Sunday, March 12, 2006

Random Connections

Claude Allen was charged with a felony this week, and that's widely considered the reason he resigned. It wasn't thought so originally, though:

At the time of his resignation, Allen denied reports that he was leaving to protest military guidelines that required chaplains to perform only nondenominational services.
Well, maybe not entirely "non-denominational." Not in the sense we usually use that term, i.e., without particular reference to a Christian denomination. "Non-denominational" here clearly means "not purely Christian," maybe "not solely Christian. But that would be more properly rendered as "ecumenical, a rendering which is generally not acceptable for many "evangelicals. The sad truth is, for many evangelicals, "evangelism" and "ecumenism" are opposed terms, and opposing concepts.

Take, for example, Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt:

"To me the word non-denominational is a code word for no Jesus," said Lieutenant Klingenschmitt, an Episcopal priest who briefly mounted a hunger strike over the issue at the White House last year. "I have to pray a Muslim, Christian, Jewish prayer at the same time. I don't know how to do that," he said.

Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican of North Carolina, said he is troubled by recent incidents where chaplains have been asked not to mention Jesus in public prayers. "They should be able to pray as their faith and tradition calls upon them," he told The New York Sun.

The congressman said he has urged Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to set a military-wide policy allowing chaplains to deliver whatever prayers they see fit. Asked if the Air Force rules should be adopted by the other services, Mr. Jones said, "I would hope not."

Lieut. Klingenschmitt said that if the Navy is subjected to the rules, he will go to court. "I will definitely sue," he said.

Some conservative religious groups, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, have endorsed the new policy, which also states that chaplains cannot be forced to offer prayers "inconsistent with their faiths."
What, you ask, does Conrad Klingenschmitt have to do with Claude Allen? Oddly, quite a bit:

Evangelical Christians and practicing Catholics in the United States military received good news today when "The Washington Times" reported that President George W. Bush will ensure that they will once again be able to pray at all times in the name of Jesus, a practice which has been stifled by a politically-correct military establishment for a number of years. Congressman Walter Jones, R-NC, has worked hard to get the President to issue an Executive Order making it clear to the military establishment that religious discrimination will no longer be tolerated. Some 75 Members of the House and Senate signed a letter to the President written by Congressman Jones urging him to issue an Executive Order.

According to "The Washington Times," the Honorable Claude Allen, the White House Domestic Policy Advisor, assured Congressman Jones that President Bush would indeed speak to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about this issue and the congressman agreed that this religious discrimination problem could be corrected without an additional executive order issued by the President. Congressman Jones' office confirming a conversation with Mr. Allen regarding a deal short of an executive order issued by the President said that chaplains should be able to pray to whomever "their faith tradition" demands including in the name of Jesus.

The President of the Christian Coalition of America, Roberta Combs said regarding the White House decision, "Americans were surprised to learn last summer that the U.S. Air Force was about to issue unconstitutional guidelines which would have written into policy religious discrimination against evangelical and Catholic chaplains who wanted to pray in the name of Jesus. Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt's discrimination case and the religious discrimination case in the Army's 10th Mountain Division, now in Iraq, have shown us that religious discrimination in the U.S. military is rampant. I thank President Bush, a man of great religious faith, for ensuring that such discrimination will no longer be able to continue. Our brave men and women serving all over the world, many in harm's way, deserve a discrimination-free atmosphere when it comes to their faith."
When Allen resigned, the Washington Times connected the two events:

The Air Force yesterday released revised guidelines on religious observance that say chaplains need not recite prayers incompatible with their beliefs, but that also encourage "non-denominational" or "inclusive" prayer in public situations.

The move won tepid praise from evangelicals, who see the move as progress but not close to a guarantee that they can pray "in Jesus' name."

Meanwhile, White House domestic policy adviser Claude Allen, a key aide who had sided with evangelicals on the issue, resigned abruptly Wednesday after five years with the Bush administration. His short letter to the president called it "the best decision for my family."

In a Jan. 22 conversation with Rep. Walter B. Jones reported in The Washington Times, Mr. Allen promised the North Carolina Republican that President Bush would pressure Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld into allowing military chaplains to be more explicit about their faith.

According to a military source, Mr. Allen resigned to protest the White House's refusal to lean on the Pentagon about the issue.
Allen denied the connection:

Claude A. Allen, the top White House adviser on domestic policy, said he is not leaving the post today to protest new military guidelines urging chaplains to perform only "non-denominational, inclusive prayer or a moment of silence."

The Washington Times reported last week that Mr. Allen, the top black staffer in the White House, "resigned abruptly" just before the guidelines were released "to protest the White House's refusal to lean on the Pentagon about the [chaplain] issue."

"It's simply not true," Mr. Allen said in an interview this week from the West Wing.
"This truly is about family. There's no protest," said Mr. Allen, who has held the post for just more than a year. "If I could find a way to stay here and continue to serve our president and serve my family at the same time, I would that. It just hasn't worked out that way."

Mr. Allen said people "who want to bend [the resignation] that way unfortunately do a great disservice to our chaplains, who truly are fighting for and working to preserve their First Amendment rights."

Although the guidelines, released Thursday by the Air Force, gave evangelicals more flexibility in expressing their faith, they did not address a key point: whether chaplains could pray in the name of Jesus at the many public ceremonies that are part of military life.
Clearly, there was nothing subtle about this issue:

Chaplains will not be required to participate in public prayers that are incompatible with their beliefs, according to the guidelines, but public prayer should not "imply government endorsement of religion."

Specifically, the Air Force guidelines say, "non-denominational, inclusive prayer or a moment of silence may be appropriate for military ceremonies."

Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, a former naval chaplain who helped draft the revised guidelines, told Jewish Week that the bottom line is that chaplains cannot pray in Jesus' name at official ceremonies.

"We are trying to balance the rights of people in the military with the rights of that uniform and the responsibilities that go with it," he said.

"There's nothing subtle about what Resnicoff has done here," said Lt. Gordon Klingenschmitt, a Navy chaplain who went on a hunger strike in front of the White House during the Christmas season to push for similar changes in Navy policy.
And the issue is about power, not about the ability to pray. Nor is it dead. This is from Christianity Today, posted March 8, 2006:

Military leaders say there is no problem when evangelicals worship during sacred ceremonies, but they assert that official ceremonies require prayers that do not exclude other major religions.

Billy Baugham, executive director of the international Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers, told CT that more than 20 chaplains have contacted him claiming discrimination for praying in
Jesus' name.

"The pressure to curtail evangelical chaplains from using the name of our Lord is pandemic," Baugham said. "If we can't correct this,
there is going to be a class-action lawsuit, and we're going to take it to the courts."

Under pressure from evangelicals and members of Congress, the
Air Force issued revised guidelines on religious expression February 10. The new guidelines emphasize the Constitution's free exercise clause more than its prohibition against government establishment of religion.

The original guidelines issued in August discouraged public prayers at routine events, saying that personal expressions of faith could be misunderstood as official statements. They now add that there are no restrictions in situations "where it is reasonably clear that the discussions are personal, not official, and they can be reasonably free of the potential for, or appearance of, coercion."
But coerction, and the appearance of coercion, are precisely the issue:

Army spokeswoman Martha Rudd declined to speak directly about Stertzbach's case, because he is under review. "There are some people who are uncomfortable with pluralism," she said. "And if a chaplain is uncomfortable with that, he or she should find a ministry outside of the military."

Charles Haynes, senior scholar for the First Amendment Center, said working for the military creates built-in tension, because a chaplain must serve both church and state.
Why do I say it's about power? What else are war and politics about?

"I think really behind this is a political shift … that has led many evangelicals to bring their faith into the public square in ways that are authentic," Haynes told CT. "It's a culture-war mentality that has caused it to come to the surface now."
Jut to put this entire matter in context, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League:

“The Air Force Academy crossed the line with its ‘Team Jesus’ banner [placed in the locker room by the football coach] and saying that Jesus Christ is the savior,” he said. “When speaking [that way] to the student body as a whole, you are violating acknowledged, accepted parameters. … Traditions were violated, and it was necessary to restate the understanding that the role of the chaplain is to minister to all.”

Foxman pointed out that chaplains are “allowed to minister to their own faith in their own chapel. So when it is said that their freedoms have been taken away, that is nonsense. But on the battlefield, a Catholic chaplain is not to administer Catholic last rites to a Jewish soldier.”

Foxman said that when he met with Air Force officials about the guidelines, it was his understanding that they would be implemented first by the Air Force and then be disseminated to the other branches of the military."
And, not surprisingly, there is a connection to North Carolina in all of this:

Allen is a self-described born-again Christian who got his start in politics working for Jesse Helms (R), the conservative former North Carolina senator.

Allen stirred controversy as Helms's campaign spokesman in 1984 by telling a reporter that then-Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. -- Helms's opponent -- was politically vulnerable because of his links to the "queers." He later explained that he used the word not to denigrate anyone but as a synonym for "odd and unusual."

Before that, Allen worked for the Virginia state attorney general's office and as state health and human resources secretary. In that job, he earned a reputation as a staunch conservative; once he kept Medicaid funds from an impoverished rape victim who wanted an abortion.
As I say: non-denominational properly means "without regard to a particular Christian denomination." But it serves as a poor substitute for "not reflecting a particular religion," since our language doesn't seem to accomodate such an idea easily. ("Non-religious" would mean "without reflecting religion" period). And it's an even poorer substitute for "ecumenical," which is the appropriate term in this context (and shame on the Washington Post for now knowing that). But when the fight is for power and control, when the fight is over "the Big Idea," clarity of language is one of the first casualties, and not the first mourned. Damage to individuals is what matters here. That damage is of apiece with the activities of this Administration. It would be nice if more people were to realize that. And to realize how far-reaching it is.

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