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Chris Rodda

Chris Rodda

Posted: August 17, 2008 08:00 PM

Petraeus Endorses "Spiritual Handbook," Betrays 21% of Our Troops


As is often the case here at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), while in the course of investigating one report of constitutionally questionable activity within our armed forces, we stumble into something else that's just as bad or worse. It happened again this week. One of the thousands of MRFF supporters worldwide -- the indispensable "eyes and ears" who alert us to everything from the most egregious of constitutional violations to articles we might be interested in -- emailed MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein an interview with Air Force Chief of Chaplains Maj. Gen. Cecil Richardson from the August 11 print edition of the Air Force Times. Richardson, as many will remember, caused quite a stir back in 2005 when he was quoted by the New York Times as saying that Air Force chaplains "reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched." I'll get back to Richardson's Air Force Times interview in a minute, but first, here's what else this interview led MRFF to discover.

While perusing the rest of the Air Force Times issue, Weinstein noticed a half-page ad for a book by Army chaplain Lt. Col. William McCoy, titled Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel. With a title like that, MRFF, of course, had to find out just what this book was about, and this is what we found -- a pro-Christian, anti-atheist book heartily endorsed by none other than Gen. David Petraeus, a slap in the face from the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq to the 21% of the men and women fighting there who define themselves as atheists or having no religious preference. Contrary to the old "no atheists in foxholes" movie line, the percentage of non-theists in the military, according to a report from the Population Reference Bureau, is actually somewhat higher than it is among the civilian population. For Petraeus to endorse a book disparaging this segment of our military population is a reprehensible betrayal of all of the non-theists who are putting their lives on the line for our country with every bit as much bravery and dedication as their religious comrades.

This isn't the first time MRFF has taken issue with an endorsement by Gen. Petraeus. Last November, while looking into the completely unconstitutional practice of mandatory Christian concerts being foisted upon our soldiers during basic training at several of the Army's largest training installations, we discovered Petraeus's photo and endorsement of these concerts on the Eric Horner Ministries website. After a story about Horner's military base concerts appeared on Mother Jones, Eric Horner Ministries quickly began scrambling to make changes to its website, including altering Petraeus's quote, which originally read "I appreciate your performances for our soldiers...," to add the word "patriotic" before performances. Eric Horner Ministries made many other track covering changes to its website in the few days following the Mother Jones story, which were detailed by me (as they were happening) in the comments section for the story after both Horner and his wife posted comments accusing the story's author, Josh Harkinson, of being a liar. To update that story, Eric Horner continues to perform at military bases, although now listing these concerts as "private events" in the schedule on his website. Photos from a June 2008 concert for the basic trainees at Fort Jackson indicate that Horner's Bible Ministry representatives were once again set up with a table in an unavoidable location at this concert, contrary to Horner's claims that religion is only promoted at his military chapel concerts. Petraeus's photo and endorsement still appear on both the Eric Horner Ministries website and a second "Patriotic" website quickly set up by Horner after the Mother Jones story to give the appearance that his military base concerts were separate from his religious ministry.

Getting back to Under Orders, I don't want to turn this into a book review, but I do want to say here, (and this is strictly my personal opinion), that I actually found much of the book to be pretty good, offering sound advice and promoting a brand of Christianity that I wish we saw more of in both the military and civilian spheres. Chaplain McCoy, although not referring to any organization by name, even warns of the dangers of the practices employed by the kind of para-church groups within the military that MRFF considers both dangerous and unconstitutional. It's a shame that this otherwise good book is fatally tainted by its insinuations that non-theists are somehow deficient human beings.

Under Orders is also an unabashed promotion of Christianity, in spite of the deceptive appearance in the its early chapters that Chaplain McCoy is merely encouraging the reader to explore spirituality in general and is open to the concept that there are many religious paths. And, while never actually vilifying any other religion, and even acknowledging in a number of instances the common beliefs of Christians, Jews, and Muslims, as well as the value of any religion (as opposed to no religion), a gradually increasing emphasis on the "truth" of the Christian religion is evident as the book progresses, culminating in the all-out Christian evangelism of its last two chapters. In fact, the change in tone from the beginning to the end of this book is so striking that if I had read only the first two and last two chapters I wouldn't have thought they came from the same book.

2008-08-16-praying_petraeus.jpgBut, whatever merit the good parts of Chaplain McCoy's book may possess, this does nothing to mitigate the impropriety of its endorsement by Gen. Petraeus. And, of course, the fact that this book not only promotes a specific religion, but denigrates those service members who choose to have no religion, makes Petraeus's endorsement all the more exceptionable. While Chaplain McCoy is certainly free to have his theological opinions and to share these opinions with those who choose to read about them, Petraeus's endorsement -- "Under Orders should be in every rucksack for those moments when Soldiers need spiritual energy" -- prominently displayed at the top of the back cover this book, a book marketed to our military in the PXs, BXs, military clothing stores, and other outlets in the Army and Air Force Exchange System (AAFES), is indefensible. Does Chaplain McCoy's requisite disclaimer that Under Orders "in no way reflects the policy or opinion of ... the United States Military or Department of Defense" have any real meaning when an endorsement not only from Gen. Petraeus, but an equally enthusiastic endorsement from another top commander, Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, Commander, Multinational Division North, Iraq, appear on its cover?

And, furthering the sham of McCoy's "in no way reflects the policy or opinion of the United States Military" disclaimer, the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth provided a prestigious organizational U.S. military endorsement of his book by awarding it the college's Golden Pen Award, an award that, according to the CGSC website, "recognizes CGSC faculty for published writing contributions that enhance the mission of the college." Chaplain McCoy was on the faculty of CGSC when he wrote his book, fulfilling that part of the stated criteria for this award, but it's anyone's guess how a book promoting Christianity fulfills the award's other criteria -- enhancing the "mission of the college" -- a mission which, according to the CGSC website, is: "The US Army Command and General Staff College educates and develops leaders for full spectrum joint, interagency and multinational operations; acts as lead agent for the Army's leader development program; and advances the art and science of the profession of arms in support of Army operational requirements."

Under Orders consists of ten chapters, called "Orders," the third of which is "Believe in God." In a section in "Order Three" on epistemology, a word defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary as "the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion," Chaplain McCoy writes:

"Belief in God is a foundational factor. Once you do away with God as a given truth, all other things are immediately affected by that. For instance, once God does not exist you suddenly have no reference to greatness outside of yourself, and no 'revelation' outside of yourself. The greatest thing in life suddenly becomes something or someone else, like yourself perhaps. ..."


The endorsement by Gen. Petraeus, Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, and the Command and General Staff College of this clearly derogatory basic opinion about United States military personnel who exercise their constitutional right not to practice a religious faith would be bad enough on its own, but the book's more repugnant statements are those conveying the notion that not being "oriented," a term defined by Chaplain McCoy as "part a philosophic process and part religious," can result in a lack of unit cohesion and the failure of the "disoriented" soldier's unit.

After writing about the necessity of the "realization and remedy" of sin to avoid the human tendency to "miss the moral target," and that Christianity, even more so than other religions, "strikes deep into the power of sin and renders it ineffective," Chaplain McCoy proposes that, without this realization and remedy:

"Only my goodnatured-ness can help me contribute to the betterment of my unit or team. When I realize that sin is an agent, I can more quickly identify my own tendency to corrupt a group and bring havoc to what needs cohesion and team confidence. My sin can also make my agenda more important than my unit's agenda and thus lead to unit failure."


Elsewhere in his book, making a similar correlation between "orienting" and the success or failure of a soldier's unit, McCoy writes:

"I've seen individuals from all economic levels and situations fail to get situated philosophically and religiously, ending up wandering in institutions like our military. Just when you need that inner source of clarity and direction, it fails to surface, and when you could have made a difference for your team, you fail."


The result of this specious notion that a soldier's lack of spirituality or religion negatively affects their ability to be an effective team member or leader is all too real for Army Specialist Jeremy Hall, co-plaintiff in MRFF's lawsuit against the Department of Defense. Hall is a former devout Baptist who now professes no religious faith. After serving two grueling combat tours in Iraq, Hall has now had his promotion to sergeant blocked several times. As he explained in a recent interview on CNN, "I was told because I can't put my personal beliefs aside and pray with troops I wouldn't make a good leader." Ironically, it was his rereading the Bible and serious examination of his faith -- exactly what Chaplain McCoy encourages the readers of Under Orders to do -- that led Hall to rethink and ultimately distance himself from the conservative Christian ideology he grew up with. And now he's paying for it.

Mikey Weinstein, who was appalled but not overly surprised to find out that McCoy's book had been endorsed by Petraeus, had the following to say:

"Look, there is simply no other way to say it but to speak the absolute brutal truth here. General Petraeus has shockingly abrogated and noxiously defiled the sacred oath he took to protect and preserve, support and defend, NOT a parochial biblical worldview of the New Testament's Gospel of Jesus Christ, but the United States Constitution; which includes a specific beacon provision which boldly proclaims absolutely 'no religious test' in Clause 3, Article 6. By so very prominently and universally endorsing Chaplain McCoy's book, with its unadulterated promotion of Christian religious supremacy and concomitant excoriating and denigrating of the veracity, integrity, and character of the hundreds of thousands of United States military personnel who freely elect to follow no religious path, Petraeus unlawfully fashions his own de facto 'religion test' in direct contravention of America's most cherished and beloved governing document. His command leadership role thus has become terminally freighted and compromised with this disgusting, vile, unconstitutional Christian religious tyranny and exceptionalism at precisely the same time we are at war with Islamic fundamentalists framing America's Iraq and Afghanistan combat efforts as a 'modern day Crusade.' The monumentally detrimental national security risks attendant to Petraeus's actions of Constitutional defiance justify the swift forfeiture of his titular position of military command and, further, cry out for his immediate punishment by General Courts Martial under Article 134."


Doing a little more checking on Chaplain McCoy, I noticed that he has a blog on the Amazon.com page for his book and started reading a bit of it. Unfortunately, what I found is that the chaplain doesn't appear to be too keen on the concept of separation between church and state. In a post about the so-called war on Christmas, McCoy spews the same "anti-Christian bias" nonsense as all the other deluded alarmists who claim that Christianity in America is somehow in danger. According to McCoy:

"Under the rubric of free speech and the twisted idea of the separation of church and state there has evolved more and more an anti-Christian bias in this country," and, "Being Christian should bring goodness to our culture. But the way it is being censored in our society you would think that to be a Christian is to be a wicked torturous warmonger who wields religion over the heads and hearts of local governments to establish more wicked rules of right and wrong for everyone to obey without question. Where is this wickedness? Since when did Christian become evil?"


Now, back to the recent Air Force Times interview with Air Force Chief of Chaplains Maj. Gen. Cecil Richardson that led us to Chaplain McCoy and Under Orders in the first place.

Although doing his best to imply that he was misquoted in 2005 when the New York Times reported him as saying that Air Force chaplains "reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched," the difference between the Times quote and what Maj. Gen. Richardson now claims to have said is absurdly inconsequential. The only difference is the nearly synonymous last word -- Richardson didn't say "unchurched" -- he said "unaffiliated." He was referring to a chaplain code of ethics, which says, "I will not proselytize from other religious bodies, but I retain the right to evangelize those who are not affiliated," a rule clearly concocted not to protect the right of religiously unaffiliated service members to remain unaffiliated, but to keep the peace among chaplains of various religions by preventing them from attempting to steal one another's sheep.

The code of ethics Maj. Gen. Richardson was referring to is "The Covenant and The Code of Ethics for Chaplains of the Armed Forces," established by the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces (NCMAF), and has never been officially adopted by the Department of Defense. NCMAF is a private organization consisting of religious agencies that provide the ecclesiastical endorsements required by the DoD for all military chaplains. As a result of Mikey Weinstein's 2005 lawsuit against the Air Force Academy (prior to his founding of MRFF), the NCMAF's Code of Ethics is no longer used by the Air Force chaplaincy or handed out at the Air Force Chaplain School. It is, however, still being used by the Navy, and can be found on the Navy Chaplain School website.

In answer to another question in the Air Force Times interview, "Say a Christian chaplain is visited by a troubled airman who isn't interested in hearing about religion. Do you trust your chaplains to advise that airman without steering him toward Jesus?," Maj. Gen. Richardson began, "Well, you know, sometimes Jesus is what they need. They're asking for it. ..."