Do members of the military serve god or country? In their personal lives, the choice is 100% up to them. But on duty, not so much. Whatever their personal religious beliefs may be, their military oath puts country first. No one forced them to take that oath—it was done of their own free will. But taking that oath means accepting that military necessity comes first—as the Supreme Court made clear in Parker v. Levy in 1974, and as reflected in military regulations as well.
Yet, a host of military parachurch organizations don’t exactly agree. One such group, the Officers’ Christian Fellowship claims 17,000 members of “U.S. Military officers, family members, and friends,” and has long harbored distinctly different views. As author and researcher Chris Rodda wrote in 2011, they “think their real duty is not to protect and defend the Constitution, but to raise up ‘a spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform, empowered by the Holy Spirit.’”
Rodda works for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), whose work protecting the religious freedom of all puts them constantly at odds with OCF other such parachurch groups. That story came two years after OCF did a public makeover to soften their image. Until 2009, Rodda noted more recently, their official vision statement had been to:
“… create a spiritually transformed U.S. military with Ambassadors for Christ in uniform empowered by the Holy Spirit …”
And their official mission statement was:
“Christian officers exercising biblical leadership to raise up a godly military.”
They were likely changed because MRFF repeatedly quoted of them in the media, “continuously confronting them and exposing their true mission,” as Rodda put it. But the cover of their Fall 2019 COMMAND magazine—a photo of “spiritual commissioning” with the words, "Sent out to serve the nation and the Lord." seems to wipe away any pretense of change, leading one OCF member to reach out to MRFF for help. Like all who seek MRFF’s help, his identity is not revealed, due to the harsh reality of religious intolerance MRFF fights against, but he did self-identify as a retired Army colonel.
“This picture reinforces an "old guard OCF" mission statement to "Go Make Disciples" and contradicts the extensive Officership training the cadets receive to support and defend the Constitution,” the colonel wrote. “Instead, OCF is spiritually commissioning, thereby influencing another generation of officers to confuse their oath of office with their personal and private faith.”
The colonel began his email by thanking MRFF for its previous work taking on the OCF. “You have steadfastly confronted them in the past in order to force them to revise their mission statement to refrain from telling their members to ‘Go Make Disciples’ as newly commissioned officers in the Armed Forces,” he wrote. “I even recall that they ‘walked back’ their mission statement to refrain from proselytizing other nations and focus on their oath to support and defend the Constitution.”
The colonel was not hostile to OCF, he explained. “I graduated from an Academy, supported OCF while faculty at my service academy, and I was a cadet member of OCF during my most influential days at the academy. I know OCF and genuinely grieve when OCF is tragically making a detrimental impact on the next generation of officers.”
He noted that he’d just checked their website for the current statement, which he didn’t have a problem with:
"Our Vision is the military community positively impacted through Christlike leaders. Our Mission is to engage military leaders in Biblical fellowship and growth to equip them for Christlike service at the intersection of faith, family, and profession."
But, “Tragically, the most recent cover of their flagship COMMAND magazine flies in the face of any past ‘walk backs’ on their mission statement,” he explained:
They are perpetuating another generation of officers who believe they are Warriors for Christ and not Scholar-Warrior-Diplomats for Peace. We continue an Imperialistic mindset for our United States of America for another generation. The scripture says that you can't serve two masters. Unfortunately, cadets are "spiritually commissioned" as officers to believe they are helping to convert others to Christ rather than defend the Constitution of the United States of America.
Military regulations like Air Force Instruction 1-1 draw a sharp line. Paragraph 2.12 states the following:
Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for their own free exercise of religion, including individual expressions of religious beliefs, and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. They must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief.
Off-duty religious fellowship is fine. Proselytizing in uniform is not.
“As in times past,” the colonel wrote, “I would ask that you rebuke this picture ‘that says 1000 words’ and is contrary to their espoused Vision and Mission statements above.”
MRFF is gearing up to respond, according to founder and president Michael L. Weinstein, a former Air Force officer.
“The unconstitutional scourge of so-called “spiritual commissionings” by military officer accession programs such as the service academies (Air Force Academy, West Point, Annapolis, United States Coast Guard Academy and United States Merchant Marine Academy), university and college-sponsored ROTC and OTS/OCS must be brought to the specific attention of the commanders and leaders of all such programs and educational institutions immediately,” Weinstein told Crooks and Liars. “In the coming weeks and months, MRFF plans to do precisely that. MRFF is announcing that it will be launching a coordinated effort to reach out to all universities, colleges and military academies where such events are illicitly occurring in a directed effort to get them to stop the Officer Christian Fellowship’s (OCF’s) scurrilous actions which have been carefully designed to confuse young officer candidates as to the objectives of their Constitutionally-mandated military obligations.”
He went on to say:
“Much as Chick-fil-A just announced that it would (allegedly) no longer donate to anti-LGBTQ organizations such as the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, MRFF wants all of these military officer development programs to ban all OCF activities until OCF ceases and desists from deliberately polluting the minds of these young officer candidates with the filth of believing that their main armed forces career objective is to be unconstitutional “government paid missionaries for Jesus Christ.”
There are always some who find Weinstein ‘strident,’ or ‘extreme,’ accusing him of over-reacting. But then he’s likely to ask a simple question: What if it were another religion in place of fundamentalist Christianity? What if it were Buddhism? Or Islam? What would the reaction be then? Outrage? Fear? Hostility? Chaos? Which is precisely why we have our First Amendment religious freedoms in the first place.