The Huffington Post Logo

The Huffington Post Logo

How Rick Warren's Invocation Made a U.S. Army Officer "Hate Himself"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

By Chris Rodda

Not unexpectedly, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) was besieged with emails and phone calls from members of our armed forces today following Rick Warren's invocation. These weren't complaints about the inappropriateness of Warren being chosen to deliver the invocation, or even about the content of Warren's prayer. They were complaints about the pressure put on our servicemen and servicewomen by their superior officers to applaud Rick Warren, whose book The Purpose-Driven Life is second only to the Bible itself as the most promoted religious book by the U.S. military, currently being incorporated into everything from pre- and post-deployment family programs to suicide prevention.

The following is an email from one decorated combat officer, a man with the courage to repeatedly put his life on the line on the battlefield, being wounded twice, but who could not muster the courage to resist the pressure of his "serious and committed born again Christian" commanding officer to applaud Rick Warren. The author of this email is typical of the majority of servicemen and servicewomen who contact MRFF for assistance. Like 96% of MRFF's clients, he is a Christian -- but not the "right" kind of Christian or Christian enough for today's military.

To Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation:

My name is (name withheld) and I am a (officer rank withheld) in the U.S. Army currently stationed stateside at Fort (military installation name withheld). I, my spouse and my children are Methodists attending church regularly on both Wednesdays and Sundays. I will always remember today as the low-point of my long (number of years withheld) year career in the Army. I have only myself to blame. Today I firmly established myself as a shameful person. Mikey, I write about 3 things; Rick Warren, my cowardice and your bravery. Today, I watched President Obama's inauguration on the television set up in our Brigade staff conference room. I attended as a member of (unit level designation withheld) staff along with over 40 other senior officers, senior enlisted and a few senior Army civilian staffers. There had been much talk here about Pres. Obama's selection of the evangelical pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the ceremonies.

Our current Commander is a very intolerant and "serious and committed born again Christian" as he always describes himself to all his subordinates. At every military assignment I've ever been to it's always the same thing; if you are not a born again "serious" Christian you are branded as pretty much worthless. My current Commander is bad but not the worst I have seen. I have served 2 combat tours; one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. I have seen those under my command killed and grievously wounded. I was wounded twice. I have been awarded many combat medals and decorations. I have also stood by silently while my combat superiors have openly and repeatedly proselytized me and my troops. I did nothing. I have stood by and watched them continuously proselytize the Iraqis and Afghans. I did nothing.

Today, after Pastor Warren ended his invocation by praying in the name of his personal Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, our Commander jumped to his feet clapping and yelled "God Bless him for having the courage to pray for all of the lost souls in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ!" [Click here to see video of Warren's invocation]. About a third of those attending also clapped. I did not. That was until our Commander turned around to survey everyone's reaction to his statement. When that happened, the officer next to me started to clap and the one to my left clapped too. I felt like I was in a spotlight as the Commander looked at me and the female officer in front of me who had also not clapped. Then she clapped. And then I clapped too. I tried not to but could not muster up the strength to be the only one in the room not clapping in support of our Commander and Warren. I know what I should have done but I just couldn't. Despite the many fierce combat situations I have been in, including hand-to-hand, I just couldn't. I hate myself for this failure. I hate myself for my cowardice. I hate myself.

I have heard and read about all of the death and other threats being made against you, your wife and children. I listened to the voice recording of the death threat that you released made against MRFF client Spc. Jeremy Hall. I heard about that church being burned down when you spoke in that town. All of you show bravery especially when the chips are down. I had my chance today and I showed fear and cowardice. I can't stand what I did today. I have been a client of MRFF for over three years now but no one knows it other than my spouse. We are both afraid of anyone finding out. I have heard other Army personnel talk of being MRFF clients but they usually try to keep it very quiet. Everything you are fighting for, Mikey, is the right fight. I'm not guessing and not assuming; I have lived it. I am living it. I will continue to live it. Trying to complain up the chain of command is as useless as filing an IG complaint or other administrative action. No, it's far worse than just useless. It can and will brand the complainer as a target for revenge.

I have seen it happen and fear it could happen to me if I stood up to it. I have a family and am not that far from being able to retire in peace and quiet. MRFF is the only outlet for military people like me. I hope this e-mail message can help other people (there are so many of us) be willing to contact MRFF and allow you to fight on our behalf against the multitudes of "serious and committed born again Christians" who control all of our careers and lives. Your lawsuit is important to us all. Please don't stop your fight and please don't hate me for not fighting. I hate myself enough for everyone.

(name and rank withheld)
Fort (military installation withheld)
(unit designation withheld)

Selected comments from
The Huffington Post and Daily Kos

By recontext on Daily Kos:

Wow. This "officer" should be fired immediately.

There should be an investigation in all four branches of the military, and officers found to have been proselytizing, or encouraging specific religious activity, should be court martialed.

Evangelical activity by officers on duty is disgraceful, unprofessional, and unconstitutional. There is no excuse for it. And it should not be tolerated for a second in the US Armed Forces.

By Principaldad on The Huffington Post:

This inauguration has certainly illustrated the "my way or the highway to heII" attitude shared by an unfortunate number of Chistians.

I have great concern for these Christians if they are correct and the Bible is 100% literally true. They are going have to do some serious explaining about the "love thy neighbor" part that they ignored. For their sake I will pray to the God who is understood in so many ways that they may receive forgiveness, for they know not what they do.

To the officer who wrote the letter, there have been times when I have felt the same as you. There have been times when I wanted speak up for my convictions couldn't quite muster the courage. The feeling of helplessness that follows is excruciating. Rest in the knowledge that you DID stand for your convictions. Your letter speaks far louder than the applause you grudgingly gave. In my experience, speaking up gets easier with practice. I will pray that you get more chances to follow your convictions.

By G2geek on Daily Kos:

Please pass the word back to Mikey and hopefully back to the officer who wrote that letter:

Don't hate yourself.

Clapping under those circumstances is an automatic response to social pressure, that occurs through mechanisms in the brain that are not under complete voluntary control.

It's like crapping in your pants when an incoming mortar round hits in the place where you were standing a few seconds ago. It's not voluntary. It's no shame.

And the social mechanisms that get people to go along with that kind of pressure, are in some ways more insidious than torture, because they work at a lev el that's hard to point out explicitly and even harder to fight. Fighting social pressure from one's peers and superiors is like trying to engage hand-to-hand with a giant marshmallow: it's as if there is nothing tangible to resist, "so what's the issue?"

One of the things that petty despots count on, is that they can get everyone around them to compromise just a little, and then the despots use those compromises to claim that those around them have no real right to complain. Don't fall for that.

One thing you can count on is that change is coming now.

You can stand strong with the folks at MRFF. When the time comes that you and your fellow warriors can take direct steps to overcome the influence of religious extremism and fanaticism in the ranks, it will be clear. That will be the time to speak out publicly and demand reform. In the meantime, carefully seek out others who share your views, and carefully build support.

Click the logos below to read
more comments on this story

The Huffington Post Logo
Over 80 comments

The Huffington Post Logo
Over 800 comments


You can support MRFF by
donating funds, time, or both.

Please click below to choose how
you'd like to Support the Foundation