demonstrates the speaker’s thought process. He obviously thought through the fact that there are those that will be of differing opinions and they need to understand that his story is his story and not a mandatory direction for others. With this being said it is not a stretch for Jewish or Christian-based personal experience to be brought up since King David figures into both of those religions.

    2. Still, I disagree with this point of yours as well. The battalion leadership may have been “in place listening” but they heard the speaker bring up that it was ‘his story,’ that there were other ways to seek health than his way, and they heard the opportunity for discussion. The person that provided the information to MAAF didn’t demonstrate fear, but anger. The battalion offers several avenues for redress that could he could have utilized even if he was fearful:
    a) The individual could have spoken up during the briefing’s discussion period and provided a differing method of healing.
    b) The individual could have engaged the chaplain directly regarding the perceived offense.
    c) The individual could utilize the WELL KNOWN open door policy. The leadership recommends the policy on a regular basis and listens to recommendations from all soldiers. To say that the policy is just now being discussed with soldiers demonstrates a lack of research on the author’s part.
    d) I will assume that most readers of this site are military given the association’s title. So, most should know then that each unit has an Equal Opportunity representative. There’s one in each company and one for the battalion as a whole. That means there are five people in this battalion that are designated, outside the chain of command, to facilitate redress for those with grievances.
    e) The individual could always call JAG
    f) Finally, the individual could always call the Inspector General. This can be done outside the chain of command, and, since the IG is from outside the battalion, the individual would have no reason to fear any poor response from peers on superiors.

    The tactic dictated here is not retreat as you say but direct action with the chain of command or a request for ‘reinforcements’ through one of the Army’s many alternatives.

    As far as the battalion having been given every opportunity to respond to this article I am not so sure. The turnaround from event to publication was rather short for any chance at response. So what kind of research took place? And, why should a commander denounce evangelistic activity if no evangelistic activity occurred? This begs the question: If the speaker had quoted Freud and spoke of a humanistic approach for the predominance of the time then would he be guilty of proselytizing his world view? Then would the command be guilty of supporting humanism? To use the logic of the article the answer would be a resounding ‘yes’!

    3) The definition of proselytism is the practice of making proselytes according to dictionary.com. The chaplain had no intention that day and made it clear that he was not seeking to make proselytes. He simply professed his type of faith and presented how his faith, with the help of an Army psychologist, helped him heal. Surely this isn’t restricted by the “Free Exercise” clause? What is real abuse of power? It is the elimination of free discussion individually and professionally. The briefing didn’t even break the “Establishment” clause! Really, the worst thing he did was print the day’s notes on the letterhead that he did.

    The article does NOT have all the facts laid out. The article only addresses the chaplain’s use of scripture and only noted the listing of local resources when “a source” provided the information. In fact, the source that provided the back of the handout was a response to your facebook page post regarding this event by a person desiring that you tell the WHOLE story. You did not include that the chaplain DID offer examples other what he experienced. You did not include that the chaplain used an Army psychologist when he received counseling for his depression (an avenue unaffiliated with a particular faith).

    Please, don’t tell me the website published an accurate article where they gave ample response time for those involved. For a website that supports ‘freethinking’ it sure seems to desire to skew the truth and suppress opposing opinions.

    Thank you for the discussion. Respectfully,


    • Thank you Todd,

      I was the “source” and I provided it to help show that like a piece of paper, there are two sides to every story, and yes, wanted them to post the WHOLE story! I happen to know it, but I would like everyone to!


  21. To MAAF editor(s) and readers,

    I was in attendance to the brief with the Rangers. It is surprising to me that this article fails to mention a few issues.

    1. The speaker that day provided examples of several known persons in history that dealt with depression; namely King David and Winston Churchill. While the use of King David would provide further fuel for this article’s fire the use of Winston Churchill does not. In fact, he is known not to have adhered to any Christian religion…instead, one might call him a humanist based upon some of his quotes.

    2. The speaker facilitated a question and answer period at the end of his brief. The person that provided the brunt of the material for this portion of your article must have stayed silent. Why?

    3. The speaker repeatedly mentioned in his brief that there were other ways of dealing with depression than how he dealt with it. He was simply relating his success story about a very sad and difficult topic.

    Finally, I have a question for the person that provided the material for your article: The battalion has some very good senior leadership…why not use the open door policy? Why not use the Inspector General’s office or the Equal Opportunity representatives? Despite any differences amongst the Soldiers of the battalion I can’t fathom not addressing issues within the battalion first. I find it very sad that a fellow soldier would lack the courage to stand up for his own beliefs in a respectful and dignified manner. Instead we have an article with half truths that smears the name of our unit that has no named author.


    • 1) Thanks for sharing, but I’m not sure why that matters. And I think we can agree that mentioning King David as an example of a leader with depression is reasonable seems like a real stretch to mention Christianity but it would also be a stretch to call it proselytism.
      2) Because the person was scared. If the battalion leadership is in place listening and says nothing, it send a clear message that proselytism is command policy. Tactics dictate retreat to a stronger position in the face of overwhelming forces. You should be asking why the command is supporting evangelism not blaming the oppressed minority for be afraid to speak up. And your battalion was given every opportunity to respond to this before the article came out and they chose to ignore it and haven’t followed up since, other than to tell everyone to ‘use the open door policy’. If your commander can’t openly and quickly respond denouncing this evangelistic activity, you can’t expect individuals to come forward when a clear policy supporting proselytism is in place.
      3) That doesn’t excuse proselytism. If he mentioned religious options like church, meditatioin, and wiccan cleansing rituals, then that would have been appropriate and measured. But he gave a Christian sermon with handouts. That’s abuse of power.

      This article is fair and has all the facts laid out. And the only problem identified is that Christian resources, handouts, and sermonizing was part of a mandatory suicide briefing. All of the secular resources provided are acknowledged in the article. If you and the chaplains and leaders at that unit don’t see the error in that chaplain’s actions in the moment, then you can’t be surprised when personnel go outside the system. And as I said, MAAF contacted the unit in advance of publishing the story, and they chose to ignore the issue rather than engaging to resolve the issue or explain themselves.

      • Mr. Torpy’s reply pales in comparison to Todd’s. Mr Torpy is relying on a scared persons 2nd hand account of what happened versus a level headed eye witness account from a seasoned veteran. I think I will believe the eye witness.

        • Mr Torpy is relying on the actual document handed out at the event. We are not in dispute as to what happened but rather whether it was acceptable or not. The facts are not in dispute but rather the judgment to be handed out. You will find the evangelists have now picked up the story and are confirming that he did evangelize at the event but that he should not be punished.

          • “…3) That doesn’t excuse proselytism. If he mentioned religious options like church, meditatioin, and wiccan cleansing rituals, then that would have been appropriate and measured. But he gave a Christian sermon with handouts. That’s abuse of power… ”

            So the military people that post in favor of atheism and not being publicly “accepting” of religion and using their official military rank on sites such as yours are not “abusing power” when they (apparently officially) condemn religion? If a known religious military member is under the command and control of one of these people isn’t that “abusive”? I do believe an IG complaint against members of this site that are posting using their military rank and are active duty or reserve could be appropriate.

            What are your thoughts?

            Thank you,

        • Rod said:
          “So the military people that post in favor of atheism and not being publicly “accepting” of religion and using their official military rank on sites such as yours are not “abusing power” when they (apparently officially) condemn religion?”

          We’re talking about a mandatory military briefing and a chaplain acting in his official capacity. That’s totally different than someone posting a comment on the internet. Do you recognize the difference?
          Also, this isn’t about being ‘abusive’ and if you were looking for abusive, you should check out the evangelicals calling for our heads… But this isn’t about being offended, it’s about the integrity of the chaplaincy and the military. If you’re on a mission, stick to it, don’t add a Christian sermon to a suicide briefing.

          Pray in your home or your school. Pray on the street if you want. If it’s a briefing like this, it’s totally appropriate to mention chaplain services and talk about personal experiences. But that’s not what happened. Not even close. The chaplain made his sermon an integral part of the briefing and made a Christian handout. That’s abuse of power and he deserves the tiny slap on the wrist he got and more.

    • Hello Todd,

      Thank you for your service. I am a veteran and unfortunately a “Gold Star” family member. Here’s the bottom line: I as a civilian will stand for a soldiers Freedom OF (not from!) religion. If PROOF can be provided that a senior soldier is giving bad reviews/withholding promotions to a subordinate for being religious or non-religious then there are venues to take proper action. To simply state you cannot have faith or speak of your faith is simply unconstitutional and un-American!


      • Rod,

        You have my heart-felt sympathies for your family and their sacrifice. My heart is pinched by the gravity and the passion with which you must write, but don’t construe that I said, “you cannot have faith or speak of your faith.” I have said nothing of the sort. As a point of fact I am a believer in Christ and His sovereignty.
        I have two post on this article. I do desire to conduct this discussion in the most civilized of manners which I think many cannot do. I am not offended by this website or its creators…I don’t see it as my place to be offended by them. Instead I am offended by the service member that failed to conduct himself in a professional and reputable manner by allowing the Army the first opportunity in fixing what he saw as affront to him. I desire that this conversation with MAAF be productive. I think that much of our society desires to shut out Christian opinions/view points by saying that we need to be more inclusive of other beliefs. I find that rather hypocritical. This is why I write. How can a person (or group) say that they are willing to allow for a Muslim to speak of Allah or a Humanist to speak of everything in the absence of a god, yet a Christian must be silent?
        If we delete one worldview (philosophy) from something such as a suicide brief then another will insert itself. The MAAF organization specifies, “we value the science-based mental health programs offered through the military and civilian agencies.” ((- See more at: http://militaryatheists.org/news/2014/12/5th-ranger-battalion-disciplines-evangelical-chaplain/#sthash.Z70ks4Fn.dpuf)) The problem with what they are advocating is that they desire programs, systems, regulations, etc. without the acknowledgment of anything. Period. This becomes an hypocrisy because it presupposes a humanistic foundation is the best approach. Therefore, they are working an agenda that does not provide an open, FREETHINKING forum for addressing anything.
        I write because, as a Christian, I do NOT desire that another person or organization shut up. Rather, I DO desire that there be actual open and free dialogue for people of all backgrounds, faiths, and opinions.
        Our founding fathers did actually accomplish this by designing and implementing a bill of rights, government, and initial set of laws that were based upon Judeo-Christian values. Yes, there have been times in our history where people, government or individuals, have sought to silence dissenting views. However, The US seems to have done the greatest job at delivering and upholding these freedoms better than almost any other nation in history. So, why does our society attempt to change that? I don’t know, but I do know that if I sit silent, if I speak with hate, if I can’t be willing to listen then I am not contributing to a solution for sustaining this great country.
        Rod, I wish you well. If I have misplaced your comment. Simply relpy and let me know.

        • “The problem with what they are advocating is that they desire programs, systems, regulations, etc. without the acknowledgment of anything. Period. This becomes an hypocrisy because it presupposes a humanistic foundation is the best approach.”
          This is incorrect. Just because we like science-based approaches doesn’t mean that is why the military chooses a science-based approach.
          It’s also incorrect to say ‘without the acknowledgement of anything’. We’re very clear that chaplains can and should ‘acknowledge’ religious solutions. But this wasn’t an ‘acknowledgement’ or a ‘mention’, it was a detailed sermon.
          If the chaplain told brief personal story, gave references to the Christian, Jewish, Humanist, Muslim, and other services available through the chaplain’s office, and then moved on to the approved, scientific suicide prevention training, there would be no problem.

    • Todd, would you please contact me? I’m a former 3/75 Ranger with interest in this story – and a couple questions you could help me answer. holtocw (at) gmail



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