FEATURED INBOX POSTING – Guess Who Came to Dinner – Christina Hopper

From: Aaron and Christina Hopper <email address withheld>
Date: September 23, 2015 at 12:00:05 PM MDT
To: Mikey Weinstein
Subject: Guess Who Came To Dinner

Guess Who Came to Dinner?
by Christina Hopper

In our world of reality TV, it is easy to look at a person in the news or read about them in an article and pass judgment on them about what kind of person they must be.  But the truth is, when you actually meet the person, sit across from him at dinner, learn about how he grew up, what his interests are, and what his family is like, then you have the “aha” moment and realize:  “This is a real person, with real feelings, real emotions, and a real life.”  Just like me, they have opinions and passions that drive them.

Well, that’s what happened to me when Mikey Weinstein accepted our invitation to have dinner.  My husband and I invited Mikey to dinner because we strive to live in harmony with others and hold to the biblical principle that if possible, as far as it depends on us, we should live peaceably with all (Rom 12:18).  So, we wanted the opportunity to meet Mikey, find out what he was all about, and give him the opportunity to see what we were all about.  We agreed to have dinner followed by a small, by-invitation only, forum to discuss religious freedom in the military. 

In preparation for this dinner and forum, I struggled with fear that I might be setting myself up for ridicule for my beliefs and opinions on religious freedom in the military.  I talked with Mikey a few days before the event and expressed this fear, and he assured me that the purpose of the forum was not to attack any person, but to have a “collegial exchange” of ideas that we all might learn something.  He went one step further by putting me in touch with his daughter who I talked with for almost an hour.  After talking with his daughter, I was very excited about the dinner and forum and what might be gained from the experience.

The evening of the event, my husband and I met Mikey, his daughter and son-in-law for a quiet dinner where we talked about our lives and how we ended up where we are today.  He presented us with a very beautiful gift on behalf of him and his wife, a sterling silver cross that now resides on a display shelf in my home with other important keepsakes. 

After dinner, we made our way over to the Grace Place, a building at our church, where the forum was held.  Our pastor, Wade Burleson, hosted and moderated the event.  We invited approximately 50 people, a combination of military, non-military, liberal, conservative, those from diverse religious backgrounds (including atheists), a small group of homeschooled high school students, and about a dozen MRFF clients past and present. 

The panel consisted of Wade, Mikey, my husband Aaron, and myself.  We each made opening comments presenting our views on religious freedom in the military.  Then, we laid out some basic ground rules for the discussion, which included:  1. It was not a debate, but a casual exchange of ideas, 2.  Be respectful; discuss the ideas, don’t attack other people, 3.  Unofficial; present your own personal opinions, use first name only and do not give rank or position if military, and 4.  Non-attribution; we requested that no one publicize or attribute specific comments to specific persons.  These rules were designed to promote positive and open communication among attendees.  After laying out ground rules, we presented three generic case studies.  The case studies were taken from real world incidents and they all dealt with an aspect of where to draw the line for religious freedom in the military.  Each panelist discussed their ideas on each case study and then it was opened up to the attendees to ask questions or present their thoughts.  

As I reflect on what happened at the forum, I can say that it was one of the most memorable evenings of my life.  It deeply affected me, challenged me, and changed me in many ways.  I am still pondering ideas related to the discussions we had that evening.  Though we did not all leave agreeing on where to draw the line for religious freedom in the military, we did leave agreeing that there is a line.  Though people on both sides want to make the line black and white, sometimes it is rather gray.  More important than the line, a fundamental principle I took away from the event is that you do not have to agree with a person on everything to be able live at peace with them and find common ground. As iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another (Prov 27:17).  In order for a blade to cut more precisely and become more accurate, it must be scraped up against something abrasive.  In the same way, in order for people to grow in wisdom, they must be continually challenged to examine their beliefs and practices against those who have different ones.  When we open ourselves up to see someone we disagree with as a human being, worthy of dignity and respect, we have taken a step toward true freedom. Though the circumstances that introduced me to Mikey were painful, I am thankful that I met him, know him, and can call him friend.

Share this page:

Commenter Account Access

  • Register for a commenter account
    (Not required to post comments, but will save you time if you're a regular commenter)
  • Log in using your existing account
  • Click here to edit your profile and change your password
  • All comments are subject to our Terms of Use

6 Comments

  1. Ariel Thomann, MD

    I wish I could have been there — sounds like a Human effort at reducing polarization.
    I trust the point was made that just as (whoever said it) someone’s right to swing his arm ends where the other fellow’s nose begins, someone’s right to preach ends where the other person’s eardrums begin. They have the right to believe whatever they want to believe, but it has nothing to do with me. Since I am a physical entity, if pushed I will most probably push back.

  2. Yovonne Autrey-Schell

    Major Hopper,

    Try to remember back to when you were a young officer, still in training and just out of it. Now, pretend that your commander is of a different religion and that said commander goes out of their way constantly to point out their religion and how much it affects not only their personal life, but also their decision making process in general. What if that commander constantly quotes scripture from their holy books while in uniform in a military capacity, or while representing themselves as an officer of the US military? Are you going to feel trepidation that your commander will judge your personal performance and decide your career advancement based on your different beliefs? Will they give preference to someone who is of the same belief system as they are? Would you have confidence in such a superior officer in your chain of command at the present time?

    Now, please let me tell you my story. Just before I was medically retired out of the Army, I was assigned to a battalion S-1 shop and had a battalion commander and command sergeant major who were very caring, convivial Evangelical Christians, much like yourself and your husband. These two leaders knew I was not a Christian and that I had my own beliefs, yet they saw fit to pull me into the battalion commander’s office during duty hours and take turns witnessing to me and telling me that things would all be better if only I would accept Jesus Christ into my heart as my lord and savior. I informed them at that time that I already had a belief system, thank you very much Sir and Sergeant Major, and that I did not wish to be proselytized to further, yet the proselytizing continued on a regular basis. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation wasn’t around in my day, so I had to start with the brigade Equal Opportunity NCO and work my way up to the MACOM IG in order to stop the harassment by my battalion commander and command sergeant major. To the best of my knowledge, neither man was ever reprimanded for their inappropriate behavior, but at least the proselytizing and harassment stopped. I am grateful that the MRFF is there to help protect the members of the US military now and I hope there will always be someone like Michael Weinstein and the MRFF around in future, because not everyone can afford to stand up to their chain of command, for myriad reasons.

    Yes, there is absolutely a sharp divide between what is acceptable and what is not in regards to religious freedom in the military and my battalion commander and command sergeant major leaped across that divide like prize show jumpers, and they were dead wrong in doing so. Anyone in a leadership position in the US military, officer or enlisted, should not ever, under any circumstance, push their faith onto subordinates, nor should they even give the mere appearance of preference or favoritism by embracing any belief system while in an official capacity, by any means. People in the United States, including those serving in the military, have the absolute, Constitutionally guaranteed right to believe and worship as they will. Those people also have the right to be free from harassment and the fear that their own beliefs will impact their career, even their very lives, because of the differing beliefs of anyone appointed above them; 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) and DoD Directive 1020.02 were specifically enacted to prohibit discrimination and harassment, including discrimination and/or harassment on the basis of religion.

    Please put the boot on the other foot, Major Hopper.

    Sincerely,

    Yovonne Autrey-Schell
    Sergeant, United States Army (Retired)

    P.S. Please pardon typos and grammatical/syntax errors, the muscle relaxers I take fog my brain.

  3. Sue Emmett

    You didn’t sound very foggy to me, Yovonne. You were spot on! I’ve never been in the military, WAY too old to ever be in it now, but I bristle at anything happening in the military that has even a scent of pushing fundamentalist, evangelical, or dominionist “testimony” on any other military person. I do not understand after all that Mikey has made public how this deliberate ignoring of our constitution is still so prevalent among our military establishments. Makes me want to tear my hair out sometimes. I’d like to see a glaring infraction of should be accepted behavior taken all the way to the Supreme Court. But then, even so, most of these people wouldn’t recognize that authority either. They appear to be incorrigible!

  4. Yeshua Warrior

    Well Sue, you may not have to wait long, if the Muslim in Chief gets his way, he may have all the Christians and Jews rounded up and put in concentration camps that FEMA has been building all around the country!

  5. G

    I would not want someone with a different social, political, ethnic, racial, economic, marital status and/or religious background determining my chances of getting a promotion, getting medals, a chance to get earn vocational credentials/academics degrees in the military, and coveted assignments which can lead to better changes for promotions because I don’t fit one or more of the above mention items and then, they tell me that I should not have been allowed to join the military considering the fact that they spend tons of money on TV, radio, internet, and physical recruiting to get people like me to join.

  6. Steve F

    To Yeshua Warrior above:

    I’m glad that they got the alternate-universe internet link back up and working again! I’ve missed all the interesting stuff from the many different alternate realities that make the internet even more than universal! Occasionally I see posts come from the universe where the Axis won the war; not many, though because their internet service is so lousy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*