Passion of the Chaplain

WorldNetDaily champions the cause of Lt. Gordon James Klingenschmitt, the navy chaplain currently on hunger strike outside the White House:

Lt. Gordon James Klingenschmitt says he will not eat until the president takes action to allow him and other chaplains the freedom to pray and preach without diluting God to a one-size-fits all deity.

Under current rules, military chaplains are supposed to offer prayers to a generic deity when undertaking mandatory services (Klingenschmitt calls this “Unitarian Universalism”; American Civil Religion would perhaps be more accurate); praying to Jesus should only occur in services for Christian troops. This has been an explicit guideline since 1998, but Klingenschmitt believes this contradicts an 1860 law allowing him to pray “according to the manners and form” of his faith. Currently, if Klingenschmitt wishes to pray publicly to Jesus, he has to do so in civilian clothes. That’s not enough, and

…he will continue his fast until he is allowed to wear his official uniform – which, he points out, bears a cross – while praying a Christian prayer in public.

An article in the Washington Post in September gives further details:

In July 2004, he was reprimanded for a sermon at the memorial service of a sailor who died in a motorcycle accident. In the sermon, he said, he emphasized that the sailor was certainly in heaven and “mentioned in passing” that, according to John 3:36, those who do not accept Jesus are doomed for eternity.

“My sermon was in the base chapel, it was optional attendance, and it was by invitation. If we can’t quote certain scriptures in the base chapel when people are invited to church, where can we quote them?” he said. “Don’t paint me as a person who’s going around forcing my faith on people. I’ve never done that.”

(In fact, Klingenschmitt says he is also sticking up the rights of Wiccan and Muslim chaplains.)

In March, Klingenschmitt’s commander recommended against extending his tour in the Navy, writing that he has “demonstrated recurring confusion concerning a chaplain’s role within a military organization.”

The Post relates Klingenschmitt’s complaint to the wider context of growing evangelical Christianity in the American armed forces:

The Rev. MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran minister who resigned in June as an Air Force chaplain after criticizing the religious atmosphere at the Air Force Academy [in Colorado Springs], said there has been a palpable rise in evangelical fervor, not just among chaplains but also among the officer corps in general, since she joined the military in 1982, originally as a launch officer in a nuclear missile silo.

The air academy dispute has received wide coverage, with journalists noting the proximity of conservative Christian organisations. Online Journal observes that (links in original)

…Colorado Springs is also home to the nation’s largest, most influential and politically active evangelical organizations: James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, [and] New Life Church, where it was built, in part, so it could be seen from the Air Force Academy.

…During official Air Force Academy reunions, graduates are invited to the Focus on the Family headquarters for a tour that promotes James Dobson’s religious/political views and encompasses a video portraying Dobson as a hero receiving accolades from such figures as Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush.

Leaders from Focus on the Family and New Life Church are regularly invited to attend Bible Study programs on campus, and every week, New Life Church dispatches vans to transport between 100 and 200 cadets to and from Friday night services. According to Pastor Aaron Stern of New Life Church, these cadets are encouraged to hand out fliers at the academy and recruit new members.

This brings us back to Klingenschmitt, who has long-standing links with New Life Church and its pastor, Ted Haggard. The bio on the back of his book License to Sin (“Is America heading toward a moral collapse?” – endorsed by C Peter Wagner and Tony Campolo, among others) notes:

…He is also a 1991 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and a former cross-cultural missionary with youth with a Mission (YWAM). He and his wife, Mary, live in Colorado Springs where they serve at Ted Haggard’s New Life Church. He is a sinner who has been saved by grace.

Haggard has a central voice in the debate over the Air Force Academy situation – he recently revealed emails between himself and one the academy’s critics, Mikey Weinstein (against Weinstein’s wishes). The Revealer also notes that in 1999 Klingenschmitt attended a strategy session for the Christian Coalition, where the failure to impeach Clinton was bemoaned:

Gordon Klingenschmitt, a recent divinity-school graduate who participated in the Colorado discussion group, was even more pointed: “America wants leaders who can lead them into tolerance of their own sins so they don’t have to forsake their sins”.

Klingenschmitt’s current affiliation is with the Evangelical Episcopal Church, a denomination which combines charismatic Christianity with Anglican-style liturgy (a subgroup of this church lists the notorious fraud and “Satanic panic” peddler Mike Warnke as a bishop). There is no information about how this church views open-ended hunger strikes, but he would appear to be at odds with some other Christian traditions. For example, there was this report back in October:

Havana, October 04, 2005 (CNA) – The Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, has asked three political prisoners in Cuba to end their hunger strike because “life is a gift from God and should not be taken lightly.”

“As Christians we do not embrace the concept of using a means of resistance that endangers life, such as suicide or hunger strikes,” the cardinal explained.

Klingsenschmitt lays out his case here. ASSIST Ministries quotes him as saying that “even Senator Clinton (D-NY) has written a letter of concern on my behalf.”

2 Responses

  1. […] activism has brought him threats and abuse previously, including a death curse from Gordon Klingenschmitt; Ed Brayton has chronicled many such […]

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