An Even Perspective in Persecution

By Kersley Fitzgerald

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So, last Sunday I passed our pastor in the hall. He looked at me with his goofy grin and said, "You know, you're very even." He swept a flat hand horizontally for emphasis. "Usually," I said. "Sometimes I get my Irish on." Later, joking around, he said, "Come'on. You should have a big smile." "I can't," I said. "It wouldn't be even."

I am fairly even; low-emotion. Usually. I like to analyze things and see how they really fit. Which is why I don't understand why someone would get all riled up about a controversial story they have no solid proof for.

There are stories that I'm privy to. Stories I know are true because I heard them from those who experienced them. Stories about how society is changing around us for the worse. But even as I hear these stories, I try to be even. This is one of those stories.

There is a former Air Force officer named Mikey Weinstein—a lawyer—who has made it his personal mission to—in the name of "freedom of religion"—minimize the effect of evangelical Christianity at the United States Air Force Academy. He started the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group that those affiliated with the Academy can call with tips or complaints about inappropriate actions of conservative evangelical Christians at the Academy. (Well, theoretically they can call about any inappropriate religious behavior, but as far as I know it's just been about evangelicals.) His language is vitriolic. His actions are those of a bully. He often drives Academy faculty and staff to distraction with his unusual demands. If they ignore him, he gets louder. If they give in, he demands more. Despite his insistence to the contrary, his goal is to persecute Christians.

But he is not always wrong.

The United States Air Force Academy is a military academy and one of the primary sources for commissioned Air Force officers. It is a government university. As such, it has no religious affiliation. But as a military installation, it has an active multi-faith chapel. In regards to religion, staff and faculty are not authorized to share their faith with or give faith-oriented counseling to cadets unless the cadet initiates the discussion.

In the past, the culture of the Academy has been influenced to an unusual degree by evangelical Christian leadership. One's worldview, whatever it is, will inexorably inform one's actions and priorities, and there were pockets at the Academy that were known to be staffed predominantly with Christians who naturally lived their faith in subtle but influential ways. Not of overt proselytizing, but general mien and character.

I see no problem with this if the nature was truly Christian. It would not be a bad thing for the future leaders of a military branch to be exposed to ethics as God intended and Christ taught. Many of these cadets (bless their hearts!) walk in not understanding that lying is wrong. Or why cheating is a punishable offense. The post-modern world has conditioned them to ethical relativism. Christian ethics closely match the ethics of the military in general, and if a Christian cadre member were to teach Academy-consistent Christian ethics with secular terminology, it can do nothing but benefit the cadet and the military. There should be no line-crossing in such a case.

Where things get sticky, I think, is when Christian cadre believe that the Academy is a Christian organization. Even if/when the majority of leadership was evangelical Christian, the institution is a secular, state-run university. Even if/when the staff environment was particularly friendly to the Christian worldview, it is still the military, and military protocol must be taken into consideration.

In the early church, the spread of Christianity was largely dependent on the spread of Roman soldiers who took their faith all across Europe. I have no idea what religious restrictions were placed on Roman soldiers, although they may have been fairly severe considering the whole emperor cult thing. The U.S. military also has restrictions—especially when it comes to sharing your faith with someone of a lower rank.

There are reports that Christian cadre members have proselytized, preached, and bullied those of other faiths. I have absolutely no idea how many of these reports are true and how many are blown completely out of proportion. What I do know is what the Bible says about such things:

1. If you're going to do it—if you're going to break the rules and preach—you'd better be well-aware of the consequences. If you really feel it's necessary to start an against-the-regs conversation about your faith in Christ, I'm not going to tell you not to. I am going to say don't start whining if you're persecuted for it. The Bible assures you will be (2 Timothy 3:12).

2. What is your motivation? Are you doing it because you care about individuals who need Jesus, or because you have an unrealistic view of your "rights" in a "Christian nation." America is not a Christian nation. The U.S. military is not a Christian institution. The Bible specifically states that Christians should act in love—not fear that their rights will be taken, or condescension toward someone they believe is wrong. Jesus came to save souls, not the culture.

3. For the love of Mike Wazowski, don't be a butthead about it. Being defensive, being offensive, and bullying are not Christlike. Shortly after a new Pagan worship circle was made on Academy grounds, a wooden cross was found laid across it. There's no biblical defense for that. In no way does that show the love of Christ to those who need Him. It's a step in the direction of the Crusades.

These are things to consider no matter where we live and work. Love God, love others. Be kind. Be sacrificial. Don't be mean.

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Photo credit: Rebekah Largent

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Published 11-21-13