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Background on Chaplain Endorsing Agencies, CFCG, and MRFF

Friday, June 26, 2009

Please Note: The commentary in this article is not meant to imply an official MOAA position on the MRFF letter. From time to time, we will address topics that are outside of our official scope to help provide factual information as best we can.

For those not familiar with the process of becoming a military chaplain, here is some background information. The Armed Forces Chaplain Board makes recommendations via certified ‘Endorsing Agencies’ to the Secretary of Defense on a variety of chaplain issues. There are currently nine administrating endorsing agencies and approximately another 187 endorsing agencies. The full list of agencies can be found here. The purpose of the AFCB is listed on their website here as:

  • Protection of free exercise of religion according to Amendment I to the Constitution of the United States.

  • Procurement, professional standards, requirements, training, and assignment of military chaplains

  • All religious support providers.

  • Procurement and utilization of supplies, equipment, and facilities for religious use.

  • Promotion of dialog with civilian organizations regarding religious issues.

  • Promotion of joint military endeavors for the delivery of ministry by the Military Services throughout the Department of Defense whenever practicable.

One of these administrating endorsing agencies, the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches (CFGC) has come under fire for alleged violations of multiple regulations governing the endorsing agencies. CFGC gained their authorization for ecclesiastic endorsement in 1984 and has since made a big impact on the Chaplains Corps. According to their website, they are “presently endorsing 270+ Military Chaplains/Chaplain Candidates and 180+ Civilian Chaplains/Seminarians” and represents over 7.5 million “Full Gospel” believers. CFGC’s founder and President is E.H. (Jim) Ammerman, who served for 23 years as an Army chaplain and retired in 1977. In addition to their own endorsing agency, Mr. Ammerman serves as the endorsing executive for 12 other endorsing agencies, all of which are offshoots or associates of CFGC.

On June 24th, 2009, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) sent a comprehensive package of complaints regarding CFGC’s past and present actions to the Secretary of Defense, President Obama and a number of other high ranking government officials. The letter, which can be found in full here, laid out a series of accusations against CFGC and Colonel Ammerman and called for the revocation of their status as an endorsing agency, as well as an investigation into the CFGC endorsed chaplains currently in the military. MRFF was founded in 2006 by Michael L. ‘Mikey’ Weinstein, “to directly battle the evangelical, fundamentalist religious right”. Mr. Weinstein was driven to form the non-profit watchdog group based on his experience in the military, starting with harassment at the Air Force Academy (five other members of his family have attended AFA as well). Mr. Weinstein served for ten years in the Air Force as a Judge Advocate General and went on to serve as counsel to President Reagan and presidential candidate H. Ross Perot. MRFF claims to have fielded calls from over 13,000 active duty personnel (96% of whom are Christian) asking for advice or reporting harassment.

In this article, we will examine the four main accusations made by MRFF against CFGC and try to determine their validity. Although the complaint letter contained supporting documentation, the evaluations have been done independent of any MRFF documentation or sources to provide the most objective viewpoint possible.

Evaluation of Specific Claims in the
MRFF Complaint

#1 - CFGC’s Denigration of Other Religious Entities

From the letter:

The Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches (CFGC), headed by retired Army Col. E.H. Jim Ammerman, which, according to its website, currently has over 270 chaplains and chaplain candidates in all branches of the military, habitually denigrates all religions and religious denominations except Charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity. This denigration, which includes virulently anti-semitic and Islamophobic statements, as well as the deprecation of Catholicism and mainstream Protestantism, occurs in the CFGC’s chaplain newsletters, as well as in the speeches, media appearances, and videos of both Mr. Ammerman and a currently serving CFGC chaplain, Army Maj. James F. Linzey.

Evaluation - True. On multiple occasions, Mr. Ammerman has made disparaging remarks about fellow Christians, Muslims, Jews and other faiths. The following is a list of some examples:

  • Regarding Mainstream Protestants (from Newsweek) - “In a 2008 sermon, Ammerman described a CFGC chaplain at Fort Riley, Kans., who demanded the 42 chaplains below him “speak up for Jesus” or leave his outfit”

  • Regarding Jews (from Ammerman’s Prophecy Club video): “Why, you know, father Abraham started out at fifty and got way down. He might have gotten down to three, but he didn’t go that far. You know, that’s where jewing down came from. He’s the father of the Jews, and he jewed God down. Well, I wish I had some of that ability. I seem to have to always pay full price.”

  • Regarding Wiccans (from The Washington Post): Wiccans “run around naked in the woods” and “draw blood with a dagger” in their ceremonies. “You can’t do that in the military. It’s against good order and discipline.”

  • Regarding Muslims (from CFCG’s September 2006 newsletter): “Therefore after much study and deliberation, perhaps we should be very suspicious of ALL MUSLIMS in this country. They obviously cannot be both ‘good’ Muslims and good Americans.”

#2 - CFGC Ties to Extremist Groups and Statements Against the Government

From the letter:

Both Mr. Ammerman and Maj. Linzey have made numerous statements against the government of the United States and certain government officials and departments, promoted civilian militia movements, and disseminated many conspiracy theories in an attempt to foment disloyalty to the government of the the United States among both civilians and military personnel. This type of activity has previously led to an investigation of Ammerman and CFGC, called for by Air Force Lt. Gen. Normand Lezy in 1997. DoD Directive Number 1325.6, “Guidelines for Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces,” cited in Lt. Gen. Lezy’s 1997 memorandum, states that “Military personnel must reject participation in organizations that espouse supremacist causes.” The Prophecy Club, an organization for which both Mr. Ammerman and Maj. Linzey have made videos, unquestionably espouses a supremacist cause. In addition, various statements made by both Mr. Ammerman and Maj. Linzey in their Prophecy Club videos, as well as in other forums, such as radio appearances and speeches, incontrovertibly violate one or more of the following statutory provisions found in Enclosure E1.2 of DoD Directive Number 1325.6.

Evaluation - True. Not only have Mr. Ammerman and Major Linzey created videos for The Prophecy Club, which can be found here and here, they have also used their DoD certified newsletter to suggest the killing of Democratic candidates in the 2008 election.

The Newsweek article referenced above also contains the following:

Ammerman and chaplain Linzey have espoused conspiracy theories about “Satanic forces” at work in the U.S. government facilitating a military takeover by foreign troops; Ammerman even appears in a video favored by militia groups titled The Imminent Military Takeover of the USA. In 2008, Ammerman implied that four presidential candidates should be “arrested, quickly tried and hanged” for not voting to designate English America’s official language, and speculated that Barack Obama would be assassinated as a secret Muslim.

In April of 2005, Major Linzey was conducting a radio interview and advocated civilians taking up arms:

Linzey : I want Americans, I want everybody listening, to go out and buy 5 weapons and 5,000 bullets - for your own protection, for self defense. Because I believe that foreign soldiers will come to our houses, to rape our wives and teenage daughters and kill the men right in front of them - and then the women will bear children of an ethnic stock different from what they are, and that’s how you alter the course of any society; you change the ethnic stock. Egypt today is not the same ethnic stock it was during the Moses days.”

Huffington Post blogger Bruce Wilson describes another incident from the 2008 campaign season:

Last August 9, 2008 during a sermon at the Sioux Falls, South Dakota Cornerstone Church Jim Ammerman declared that Barack Obama was secretly a Muslim and predicted that if the Illinois Senator won the election, “we won’t have a president very long” because Muslims would try to murder the new president — for betraying Allah. If candidate Obama chose Hillary Clinton as his vice presidential running mate and won the election, pastor Ammerman continued, Bill Clinton would arrange for Obama to be killed because “[Bill] wants back in the White House.”

#3 - CFGC is Not Eligible to be an Endorsing Agency

From the letter:

According to the definition of a “Religious Organization” found in DoD Directive Number 1304.19, “Guidance for the Appointment of Chaplains for the Military Departments,” CFGC is not eligible to be authorized as an ecclesiastical endorser. CFGC is not an “entity that is organized and functions primarily to perform religious ministries to a non-military lay constituency.” CFGC, which is operated out of a house located in a residential neighborhood of Dallas, Texas zoned for single family homes, did not have a “non-military lay constituency” at the time of its founding, but was founded for the sole purpose of endorsing chaplains, and this continues to be its primary purpose to this day.

Evaluation - Undetermined. Beyond MRFF sources, we could not verify the authenticity of this claim. CFGC’s ‘About Us’ page does not go in to much of the history of the church before they received their authorization as an endorsing agency. However, we lean towards accepting this assertion due to Mr. Ammerman’s bio page, which makes no mention of serving non-military constituents prior to their authorization.

#4 - CFGC Violates CENTCOM’s General Order 1-A

From the letter:

In a clear and blatant violation of CENTCOM’s General Order 1-A, which absolutely prohibits the proselytizing of any religion, faith or practice in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, a network of forty CFGC chaplains has engaged in the organized distribution in Iraq of Arabic language Bibles and other Arabic language fundamentalist Christian evangelizing materials to the Iraqi people. The violation of this explicitly prohibited activity by these forty CFGC chaplains was initiated, encouraged, and aided by Mr. Ammerman.

Evaluation - True. Back to the Newsweek article for this one:

The Bible initiative was handled by former Army chaplain Jim Ammerman, the 83-year-old founder of the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches (CFGC), an organization in charge of endorsing 270 chaplains and chaplain candidates for the armed services. Ammerman worked with an evangelical group based in Arkansas, the International Missions Network Center, to distribute the Bibles through the efforts of his 40 active-duty chaplains in Iraq. A 2003 newsletter for the group said of the effort, “The goal is to establish a wedge for the kingdom of God in the Middle East, directly affecting the Islamic world.”

J. E. Wadkins, vice president of student life at Ecclesia College who oversees the International Missions Network Center, says they have worked with Ammerman for 20 years and reached out to him as part of their “Bibles for the Nations” mission. He estimates that in the end, between 100,000 and 500,000 Arabic Bibles were distributed in under one year, beginning not long after Saddam Hussein’s ouster. “It was a really early effort there,” says Wadkins, “when things first opened up.”

Mr. Ammerman is reportedly fond of quoting the biblical passage in the book of Luke, chapter 19, verse 27: But on the day when Lot went out of Sodom, fire came down from heaven and destruction came on them all as a way of highlighting the struggle he sees in the current wars to his chaplains.

Overall Evaluation

While the behavior and intent of Mr. Ammerman and CFGC are certainly worthy of a deep look by the Department of Defense in relation to their endorsing agency status, MRFF have gone too far in calling for the aggressive investigation and court martial of any CFGC endorsed chaplains that may have been participating in the violations. It is obvious from the research performed here that CFGC does have a deeply entrenched presence in the military, and calling for such a wide inquisition will only fan a great deal of anger. But if our Chaplain Corps is being infiltrated by evangelical fundamentalists bent on converting not only Muslims but also American troops, it does represent a real threat to their security in Afghanistan and Iraq. If what the Harper’s Magazine story of soldiers’ actions in 2004 is anything but an isolated incident, it will be very hard to win over any hearts or minds.

You may have heard Mikey Weinstein’s name before. He has been featured in many news articles over the past four years, and in many forwarded emails. The most recent one, regarding the bible burning incident in Afghanistan, was written by Gordon Klingenschmitt. In April and again in May, Klingerschmidt issued calls to God via imprecatory prayers to smite Mr. Weinstein’s family, wipe his seed from the earth and, in somewhat of a paradox, curse his family for the next ten generations. I mention this because Klingenschmitt was discharged from the military after 17 years after he demanded a court martial when he was questioned about praying in front of the White House in uniform. Gordon Klingenschmitt was a chaplain, and he was endorsed by CFGC.

As strong and courageous as our men and women in uniform overseas are, the majority of our fighting force is enlisted and under the age of 25. In a foreign land, under extreme duress, they are more vulnerable than the normal person to persuasion. Our chaplains are there to provide comfort and spiritual guidance, not to point anyone towards a particular faith. If we cannot maintain a wall between religion and the military, we run the risk of inadvertently forming our own jihad style force. Jim Ammerman passing on a strong belief in end times prophecy, which traditionally requires a great deal of global destruction before the rapture can occur, to a vulnerable generation of servicemen, is inconceivable. But the statistics regarding how many people in uniform have contacted MRFF seem to point towards a select group of chaplains pushing this scenario, and risking turning our efforts in the Middle East into a true crusade.

UPDATE - Battle of the Bilge interviewed Mikey Weinstein for a profile feature, which can be found here.


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