Sunday, March 1, 2015
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Inside Washington

What happens in the halls of national government – for better or for worse – can dictate the future course of America. Along with your fellow Prayer Team members, you are to be constantly and fervently interceding for all the men and women who serve in Congress, for your military leaders in the Pentagon, and for the President of the United States, his cabinet and administration.

“Inside Washington” will equip you to do just that … with reports on the nation’s leaders and the decisions they’re considering … or have already made. We’ll examine the implications for the nation, and call you to specific prayer for those needs.

Defending a Military Chaplain

Inside Washington

Pondering perspective and pitfall

By Nikolas Grosfield

The following story is sad, but true. It is also far more complex than many reports suggest.

The Nuts and Bolts

Last fall, U.S. Army Chaplain Captain Joseph Lawhorn shared some Bible verses and aspects of his Christian faith while leading a suicide prevention training seminar in Georgia. He had battled depression himself and described how his beliefs had led him through the darkness.

Many in his audience applauded his efforts—but one atheist did not. The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers took up the soldier’s complaint and eventually Lawhorn’s commander, Colonel David Fivecoat, submitted a “letter of concern” rebuking the chaplain’s overtly Christian message. The letter temporarily is in Lawhorn’s personnel file.

Since then, supporters have rallied around Lawhorn, pressing the Army to remove the reprimand and ensure his right—and that of other chaplains—to carry out his duties more freely. Lawhorn’s defenders include the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, 24 members of Congress, and the Liberty Institute. The situation remains unresolved.

Lawhorn’s professional reproof has turned into public clamor—and rightly so. That one person’s disapproval of nonviolent religious information could trump that material’s approval by someone else—let alone its sanction by the majority involved—is dreadful in a free society. That Christian chaplains could get scolded for offering Christian comfort or advice is equally wrong. That many politicians, media outlets, and other citizens—including former military members—are declaring their concern is appropriate, if not requisite.

And yet…the picture is incomplete.

The Rest of the Story

Before this story broke, Captain Lawhorn and Colonel Fivecoat were Army officers. If you are a patriotic conservative Christian and you sat next to Fivecoat on a plane one year ago, you might have been proud to make his acquaintance. If you are a patriotic liberal atheist and you flew next to Lawhorn last spring, your national pride may have been stirred.

Today, these men are still Army officers. But for some, they have obtained extra insignia of honor or dishonor because of specific characterizations of them. For example, the headlines or opening paragraphs of many articles associate Lawhorn with Republican lawmakers. It is regrettable that service members gain or lose prestige so easily based on extra-military views or actions.

Moreover, Lawhorn himself looks like a pawn. Of eight to ten articles reviewed for this column, none of them noted his life, his family or how he has been since this ordeal began. Regarding his military service, one article briefly said he had been an infantryman before becoming a chaplain. Ironically, even his faith gets no elaboration—beyond the issue that initially put him in the news. To support a man in a problem, the man himself must be supported—not simply his problem. No doubt, lots of people or groups do bless him directly, yet only his cause seems to make headlines.

And speaking of headlines, much of the recent publicity has stressed congressional involvement. Again, the government should work on this tough topic and writers and editors do well to inform the public about it. But often they appear to portray help from the White House, Congress, or the Supreme Court as the last bastion of hope. Elections are prime time for this sort of coverage, but agendas big and small fit the bill also. Yet Washington is – at best – an agent for change…the credit resides with God.

The Final Chapter

Paradoxically, the atheist had a right to complain. While you may wish he had not complained and believe that he has no right to win just because he complained, it is helpful to at least acknowledge his preferences and recall his humanity and need for God—which rival Lawhorn’s.

However his case ends, Lawhorn’s boldness indicates that he fears God more than man. Fighting for righteousness is worthwhile if it is done for God’s honor—not merely for human desires. And if suffering happens along the way, Christians can remember two biblical responses to trials. Jesus’ followers praised God that “they were counted worthy to suffer for the name.” (Acts 5) And Jesus Himself forgave His own killers on the cross.

Please pray for:

Nikolas Grosfield is a writer and rancher from Montana. He has written 130 articles for various media sources, dwelt five years in the Middle East and East Africa, and earned a B.A. in History from Cedarville University. Nik is a child of God, Elsbeth’s husband, and Ole’s daddy.

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