As Publisher of Athens Now, and someone who has a deep first hand appreciation for Chaplains and all they do for our troops, I have done my best to sound the alarm as often as I can when I become aware of the Constitutional freedoms with which our Chaplains minister being denied and vilified. Sometimes I feel like I may be perceived as “crying wolf,” but, that’s a risk I’ll take. Yet another Chaplain has been called on the carpet for ministering according to his faith, but this time there could be lives that are lost as a result, and to me, that is simply unacceptable.
Chaplain Joseph Lawhorn was conducting a suicide prevention training session for troops at Ft. Benning, GA, and “got real” with his soldiers. He did what few officers do because of what it could do to their careers: he told the Joes that he, too, had struggled with severe depression, and told them what helped him get through it. While he made it clear that it was largely his faith, he gave them a handout that had, on one column, secular resources he had found helpful, and on the other side, a list of Bible verses that had fed him in the dark night of his soul. All should have been well.
However, Chaplain Lawhorn was called into the office of his “higher,” where he was read what was labeled as “A Letter of Concern.” The letter accused him of unlawfully proselytizing, and stated that the Army could not tolerate having “Army resources” listed in the same document as Scriptures. Ummmm, this is a Chaplain, whom the Army pays to preach, pays to run seminars, pays to counsel, pays to bury soldiers, pays to comfort when they lose their buddies, and pays to keep them from killing themselves, but you can’t have your “resources” peacefully co-existing on the same piece of paper? If he uses “Army resources” to print out sermon notes, or words to hymns or lyrics to praise and worship music, is he in trouble? If he uses “Army resources,” such as an Army-built chapel in which to hold services, does he get to sing out, with the News Boys, Willie Robertson and other Americans, “My God’s not dead/He is surely alive/and He’s living on the inside/roarin’ like a lion?”
When I was in Iraq, there was a clear, ironclad order called General Order One. It was simple: no porn, no booze, no proselytizing. Even in a Muslim country, “proselytizing” was understood to be aggressive and threatening, somewhat like being told that if you don’t convert to XYZ faith, you and your family will be tortured, killed, or both. It did not there, and does not ever mean the bold sharing of one’s faith or how one’s faith gave hope. How much less, when our soldiers are struggling with suicide, should a Chaplain be rebuked for taking the risk of being vulnerable to his flock, and telling them from the standpoint of true experience, that, “Guys, (and gals,) this worked for me, and I am here to help you in any way I can?” Chaplain Lawthorn should be getting a promotion for his courage, not some stupid “Letter of Concern.” He is a Chaplain, not a social worker, and unless that distinction is restored, civilian pulpits could be next.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner