Comments about ‘Pentagon says military personnel can evangelize but not proselytize’

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Published: Monday, May 6 2013 10:40 a.m. MDT

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Jon W.
Murray, UT

It seems like the Pentagon is re-defining words to suit its purposes

American Fork, UT

I'm not sure how fine the semantics get between evangelise and proselytize. One thing is for sure, however, is that the relationship among military personnel is such that it can become very easy for religion to become an expectation and imposition, rather than a voluntary exercise. It has no business in a military environment, except as a personal experience only. It poisons environments and enables behaviour that otherwise would not occur.

Far East USA, SC

“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),”

Who could possibly argue or disagree with this interpretation?

This should put an end to the "war on religion" in the military discussion.

Santaquin, UT

It's nice that some here seem to have it figured out but others may wonder about the two most important words in the statement: unwanted and intrusive. If a soldier says that he is Christian and believes in the Bible he will probably be ok. But what if he offers his Bible to another soldier to read? If a soldier announces to his buddies that he is a Christian and is going to church that should not be a problem. But what if he invites some of his buddies to go to church with him? If a soldier prays alone at his bunk before hitting the sack no one can object. But what if he tries to organize some of his buddies to meet each night to pray together and some in the unit feel left out or uncomfortable because they don't share the same faith. Just exactly where is the line that once crossed becomes unwanted and intrusive? No, I don't think this will put an end to the discussion at all.

Montana Mormon
Miles City, MT

So, it's the difference between consensual religious discussions and forced religious discussions, right? I see definite potential for linguistic litigation over perceived attributions. How would one prove, or defend, intent? I trust there will be more specific guidelines, perhaps even a rubric, to clarify the distinction between the two scenarios.

Craig Clark
Boulder, CO

According to my American Heritage Dictionary, evangelize and proselytize have a virtually identical definition. The Pentagon couldn't have made things any more confusing for the average GI.

Craig Clark
Boulder, CO

If I were an enlisted in the Armed Forces, I would have no problem discussing my beliefs with my fellow GIs. But if I were an officer, I would avoid even the appearance of spreading my views of the Gospel to those under my command.

Far East USA, SC

Let me help you to understand.

If 2 Mormon Missionaries come knock on my door to share their "gospel", and I tell them thanks but no thanks, No problem.

If they come back the next day and try again, that IS a problem.

Bottom line. Don't push religion where it is not wanted. Even if you think you have a religious "mandate" to do so.

New York, NY

While I think it is important to set some type of guidelines I sadly have to agree I think they just muddied the waters more not less. You will never be able to give clear cut definitions of what is and is not acceptable in every individual case but I think they need to keep working on a better set of guidelines.

Casey Ryback
Chapel Hill, NC

There's been a huge amount of confusion about this. Let me try to bring clarity.

At places like USAFA, Colo., you have Protestant commanders trying to lecture Roman Catholics, Jews, and others about Protestantism, in a very heavy-handed way.

That's wrong. That is not the American way.

If those commanders need to be corrected about this basic U.S. tenet -- they need to leave military service and re-enter the private sector. And they can do whatever they want. That would be more honest, fair, and authentic.

Eagle Mountain, UT

Here is what I see being the distinction.

A Chaplain is perfectly free to preach what his religion is from the pulpit. DoD policy prohibits them teach anything contrary to their established religious beliefs.
Said Chaplain can perform any rite authorized by his religion on any Service Member wanting and qualifying for said rite. (e.g. baptism, eucharist)

What the Chaplain cannot do, or any other officer, is require a Service Member to attend a worship service, or participate in any rite.

A Soldier who is friends with another soldier may share religious beliefs, but the moment the receiving Soldier wishes it to end, it must. However, a leader sharing may cross that line of undue influence.

A First Sergeant in formation may announce times for Church call, however he cannot direct that Soldiers attend any particular service.

It really isn't more complicated than any other job and proselytizing. Would your employer like you to be using Company time to preach? No, but they let you use the company bulletin board in the break room to announce an activity your Church is conducting. There's a world of difference.

Twin Lights
Louisville, KY

When the person sharing their beliefs is is your sergeant or commanding officer, the line between evangelizing and proselytizing could be fine indeed.

New York, NY

@twin lights

I think you bring up an important distinction that should be made. I think people in authority over another person should not be evangelizing to that person at all due to the real or perceived power difference. Such a distinction is often made in the work place with reference to other non-work related subjects.

Eagle Mountain, UT

@Twin Lights

I absolutely agree.

I had a commanding officer who liked to talk religion, and so do I. We were of different faiths, but I understood that when we spoke like this (always off duty, or when on duty it didn't go beyond a few minutes) it was man to man, not Soldier to Soldier. He would make that very clear before any discussion was had. He understood that I understood where the line was.

I don't think or feel he crossed a line because there was no coercion, nor use of Military status, and it was not done in front of the Company, rather in private. However, it would have been very easy to cross that line.

Looking back, it may not have been the most prudent thing to do, but I have met very few men I respect more.

Craig Clark
Boulder, CO

U.S. military chaplains are volunteers who have to meet qualifications for being an officer to be accepted into the Chaplain Corps. If accepted, they become commissioned officers who answer to the military chain of command, not to any ecclesiastical authority.

They are required to honor separation of church and state be they Catholic chaplains, LDS chaplains, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, etc. The reason specific religions are represented is not to promote any belief but to be able to minister to the spiritual needs of a diverse group of soldiers. All chaplains, regardless of which religion they represent are ethically sworn to answer a call to minister to any soldier seeking solace regardless of his or her personal creed or lack thereof.

Chaplains are to be found in battle, generally not bearing arms.

Bountiful, UT

Casey Ryback mentioned problems at the Air Force Academy that may have been a spur for this policy.

A few years back at the Academy the situation with Evangelical Christians running things got to be pretty blatant:

-The football coach had a big sign over his office at the Academy that said "Team Jesus", with the strong implication that Jesus was the one Evangelicals worshipped, not Mormons, probably not Catholics, certainly not Jews.

-Important religious meetings were held at the on-Academy home of the Academy Commander, with suspicions from non-"Christian" cadets that plumb assignments among the cadets were handed to appropriately worthy believers of the same religion.

-At least one lawsuit was filed, by a 2nd generation Air Force cadet who happened to be Jewish, asserting that discrimination was occurring with preferences given to "Christian" cadets.

For LDS, this is not unlike a situation in Texas where a highschool had an official "prayor" student body officer position who would offer the pregame prayers before football games. Before one game the prayer called on God to help the Catholic and Mormon kids see the error of their ways.

layton, UT

RE: Casey Ryback, At places like USAFA, Colo., you have Protestant commanders trying to lecture(Evangelize/gospel) Mormons, (Roman Catholics), Jews, and others about Protestantism, in a very heavy-handed way. True,

This is a difficult situation for Bible believing Christians. They should not go over the line yet They have a *command from on high as well:

“Therefore *go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Mt: 28:19, The Trinitarian Baptism formula.

oman Catholics are Christians and are saved by belief in the triune God same as Protestants.

Casey Ryback
Chapel Hill, NC

" .. This is a difficult situation for Bible believing Christians. They should not go over the line yet They have a *command from on high as well:"

Again -- such persons should then leave military service and enter the private sector. Where they will be free to do what they want, under common law.

No one -- no one -- has the right to abuse, under color of authority, the constitutional rights of others. This is the USA (at least, for now). This is not Cuba, North Korea, China, Russia, etc. -- yet.

And BTW:

There's no difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants? What about Martin Luther? My God, I cannot believe that has to be explained, in a forum like this.

Huntsville, UT

Wow, I agree with most of the comments made today. What a topsy-turvy world we're living in these days.

@donn; @What Casey Ryback said. It bears repeating.

clearfield, UT

The term seperation of church and state does not apply here, or anywhere else in the constitution. If it did, then there would be no state money being paid to military chaplins in the first place. No churches built on government property, ect. Seperation of church and state is NOT a term in the U.S. Constitution, and it shows by examples I've just given. It is a hope by the anti-religious types that it be there, kind of like privacy to justify Roe/Wade. The constitution trumps any particular judge or court. Unless we have a "living breathing constitution" open to interpretation, in which case, we have nothing except the whims of judges. Any citizen of America should be scared by that system. You may like some liberal judge rulings, but one day, a conservative judge will demolish all your liberal progress on a whim using the same ability to "interpret". Best advise, stick with the written constitution, and if you want more, or less, amend it.

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