In response to the Pentagon statement, two Southern Baptist leaders issued their own statement on May 6 voicing concern about religious freedom, even while cautioning Christians to refrain from jumping to conclusions. “What incidents have taken place, we wonder, that would call for this seemingly arbitrary distinction between ‘evangelizing’ and ‘proselytizing’?” asked the Rev. Russell Moore, president-elect of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Rev. Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board. “With a subjective interpretation and adjudication of such cases, we need reassurance that such would not restrict the free exercise of religion for our chaplains and military personnel.”
The ambiguity of how these regulations are defined and enforced, Messrs. Moore and Ezell said, could lead men and women in the military to fear retribution and choose to remain silent: “After all, who defines what is proselytizing and what is evangelism? What could seem to be a friendly conversation about spiritual matters to one serviceperson could be perceived or deliberately mischaracterized as ‘proselytizing’ to the person on the receiving end. The fact that this has been raised at all in such a subjective fashion could have a chilling effect on service personnel sharing their faith at all.”
If the Pentagon wants to reassure soldiers that they won’t be persecuted for sharing their faith, the fact that military leaders have met with Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, isn’t helping. Launched in 2006 and with $700,000 in reported donations in 2011, the foundation fights what Mr. Weinstein decries as the undue influence of evangelical Christians in the U.S. military. (The foundation’s website offerings include: “SHOCKING VIDEO: MRFF Reveals U.S. Military Being Used as Government-Paid Missionaries.”) Mr. Weinstein, who served as an Air Force advocate general for 10 years, has said that he and his sons experienced harassment due to their Jewish faith during their studies at the U.S. Air Force Academy.