A U.S. Air Force chaplain who ministers to thousands of men and women at an Ohio base is asserting that Christians in the U.S. Armed Forces “serve Satan” and are “grossly in error” if they support service members’ right to practice other faiths. In an article posted on BarbWire.com…Captain Sonny Hernandez, an Air Force Reserve chaplain for the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, criticized Christian service members who rely on the Constitution “and not Christ.” He wrote: “Counterfeit Christians in the Armed forces will appeal to the Constitution, and not Christ, and they have no local church home—which means they have no accountability for their souls (Heb. 13:17). This is why so many professing Christian service members will say: We ‘support everyone’s right’ to practice their faith regardless if they worship a god different from ours because the Constitution protects this right.”
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with clinging to Christianity. If religious faith gives your life meaning and purpose you should be commended for recognizing that and being true to yourself. I may not believe in God, but I genuinely admire those who endeavor to live their faith (former President Jimmy Carter, f’rinstance). This world would be a much better, kinder, and more compassionate place if more Christians took the teachings of their faith seriously.
Then there are people like Capt. Sonny Hernandez, for whom their faith is the yardstick by which they judge others…and find them wanting. Who is he to judge others? If he truly understood and made any effort at all to live his faith, he’d be familiar with the admonition “judge not lest ye be judged.” Despite what “Counterfeit Christians” (his words, not mine) like Capt. Hernandez believe, their flavor of God isn’t the Alpha and the Omega.
Tolerance was part and parcel of the teachings of Jesus Christ. I may not believe in God, but I remember enough from my Sunday School days to have a pretty good idea of what Christianity is about. It’s most certainly NOT about judgment and intolerance. It’s not about holding yourself over others and elevating your beliefs as the One, True, and ONLY Faith ©. Jesus was all about love, tolerance, inclusion, and acceptance…something Capt. Hernandez seems unable to grasp.
Hernandez continued: “Christian service members who openly profess and support the rights of Muslims, Buddhists, and all other anti-Christian worldviews to practice their religions—because the language in the Constitution permits—are grossly in error, and deceived.”
If Capt. Hernandez knew anything at all about America, he’d understand the separation of Church and State. He’d also understand that the military is a secular organization charged with defending the Homeland. The only person in this equation who appears to be “grossly in error, and deceived” is Capt. Hernandez, who’s conflated his God with our government and armed forces.
What’s happening within the US military these days is hardly conducive to readiness or unit cohesion. Our armed forces are charged with protecting ALL Americans, not merely those who profess the “correct” flavor of Christianity. Introducing religion into the equation is nothing if not a recipe for dissension and conflict- not things which contribute to military efficiency.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has filed multiple requests that Hernandez be investigated by the Department of Defense’s (DoD) inspector general. In a statement, the MRFF said it has received “many complaints” about Hernandez from service members over the last few years. It filed an official request with the DoD for an investigation in April…. The MRFF said the article “blatantly and indisputably advocates the subordinating of the U.S. Constitution to his personal Christian ideology and violated his Oath of Office as a commissioned officer, as well as Title 18, U.S. Code § 2387’s criminal prohibitions against counseling or urging insubordination, disloyalty, or ‘refusal of duty’ to other military members.”….
“America’s military members look to the president for direction and inspiration,” Weinstein said. “Trump’s statements and actions have fully endorsed and validated this unbridled tidal wave of fundamentalist Christian persecution, which is now more inextricably intertwined into the very fabric of our Department of Defense than ever before.”….
Many of the recent charges are coming from members of minority religions, including Roman Catholics, Jews and Muslims, and from atheists. Among the complaints: military family and marital therapy programs are being infused with Protestant Christianity, which would violate the U.S. Constitution; open anti-Semitism; anti-LGBT statements, posters, symbols and bullying; openly anti-Muslim teachers and Islamophobic attacks; a rise in on-base evangelizing; and increased pressure on recruits or lower-level personnel and service members to convert to fundamentalist Christianity.
There’s certainly a place in the military for religious faith- there aren’t any atheists in foxholes, after all. The problem begins when that faith moves from being a deeply personal matter to being used to discriminate against those who hold different beliefs.
Our armed forces, like America itself, is a conglomeration of different faiths, lifestyles, and sexual orientations. Those wearing a uniform should- indeed, must- be able to work together as a cohesive unit. That cohesiveness suffers when those like Capt. Hernandez are allowed to sow divisiveness and religious intolerance. How can you ensure readiness when some members of the military are allowed to proselytize by telling others they’re “less than” because of their beliefs?
If Capt. Hernandez wishes to proselytize and push his flavor of Christianity, he’s free to do that…as a civilian. While wearing the uniform, he’s part of something larger than himself and his beliefs. Religious (or any other sort of) intolerance has no place in our military. His fundamentalist Christianity may be what informs his life and how he lives it, and that’s his right. That right ends when he begins behaving in a manner which has the potential to degrade unit cohesion and military readiness.
Noncommissioned officers at one Air Force base reported that their superiors told them Trump would make it USAF policy that in order for “disbelieving Jews” to be allowed into the USAF or be deemed fit for promotions, they would have to show via objectively established behavior that they were at least honestly “considering the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
At another base, the wife of a combat-decorated Muslim U.S. Naval officer, who was wearing a Muslim headscarf, was surrounded in the commissary and spat upon and cursed as not being a “true American and being a spy and a terrorist.” She was with her children at the time.
What Capt. Hernandez fails to understand is that everyone wearing a uniform is on the same team and charged with the same mission- defending the Homeland. Contributing to anything which has the potential to adversely impact that mission is a problem, something which needs to be recognized by military leaders at the highest level.
Aggressive religious intolerance has no place in our military, which is a reflection of American society as a whole. If those within the military are allowed to push the idea that some are “less than,” it will damage morale and degrade readiness.
While we’re on the topic, this might be a good time to remind Capt. Hernandez that American ISN’T a Christian nation. It’s an officially secular nation with a pronounced Christian majority. Being part of that majority doesn’t prove Capt. Hernandez the right to discriminate against those who aren’t.
He might also want to reconsider whom he considers “Counterfeit Christians”…until he takes a good, long look in the mirror.