A Defense Department report says four generals and three other officers violated regulations by appearing in uniform in a video used to promote a fundamentalist Christian ministry.
The 47-page report recommends disciplinary action against the officers for appearing in uniform in a 10-minute video for Christian Embassy, a non-profit religious outreach organization that works on Capitol Hill. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
The military said comments by the officers, interviewed at the Pentagon in uniform with rank and title clearly displayed, implied an improper endorsement of the ministry by the military.
One officer defended appearing in the video because the Pentagon has worked so closely with Christian Embassy, a group affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ, that he viewed it as a “quasi-federal entity.” The Defense Department report said that made about as much sense as arguing that long-time contracting for food services would confer federal status to Taco Bell.
The report strongly criticized former Pentagon chaplain Col. Ralph Benson, claiming he got permission for the video shoot by saying the Christian Embassy crew wanted to feature ministries of the chaplain’s office. The film instead talks exclusively about the influence of Christian Embassy on individuals working in government and was used by the group for fundraising.
The report also says Benson gave at least 34 contractor badges to religious volunteers, allowing them to roam the Pentagon without an escort, a breach viewed by the DOD as a security threat.
Benson retired from the U.S. Army in March 2006 and currently works as director of ministry for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Interfaith Chapel. The chaplain, endorsed by American Baptist Churches of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />New Jersey, did not respond to an e-mail request for comment before this story’s deadline.
“Christian Embassy is a blessing to the Washington area,” Benson said in the video, taped about three years ago, when he served as Pentagon chaplain. “It’s a blessing to our capital. It’s a blessing to our country.”
“They are interceding on behalf of people all over the United States, talking to ambassadors, talking to people in Congress and senators, talking to people in the Pentagon, and being able to share the message of Jesus Christ in a very, very important time in the world as were in wide war on terrorism,” Benson said. “What more do we need than Christian people leading us and guiding us? So they’re needed in this hour.”
Maj. Gen. Jack Catton, currently assigned at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, previously worked for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Catton said in the video that his Pentagon position gave him a “wonderful opportunity” to meet people who come to his directorate and “tell them right up front who Jack Catton is.”
“And I start with the fact that I’m an old-fashioned American, and my first priority is my faith in God, then my family and then country,” Catton said. “I share my faith because it describes who I am.”
“And I would say Christian Embassy and my interaction with my fellow flag officers has helped inspire some of that,” Catton continued. “We talk about that kind of stuff. And I think it’s a huge impact, because you have many men and women who are seeking God’s counsel and wisdom as we advise the chairman and secretary of defense. Hallelujah.”
Another interview featured Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, recognizable as a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar, who gave daily press briefings to media covering the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“Christian Embassy really gives us an opportunity here in the Pentagon, who carry a lot of responsibility on our shoulders on a daily basis, to stop and reflect and to come together with others who are in a similar walk of life and very similar responsibilities, and realize we’ve got a need for the Lord in our lives,” said Brooks, the son of a Baptist deacon.
Others cited for improper endorsement of a non-federal entity were Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton, currently assigned to the U.S. European Command in Ankara, Turkey; Army Brig. Gen. Bob Caslen, Deputy Director for War on Terrorism; and two colonels whose names are blacked out in the DOD report.
The investigation, prompted by Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force veteran who runs the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is the latest in a series of allegations of aggressive proselytizing by Christian military brass. The author of With God on Our Side, Weinstein, sued the Air Force in 2005 after learning his cadet sons were subject to anti-Semitic taunts at the Air Force Academy.
Former Navy Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt, who faced court martial rather than obey orders to refrain from praying public prayers in Jesus’ name, Is currently telling his story as part of Rick Scarborough and Alan Keyes’ “70 Weeks to Save America” traveling crusade.
Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, who in 2003 told church groups the war on terrorism is a clash between Judeo-Christian forces and Satan and recounted capturing a Somali warlord explaining “I knew that my God was bigger than his,” recently retired from the military amid little fanfare.
At a Southern Baptist Sunday school conference at FirstBaptistChurch in Daytona Beach, Fla., in 2004, Boykin said: “Bin Laden is not the enemy. No mortal is the enemy. It’s the enemy you can’t see. It’s a war against the forces of darkness. The battle won’t be won with guns. It will be won on our knees.”
Before that Boykin tried unsuccessfully tried to use a military base in Fort Bragg, N.C., to promote a Southern Baptist evangelistic meeting being organized by former veteran Bobby Welch, who has since retired as pastor of FirstBaptistChurch in Daytona Beach. Welch went on to be elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Welch authored a book reportedly popular with military officers, titled You, The Warrior Leader, with a cover featuring a combat-ready soldier. Welch denounced criticism of Boykin as “cheap backstabbing shots at a real God-fearing American hero.”
One of the officers in the new DOD report, Gen. Catton, has been the subject of controversy before. In 2006 he sent an e-mail to 200 of his Air Force Academy classmates urging them to vote for a Republican Congressman because of his Christian credentials.
“We are certainly in need of Christian men with integrity and military experience in Congress,” Catton wrote classmates from the Air Force Academy class of 1976 about retired Air Force General Bentley Rayburn, a Republican candidate for Congress in Colorado. “For those of us who are Christians, there is that whole other side of the coin that recognizes that we need more Christian influence in Congress.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.