Army Reprimands Chaplain For Using Bible

When Army Chaplain Cap. Joseph Lawhorn of the 5th Ranger Training Battalion shared his personal experience battling depressing during a mandatory suicide prevention training session, citing a Bible story in the Old Testament on which he drew inspiration, he never imagined he would come under fire from the Army.

But that is just what happened when one soldier complained to an atheist group, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers. The soldier took a picture of a handout, listing both secular and religious resources available for soldiers dealing with mental health issues, and posted it on the atheists group’s Facebook page.
The organization’s president, Jason Torpy, then wrote a series of articles on Lawhorn’s training methods.

“This chaplain violated the privilege and responsibility he had and he exploited that opportunity to push his personal religious beliefs on the captive audience of military personnel,” Torpy told the Daily Signal. “So it doesn’t matter where the complaint came from.”

Atheist groups have previously compared what they feel is religious proselytizing in the military to being “spiritually raped,” as reported in this Inquisitr article.

While Torpy claimed in an article that Lawhorn was “sermonizing,” other Army Rangers attending the class said at no time did the chaplain attempt to force his personal beliefs on anyone. They also said that he made it clear on multiple occasions that he was sharing his personal experience, and that it was only one of many alternatives for dealing with depression.

The complaint, however, led to an administrative reprimand — a Letter of Concern — from Col. David Fivecoat, the commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade. The letter, which is non-punishable but will remain in Lawhorn’s file for up to three years, was published in part by the Army Times.

“During this training, you were perceived to advocate Christianity and used Christian scripture and solutions. You provided a two-sided handout that listed Army resources on one side and a biblical approach to handling depression on the other side. This made it impossible for those in attendance to receive the resource information without also receiving the biblical information.

“As the battalion chaplain, you are entrusted to care for the emotional wellbeing of all soldiers in the battalion. You, above all others, must be cognizant of the various beliefs held by diverse soldiers. During mandatory training briefings, it is imperative you are careful to avoid any perception you are advocating one system of beliefs over another.”

Ron Crews, the endorsing agent for military chaplains for Grace Churches International, argues that in addition to the handout the soldier complained about, Lawton also provided another handout that did not contain religious resources.

“The chaplain did nothing wrong,” said Crews. “At no time did he say his was the only or even the preferred way of dealing with depression. And at no time did he deny the validity of any other method.”

Lawhorn’s attorney, Mike Berry, says that his actions are covered by the “right of conscience clause” included in section 533 of last year’s National Defense Authorization Act. Berry is seeking to have the letter of concern rescinded, saying that the chaplain was simply doing his job.

“His job is to save lives — and he’s being punished for trying to do his job,” Berry told Fox News. “He’s doing everything he can to save them – and yet now they’re trying to say – the way you’re doing it offends me.”

“His story involves his faith journey.” Crews said. “He was simply being a great Army chaplain – in ministering to his troops and providing firsthand how he has dealt with depression in the past. That’s what chaplains do. They bare their souls for their soldiers in order to help them with crises they may be going through.”

The disciplinary action against Lawhorn has raised questions regarding the role of chaplains and faith in the military, and the debate continues between the atheist group and the religious community.

Whose rights do you think were violated? The soldier who was offended by the chaplain’s sharing his experience, or the chaplain’s in being reprimanded for doing what he considered his job?

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