"In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies
but the silence of our friends"-MLK Jr.
My friends, remember the name and words of rare courage of a retired Army 3 star General and be prepared to be astonished, if not thunderstruck, with pride and hope.
Allow me to please recount for you the stunning saga and unadulterated glory of what this General recently said to his audience of Army chaplains assembled at a military base (Redstone Arsenal) in the heart of Dixie (Alabama) no less.
First let's set the proper scene for the drama of truth-to-power telling to follow. Martin Luther King Jr. would be so proud. Gandhi would be equally as thrilled.
As the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the only group driven solely by the fight to secure church-state separation, for both the religious and nonreligious, in the United States Armed Forces, we're usually inundated by disheartening news regarding the terrifying state of our Constitution and its sacrosanct promise of religious liberty as it relates to our service members. MRFF presently represents over 42,200 armed forces personnel and, amazingly, about 96% of them are practicing Christians. Further, for the record, MRFF also proudly represents 906 LGBT active duty military members.
Much of this adverse pressure and prejudice versus religious (and non-religious) liberty revolves around the increasingly troubling role of the military chaplaincy, which is absolutely riddled with fundamentalist Evangelical Christian extremists who have ceaselessly raised a phenomenally false hue and cry about some fictitious "war on Christianity" within the military.
Any examination of this malevolent myth will quickly reveal that militant Christian dominionist officers and chaplains are in fact waging a "War" against their helpless subordinates and those they were meant to counsel, respectively. Indeed, from Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan to the mandatory nuclear ethics briefings at Vandenberg Air Force Base on California's central coast, and nearly every other U.S. military installation imaginable around the globe, we've seen an unbroken chain of scandalous violations of the most basic Constitutional religious rights of our countless Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Cadets, Midshipmen, National Guard and Reserve personnel, Coast Guard men and women and Veterans. In many cases, even top brass officers are explicitly implicated in this egregious, systematic defiling of the No Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights as well as the No Religious Test mandates of Clause 3, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.
Unfortunately, the military chaplaincy has played a special role in this civil rights tragedy, both actively and by deafening silence, especially when perniciously upholding anti-LGBTQ bigotry as some cherished faux "religious right." In April of this year, a USAF Chaplain was crowned as his unit's Company Grade Officer of the Year at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Dayton, Ohio despite his open, abominable espousing of theological homophobia whereby he actually describes HIV as a "due penalty" for "detestable and abominable" acts of same-sex love. Indeed, MRFF has just been informed that Army National Guard Chaplain (Captain) Michael Maccabee Collins has taken to social media to urge his fellow servicemembers to burn a rainbow-striped U.S. flag symbolizing LGBTQ equality that was posted at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, AZ.
Of course those are just a mere two, among countless, similar violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in the fraudulent name of "religious freedom". This pair of abominable examples is just a mere tacit taste for the reader of a hateful movement of brazen bigotry within the Department of Defense. MRFF has repeatedly called on the Pentagon to expeditiously purge such human reprobates from the military chaplaincy.
Thus, it came as an incredibly uplifting blast of clean, fresh Constitutional oxygen when the August 12, 2015 issue of Army News published an article titled "Chaplains Valued For Their Service As Moral Compass" which featured a talk to chaplains given by Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jim Pillsbury. Let me make it clear from the outset that the good General is obviously very much a devout practicing Christian himself and his words spring from the foundations of his deep and abiding Christian faith. The reader will quickly see the ironclad consonance of beliefs between America's treasured, secular values of tolerance and respect, which are those espoused by the former Lt. General, and MRFF's bedrock Constitutional mission itself:
While most chaplains have a positive impact on Soldiers, Pillsbury said that, as a whole, the Army's chaplain corps has not been a leader of change. In the 1950s, when the Army began integrating segregated black Soldiers into its units, and throughout the '60s and '70s as integration was fully realized, chaplains did not take lead in making that happen, he said. In the 1970s and '80s, as the Army integrated women into its ranks, chaplains were again not at the forefront of change. And, now, as the Army works to include gays and other gender differences, the chaplain corps has been silent, he said.
"Two things you have to wrestle with, and that is your Army oath and your strong beliefs," Pillsbury said.
The retired three-star general went on to describe the sanctuary at his church where his pastor has two chairs and one table near the pulpit. The two chairs represent opposites -- black and white, Republican and democrat, boy and girl, peacemaker and warrior, straight and gay -- and the table represents inclusiveness.
"Do you have room in your heart for those who are different from what your beliefs are? I firmly believe the intention of our Lord is for us to read the Bible and interpret the Bible based on our relationship with the Lord. The word is not black and white. That is why Jesus told parables," Pillsbury said.
"You can make room at the table or you can get out. I know all of you have wrestled with that." With a strong faith in the Lord and a strong faith in the nation, Pillsbury said the U.S. was built on controversy, inclusion and the principles of acceptance.
"Jesus was one for inclusion. I hate to see our nation split, and if our military splits our nation splits because our military is the rock for our ethics," he said.
"I believe God made everybody for a reason, and there are two things we should do: Love the Lord and love our neighbors."
Wow! Double Wow! There you have it folks. Lt. General Pillsbury's moving and sagacious words are PRECISELY the type of religious counseling which is badly needed from the military chaplaincy. Specifically what is so desperately required is the type of good faith counseling from these very same chaplains which embraces and nurtures the armed forces' primary compelling governmental interest of maximizing/optimizing military readiness and mission accomplishment, unit cohesion, good order, morale, discipline, health, and safety.
Many chaplains already accomplish this goal with distinction and excellence. However, many fail to do so. Failure can never be an option here.
As MRFF has long screamed into this opposing hurricane of prejudice, anything less than what this courageous and valiant retired General has just so perfectly articulated simply serves as a grievous insult and universal assault to the myriad sacrifices made by our fallen and wounded service members. Indeed, it fatally fouls the solemn oaths they swore to the United States Constitution and deliberately desecrates American national security itself.
Bravo, Lt. General Pillsbury! Words matter but silence betrays. And the gravitas of your honorable words now matter most, sir!
Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the 7-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the "Iran-Contra" Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of "With God On Our Side" (2006, St. Martin's Press) and "No Snowflake in an Avalanche" (2012, Vireo).