Monday, October 21, 2013

Be All That You Can Be...

What are your thoughts concerning the debate over the military's policy concerning Christian soldiers sharing their faith?

One of my long-running friends sent me a link a few weeks ago concerning this issue asking for my thoughts.  I thought this would be an excellent topic for this site.  I asked him if I could use it and he granted me permission (thanks!!) so here goes.

But first, an announcement.  I frequently get questions sent to me by ppl who request that I do not share the question publicly.  I always grant people their privacy.  Even if I share a question with consent, I still never share personal information.  I do,however, consider that all questions sent to me via the email addresses provided on the site are for the public unless specifically stated otherwise.

Recently, there has been a huge outcry at what appeared to be discrimination against Christianity.  Specifically, Christian soldiers were reportedly being threatened to be sent before Court Martial for "sharing their faith."

I think it first important to clarify the official position and policy of the military concerning religion.

The policy in question: DoD Directive 1020.02 Feb 2009

The Pentagons response to stated concerns

It is also important to note the difference between evangelism and proselytizing.  Short and sweet ... evangelism becomes proselyting when it is forced, especially when it has been made clear that the person does not want to continue in the conversation.

You may or may not know that I served in the Army for 8 years.  I decided to follow Jesus during that time.  When I joined, however, I gave no thought to the existence of God.  (Still have my 'no religious preference' dogtags ...)  I felt that the Army discriminated against soldiers who had no religious views.  The only way to get out of details and other duties was by going to chapel services.  I didn't believe in anything but would still go to every religious service possible just to catch a break.  As much as it may be a disagreeable thing, that was religious discrimination.  I know we want to jump on the freedom of/vs/from religion war bandwagon but ... there is little offered to soldiers who have no religious beliefs to find rest and solace.

When I gave my life to God, I found myself in rough situations.  I was discriminated against ... I was put on the worst of details ... even written up once for "making decisions detrimental to the morale of the platoon."  That write up (we call them counseling statements) was in response to my refusal to go give my weekly beer rations to my platoon members while deployed in Haiti.  It happens.  I had to learn to live "peaceably among all men."(Rom 12:18)

But be sure of this, the same laws that we site for discrimination also protect us.  There will always be people who misread (and worse misapply) but in the law of averages, those types of laws always protect the two opposing factors from the other denying the priceless freedom of expression.

Army policy specifically allows for soldiers to evangelize ... to share their faith ... but it prohibits proselytizing (forced solicitation ).  The line drawn between them is blurred, so say some.  But I feel that we were able to find a very effective way to minister, witness, and evangelize among our platoon and company members as well as the foreign nationals without pushing limits or buttons.

Here is a model for effective and noninvasive witnessing that I have found to be very effective especially when considering trying to keep a balance between sharing Christ with the loss while not crossing unnecessary lines.  Keep in mind ... this whole thing belongs to God.  I don't care if the government makes Christianity illegal ... nothing can stop God's Word from reaching people ... it has been tried many times ... it cannot succeed.

First - Live Christ.  Everyone around me saw the change ... I didn't try to "act" holy ... shoot, I really didn't notice any change.  I just wanted different things.  I responded differently.  Do the same.  Let the Holy Spirit work through you in any environment and people will notice.  Be patient.  Respond gently.  Look out and care for the afflicted ... stand for those who cannot stand for themselves.  Apologize and account for mistakes made.

Second - Don't be judgmental or condescending.  We, who have been spared from the wrath of God so often life our noses in the air towards unbelievers as if the stench of their sin offends us.  Remember, that is the same smell that should beckon us to intercede and intervene.  Don't misunderstand "go out from among them and be separate."  Apply the following scriptures ...

1 Corinthians 5:9: I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10: In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world.

2 Corinthians 4:6: For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7: But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

We must be in the world to reach it.

Third - Be ready!  At some point, a question concerning your change/beliefs will be asked of you ... maybe even in the disguise of an insult.  Part of the Holy Spirit's work is to convict the world of sin. We are lights ... cities on hills for our community.

1 Peter 3:15: But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess.

Fourth - Organize!  Hold regular services at different times that will cater to the various shifts needed to properly staff a base, camp, or compound.  Try to establish a schedule ASAP and hold to it.  Design and reproduce informative literature (flyers, bulletins, etc) detailing service times, activities, Bible studies, practices, etc and take advantage of company areas (Mess Hall, CP, Office, Supply, MWR Center, Chapel, Weight Room, etc) where those announcements can be posted.  Form a Biblical leadership team ... and disciple young believers.  Do everything and anything possible to let everyone know that all are welcome and prepare the believers to be able to minister to anyone who enters through the doors.  Work closely with the chaplains ... they are awesome resources for getting things.  Minister to the chaplain and his (or her) staff!!!

Finally - Don't push.  "Let your peace return to you."  Those were Jesus words (Mat 10, Luke 10).  I have the opinion that the best ways of doing things are the way Jesus taught.  We cannot know more about the supernatural than Him.  We cannot be more spiritual than Jesus (though I think a few certain ministers believe they have outwitted God...)  Read Jesus' witnessing class ... it is His own words!  

We have no call to force others into the Kingdom ... though if it would work I would always be guilty of shoving.  Remember the parable of the Sower of Seeds (Luke 8:5) - the sower is never rebuked for throwing seeds on the infertile ground.  The sturdiest of slabs can be a thriving farm within just a few years ... and the same reversal is true for the richest of soils.  

Thank God He doesn't hold us to a quota!!

I think if you will hold to those guidelines, you will not come close to proselytizing.

I also have to say to those who feel that nothing should be done to prevent soldiers from pushing their religion ... the environment is war.  Soldiers are constantly being prepared to save lives by taking lives.  If a person wishes to reach the Arab world for Christ, that person should become a missionary.  Too many people are piggy backing their beliefs off of the security of the military.  We operate in high risk areas where that kind of behavior puts soldiers in unnecessarily risky and harmful situations.

There is a lure of being a soldier ... in many churches.  I find it weird ... but a great many people are not settled within themselves of just being a believer ... they harp on that "soldier for Christ" thing ... it's heroism they are after.  Let me remind ... Paul was speaking to military societies ... of which we are not.  He was speaking concerning the extreme discipline and risk the nature of their work required.  I have had people tell me things like "in the spirit, I'm like a tank ... not just a foot soldier" and "in the spirit, I'm like black ops" ... good grief.  

The fact is, when you see soldiers effectively sharing their faith, it's probably because they were saved while in the service.  It's the same for anything.  Messianic Jews are much more effective at reaching Jews ... the same for the Islamic, Hindu, etc followers.  Bloom where you are planted.  I doubt that any believer can be effective in their field if they are dreaming, or counting themselves more worthy, of another.  There is no field more important than the one you are placed in.

So should a soldier be disciplined if he is pressing another soldier after he or she has been told to stop?  Absolutely.  Should a leader be reprimanded or removed if that leader is specifically targeting one religion to reward or punish?  Absolutely.  As sure as the sun burns, I've seen rebellion and disobedience disguised as faith.  I've seen cowardice disguised as faith.  This also happens in the civilian world ... people doing "ministry" while on the clock meanwhile their responsibilities go undone ... shame on us for using the Gospel to get out of work.  Let us also always remember:

1 Peter 2:20: For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God.

1 Corinthians 10:31b: ... whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.

I have witnessed many people claim persecution that were in fact dealing with the consequences for their own personal failures.  If we accept a paycheck, then we must live by our agreements.  

If you want to go to the ends of the Earth to spread the Gospel ... be a missionary!  You can have your cake and eat it!  It is an awesome call ... but there is risk.  I have found it to be a wonderful life ... an honor to be a part of.  

So, in conclusion, I have read (and provided) the details of the policies and provisions concerning the DoD stance on discrimination and I fully support the existence of anti-discrimination laws.  I am, however, concerned that the military leadership would feel the need to bend their back so quickly to anyone.  In the end I don't see this policy as discriminating or offensive especially considering the clarifications made concerning the questions about certain possible interpretations of the policy. I think that we can focus on other, more important topics to debate.  We would do well to not allow ourselves to get caught up in heated debates that we do not have all of the information on.  It may be hard to believe but both sides of the political landscape twist words and get people fired up and ready to fight over situations that are extremely exaggerated at best (sometimes nonexistent) ... as an agenda to stay employed.

I cannot remind people enough that the same freedom of expression and anti-discriminatory laws that protect the rights of people we do not agree with and wish would be quieted also protect us from their same thoughts towards our beliefs.  

That's my take anyways.

Don't be confused.  LEARN STUFF!!!
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  1. Enjoyed the post.I always find it funny when people expected to be easy to share the faith.I wonder what many would do when he is truly on.

    1. Thanks for your comment. It can indeed be awkward but the more one shares, the more comfortable that person will become in both sharing and recognizing when to share - a much needed skill. I would rather err on the side of sharing then not sharing, but some people are walking in a rebellion that we are not able to reach ... recognizing that is a good thing.

      I do have to ask though ... what does that phrase "when he is truly on" mean ... is that a typo for "when the heat is truly on?"

      Look forward to your response. Thanks again for the input

  2. Great post and great advice for evangelizing in non-military environments as well. At Cross Conference 2013 last night, John Piper was asked, 'Why evangelize if God is sovereign?'... Loved his answer: "God ordains means as well as ends."

    1. Yes, there is a lot of debate about whether or not the soul is predestined ... and proponents of predetermination usually find evangelism to be a waste of time ... but whether for or against we cannot undo Jesus "Great Commission." We are to be out there being the light, the salt, and the voice ... we are to make disciples ... but one of the worst of evils is to hide behind that in order to fulfill a personal agenda .. and God is never fooled.

      Thanks again for your comments!