Jan 15, 2017 By Norris Burkes
Twice this week, folks forwarded me emails containing “urgent information.” One sender warned me about a new movie that ridicules Christ. The other implored me to ignore notes carjackers are placing on cars in the dark of night. A quick Google search exposed both as “urban legends.”
To most of us, these half-truths are annoyances, but for Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, they’re much worse.
Weinstein is the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and his organization represents military members seeking freedom of religion and sometimes, even freedom from religion. Truthfully, the MRFF is a bit left for my taste, but you have to respect their six nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.
However, folks don’t always like Mikey. Critics fire guns at his house, decapitate animals on his lawn and leave threatening phone messages day and night. His critics especially don’t like Weinstein’s foundation that recently asked the Air Force Inspector General to investigate their Chief of Chaplains, Maj. Gen. Dondi Costin, a two-star general.
What was Costin’s offense? He wore his military uniform to give the benediction at the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty (CARL).
Weinstein and MRFF complained because CARL is a political lobbying group and military regulations prevent all military personnel from wearing their uniform to a political event – even praying chaplains (DoD Instruction 1334).
The complaint seems kind of petty until you understand that CARL is a civilian group of “endorsing agents” from Christian fundamentalist churches. Endorsing agents are the shirts-and-ties who represent their denomination and vet their clergy for military service. For example, Liberty Baptist Fellowship, a group begun by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, endorses Chief of Chaplains Costin.
But CARL does more than endorse chaplains. They lobby congress to keep gays out of the military. And no matter how you feel about that, Weinstein makes a legitimate point that chaplains cannot add their uniformed blessing to any sort of political gathering.
The heat on the MRFF increased recently when the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) got into the fight. They incited large numbers of followers to post on social media the ridiculous notion that Weinstein was trying to prevent military chaplains from praying “in Jesus’ name” while in uniform.
The ACLJ leans much too right for me. They use the in-Jesus’-name thing as a hot button to incite conservative churches that literally believe every prayer must conclude with “In Jesus’ name, we pray.”
Between the left and the right, I tend to take the middle. So, believe me when I say, military chaplains aren’t restricted as to how they pray unless they are praying in mandatory formations of military folks. In those cases, chaplains must keep their prayers generic.
But the group I worry about most when these fights start might just be us. That’s right, Christians, plural. You and me.
I say that because Christians can be quick to teach prayer voiced “in Jesus’ name,” but somehow we aren’t as quick to rebuke the lies told in Jesus’ name. Even worse, the ease of pressing a computer key encourages us to forward the lies without checking the facts.
Reposting and forwarding things on social media is a common practice. I suppose it’s harmless if you’re simply reposting photos to “prove” you support our troops or “prove” that you love God.
But if you’re a person of faith and you repeatedly forward every hot-collared accusation against every group you consider disagreeable, you might as well be among those who are taking potshots at Weinstein and his family.
So, if you’re looking for something positive to forward, please forward this column to everyone in your address book. I could really use some new readers.
CARL at chaplainalliance.com
Military Religious Freedom Foundation at militaryreligiousfreedom.org
American Center for Law and Justice at ACLJ.org
– To see Norris’s latest book, “Thriving Beyond Surviving,” or to contact him about speaking, visit www.thechaplain.net. Or write him via P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, Calif., 95759. Twitter @chaplain or call