Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gen. Petraeus and the Chaplain's Book

Gen. David Petraeus is under fire for the blurb a military chaplain has been using since last year to promote a book about Christianity in the military.

On the back cover of Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel, the incoming Centcom commander is quoted saying that Army chaplain William McCoy's paperback "should be in every rucksack for those moments when Soldiers need spiritual energy." (The version on Amazon has been modified, but you can still see the original back cover via Barnes & Noble.)
Thus begins a story in USA Today which has picked up the story from Military.com. Here's how that story begins:
Petraeus Book 'Endorsement' Draws Fire
August 20, 2008
Military.com|by Bryant Jordan

Gen. David Petraeus is used to controversy surrounding the war in Iraq, but his publicized thoughts on an Army chaplain's book for Soldiers put him squarely in the middle of the ongoing conflict over religious proselytizing in the U.S. military.

The book is "Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel," by Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) William McCoy, and according to Petraeus' published endorsement of the work, "it should be in every rucksack for those times when soldiers need spiritual energy."

But the endorsement - which has spurred a demand by a watchdog group for Petraeus' dismissal and court martial on the grounds of establishing a religious requirement on troops - was a personal view never intended for publication, the book's author now says.

"In the process of securing … comments for recommending the book I believe there was a basic misunderstanding on my part that the comments were publishable," McCoy said in an Aug. 19 email to Military.com. "This was my mistake."

In addition to Petraeus, Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling also is quoted plugging the book in press releases and advertisements and on the jacket.

McCoy, writing in response to Military.com's Aug. 18 inquiry to Petraeus' office for comment, said the two generals' endorsements "were intended for me personally rather than for the general public."
Turns out the the book was first published in 2005, that edition including a cover blurb quoting Gen. Hertling. General Petraeus' jacket blurb appears in a later edition published last year.

Making the complaint is Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Says the Military.com article,
Weinstein is a former Air Force judge advocate general and White House counsel during the Reagan administration. His group has been fighting in the courts to keep improper proselytizing out of the military. Now, he said, he intends to incorprate the Petraeus and Hertling endorsements into an ongoing lawsuit against the Pentagon for an alleged pervasive and permicious "pattern and practice" of religious liberties violations in the military.
Then the article gets really interesting:
With his plug for "Under Orders," Weinstein said in a statement to Military.com, Petraeus - one of the most widely recognized officers in the American military - is endorsing religion as something all Soldiers should have and, specifically, the Christian religion.

"General Petraeus has, by his own hand, become a quintessential poster child of this fundamentalist Christian religious predation, via his unadulterated and shocking public endorsement of a book touting both Christian supremacy and exceptionalism," Weinstein told Military.com Aug. 16.

And by endorsing a book that argues only those who believe in God can fully contribute to the military mission or unit, Weinstein contends that Petraeus insults ""the integrity, character and veracity of approximately 21 percent of our armed forces members who choose not to follow any particular religious faith."

He said that even if Petraeus offered his comments personally, that's a distinction without a difference. "Privately he's denigrating 21 percent of troops," Weinstein said. Suppose he privately denigrated women, African-Americans or Jews? Weinstein asked.

"He should still be relieved of duty and court martialed," he said.
Read it all here.

Pretty serious stuff, no? And given some of the controversies a few years ago with Evangelicals at the Air Force Academy (see here and here ) something worth looking into -- even though Gen. Petraeus has a fine reputation.

But then, at the end of the article we learn something else: Chaplain McCoy is an ELCA pastor.

"Fundamentalist Christian religious predation" from an ELCA Chaplain? Methinks Mr. Weinstein and Military.com don't know anything about Lutherans.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi...

I'm Chris Rodda, MRFF's Senior Research Director.

I just want to say here that we were quite surprised at Chaplain McCoy BECAUSE he's a Lutheran. MRFF receives almost no complaints about Lutheran chaplains, and the Lutheran chaplain in the middle of the Air Force Academy controversy is now a member of MRFF's Advisory Board. 96% of the service men and women who contact us are actually Christians who apparently aren't Christian enough or the "right" kind of Christians for today's military -- Lutherans, Catholics, etc.

On a non-MRFF related note, it was actually a Lutheran minister who not only talked me into writing my book, "Liars for Jesus," but wrote the foreword to it. (Don't be put off by the title -- it's a history book about those who lie in the name of religion to revise American history for their political agenda.)

Chaplain McCoy is just one Lutheran chaplain who is behaving like the fundamentalists that MRFF is fighting, but we in no way consider Lutherans to be of that ilk.

Christopher Pouppirt said...

Pastor Zip have your read the book "Under Orders"?
Do Lutherans really believe atheists are so dangerous?

I am DEEPLY disturbed with Army chaplain Lt. Col. William McCoy's book Under
Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel. I'd like to know how
this Lutheran book for our troops squares to the parable of the Good
Samaritan? I'll tell you It doesn't -- Not One Bit. Lutherans should be
reminded those atheists are the Good Samaritans not the destroyers of unit
cohesion.

Furthermore, using the endorsement of Gen. Petraeus, and Maj. Gen. Mark
Hertling stinks of the same very bad Lutheran history from Nazi Germany. I
remember learning about the German Lutheran Church and it's unholy alliance
with the Nazi German military. Sadly, now by association the ELCA is
seemingly approaching a similar alliance with the US Military -- and it
smells just as rotten to me.

This scares me. It truly scares me.

Christopher said...

Pastor Zip, have you read the book "Under Orders"?
Do Lutherans really believe atheists are so dangerous?

I am DEEPLY disturbed with Army chaplain Lt. Col. William McCoy's book Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel. I'd like to know how this Lutheran book for our troops squares to the parable of the Good Samaritan? I'll tell you It doesn't -- Not One Bit. Lutherans should be reminded those atheists are the Good Samaritans not the destroyers of unit cohesion.

Furthermore, using the endorsement of Gen. Petraeus, and Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling stinks of the same very bad Lutheran history from Nazi Germany. I remember learning about the German Lutheran Church and it's unholy alliance with the Nazi German military. Sadly, now by association the ELCA is seemingly approaching a similar alliance with the US Military -- and it smells just as rotten to me.

This scares me. It truly scares me.

Ryan Schwarz said...

I have not read the book, nor am I military, so I have just some questions. If the MRFF fellow is still checking this, I'd like to understand the legal rationale of their "case" against Gen. Petraeus. To my knowledge, military personnel don't give up all their 1st amendment rights (speech and religion) in joining the military. They do give up the right to speak publicly about political matters, or at least to endorse political candidates. But I'm not aware that those exceptions extend to the free exercise of religion nor to free religious speech.

So why is Gen. Petraeus not free to endorse a book? Is it your contention that in reading what Petraeus said, the average soldier would rationally believe that Petraeus has given an order that every soldier must own this book? Or that Petraeus is saying that soldiers won't advance in rank, etc, as rapidly if they don't own this book? Frankly I'd give our soldiers quite a bit more credit for intelligence than that. To me, Petraeus is obviously expressing his personal opinion about a book. And isn't that protected? Free speech ain't free unless it protects speech you find odious.

ryan schwarz said...

Sorry, having read the military.com article, I guess I should have written "the woman from the MRFF," not "the fellow"!

Pastor Zip said...

No, Chris, I haven't read the book. The military.com article doesn't say anything at all about the book's text -- just what's on the cover and Mr. Weinstein's deliberately inflammatory description. Whether it deserves such flames, I don't know. I suppose I ought to buy the book and actually read it, eh?

That Lutherans and Catholics aren't "the right kind of Christians" has been our status since the establishment of the North American British colonies in the 18th Century. My most personal examples are 1) the congregation I did my internship had it windows vandalized in 1918 as part of the anti-German campaign (Saint John's members were obviously agents of the Kaiser because they worshiped in Swedish) and 2) a couple of years later the Los Angeles Chapter of the new Federal Council of Churches the wasn't sure what to do with the application by the Lutheran church that wanted to join because they didn't think Lutherans were Protestant. 90 years later, no one ought to be terribly surprised when it is still that way.

The ELCA pastor who wrote the forward to your book is one I know through LutherLink discussions; he's mentioned the book and I'd already perused the associated web site. I've not read the book but, based on what I know of both books and who endorses them, I'd expect to find Chaplain McCoy's more edifying for both Christians and non-Christians.

Pastor Zip said...

Christopher, a friend of mine was raised in a Lutheran parsonage in Nazi Germany. I submit that what you learned about Lutherans is only one small, specially chosen slice of what really happened. I'll suggest a couple of useful books: The Fabricated Luther: Refuting Nazi Connections and Modern Myths and Lutherans Against Hitler: The Untold Story.

Then again, if I'm reading your twice-posted comment correctly, you have also equated Generals Petraeus and Hertling and the U.S. military with Nazis. Now if you want to know what I think of our adventure in Iraq, search my 21st Century Whig blog. The American occupation there has clearly been far from our finest hour. That noted, I am even less impressed by your sense of moral outrage than I am by your historical perspective.

God's Guitar Girl said...

I for one cannot believe this is taking up brainspace in the American psyche. We have a few bigger issues on our plate besides one person saying they did or didn't like a book. It hasn't been made mandatory reading for all soldiers.

Quite frankly, I'd like the First Amendment to extend to Christians who'd like to comment publicly about their faith for once. Who knows -- maybe if Gen. Petraeus was a Hollywood star who took his clothes off for a living, we'd be hanging on his every word, regardless of his religious views.

Bottom Line: Someone quoted him as saying it was a good book. If he's not making it mandatory reading and he's not getting financial gain from this, sounds like freedom of speech to me.

And as an aside, as the spouse of a deceased soldier, I can tell you the military bends over backwards to protect all soldiers' right to believe or not, even to the point of ridiculousness. Ordained Christian chaplains cannot pray using the name Jesus for fear they would offend someone who didn't believe in Jesus. Trust me -- religious privacy/rights are a top priority in the military.