A Few Thoughts on Your Organization

Dear MRFF,

As a Christian believer with Christian family members and friends in the military, I am very upset with the mission statement of your website. These two lines especially offended me:

No member of the military may be compelled to endure unwanted religious proselytization, evangelization or persuasion of any sort in a military setting and/or by a military superior or civilian employee of the military.

“No member of the United States Armed Forces may be compelled in any way to witness or engage in any religious exercise.”

Your organization is working towards limiting the religious freedom of members of the United States armed service, which is ironic considering that the name of your organization is the Military Religious Freedom Organization. You are espousing a form of intolerance towards Christians and creating a culture of fear. Whitewashing the military of faith will remove from soldiers a very important emotional pillar of strength. I assert that the current degradation of the military, which includes a steady increase in suicides and immoral behavior, is linked to a decline in the culture of faith. Do you not agree that unit cohesion and solidarity can be positively impacted by sharing religious faith? What kind of cohesion is there in non-belief? I’m going to share with others how your organization is bigoted toward religious believers.

Sincerely,
(name withheld)


Good Evening, (name withheld) –

Mikey Weinstein shared your email with me and asked if I’d be interested in responding with my own thoughts and perspective. I’m happy to do so, as I consider it very important to share with fellow Christians my view of the work that MRFF is doing (as well as to correct misconceptions about things that MRFF is accused of doing, but which it is not doing). But first, I want to extend a sincere ‘thank you’ for signing your email. Too much of the input received at MRFF is anonymous – just this past week I’ve responded to 2 such anonymous missives, both of which were sent from bogus email addresses that did not allow a direct response. I also appreciate that your input is congenial and well articulated. Again, attributes that are missing from too many notes sent to MRFF.

I am a Christian, an Air Force veteran (USAFA ’85), and an MRFF supporter. I can relate very well to your concerns about the mission of MRFF, because I was in exactly the same place when I first learned of the organization. In fact, I wrote an email that was not too different from the one that you sent. My next step was to do a good bit of reading and research into both the MRFF, as well as the constitutional issues of church/state separation and freedom of religion. While none of this research made me a constitutional scholar, I did learn enough to realize that MRFF is not anti-religion, but pro-constitution… and not anti-Jesus, but pro-respect for all beliefs. And I gained a fresh appreciation for the importance of the US Constitution in the personal lives of military members. I’d encourage you to do your own research, as well.

In your email, you highlighted two lines of the MRFF mission statement with which you take issue. I’d ask you to focus on just three very specific words in those sentences…. unwanted, superior, and compelled. I think these three words hold the key to the overall meaning and importance of the mission.

UNWANTED —- MRFF does not oppose the right of a service member to seek information about someone else’s faith. But it’s important that it not be done against the desires of the individual service member… and that is because of the impact of the next word….

SUPERIOR —- As a former military member myself, I can attest to the level of control that a higher-ranking member can have over a subordinate. If a senior member is making efforts to proselytize about his or her faith with a subordinate and those efforts are unwanted, that creates an environment that is very difficult and unfair for the subordinate… and that is because a superior has the ability to impact the subordinate with the third word…..

COMPELLED —- Again, the hierarchy of the military is such that senior members can order subordinates to do many things. For example, to attend a mandatory formation or event. If that event is specific to a particular expression of faith, a subordinate who does not wish to participate in someone else’s faith, he or she has no good way to say ‘no thanks’ without being subjected to very negative pressure or outcomes.

——————————-

You’ll note that there is nothing in the mission statement, nor anywhere in the efforts of MRFF, to restrict the beliefs of any individual, nor to interfere with an individual’s right to freedom of religion. The only focus is to help ensure that the military environment is fair and free from improper efforts of any specific religious influence on members who do not share those beliefs.

We live in a very diverse society, and our military members are a direct reflection of that diversity. The latest research I’ve seen from the Pew Foundation shows that 75% of Americans identify themselves as Christian (although even within that group there is divergence of beliefs and Confessions of Faith). Consider that for a moment — 1 in 4 Americans are not Christians. So in an AF squadron of about 100 members, you can expect 25 of them to hold beliefs that differ from Christianity. Those members are entitled to live and work in an environment that respects their beliefs, including non-belief. And as I mentioned, even among the 75 Christians there is sufficient diversity of belief that Christian military members, too, can feel undue pressure from other exuberant Christians. You may be interested to know that the majority of MRFF supporters are people of faith. While we are ardent in our religious beliefs, we also feel very strongly that the religious protections of the US Constitution are available to people of all faiths (and no faith), not just to Christians.

Hopefully, the focus of MRFF’s mission is made a bit more clear by this explanation. I’d be happy to correspond further, if you have any comments about what I’ve shared here.

Peace,

Mike Challman, MRFF supporter

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