Last August, the Pentagon's Inspector General, acting on a complaint filed by the nonprofit government watchdog group The Military Religious Freedom Foundation www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org, issued a 47-page report that concluded that high-ranking Army and Air Force personnel violated long-standing military policy by appearing in a promotional video for an evangelical Christian organization while in uniform and on active duty.
The IG report recommended Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack Catton, Army Brig. Gen. Bob Caslen, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton, and a colonel and lieutenant colonel "improperly endorsed and participated with a non-Federal entity while in uniform" and the men should be disciplined for misconduct. Caslen was formerly the deputy director for political-military affairs for the war on terrorism, directorate for strategic plans and policy, joint staff. He now oversees the cadets at the Military Academy at West Point. Caslen told DOD investigators he agreed to appear in the video upon learning other senior Pentagon officials had been interviewed for the promotional video.
The report singled out former Pentagon Chaplain Col. Ralph G. Benson, whom the inspector general said knowingly mislead the Department of Defense when he requested permission from DOD officials to film a video inside the Pentagon claiming he was interested in gathering information about the Pentagon's "own ministry." In fact, the report says, Benson was determined to use the video to "attract new supporters" to the Christian Embassy, an evangelical organization that evangelizes members of the military and politicians in Washington, DC via daily Bible studies and outreach events. The group holds prayer breakfasts on Wednesdays in the Pentagons executive dining room, according to the organization's web site. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, founded the Christian Embassy 30 years ago.
Mikey Weinstein, the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), discovered the video on the Christian Embassy web site. Weinstein drafted a letter to the inspector general alleging misconduct by the officers, citing the military's strict policy that prohibits military personnel from appearing in uniform and participating in "speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches, rallies or any public demonstration ... which may imply Service sanction of the cause for which the demonstration or activity is conducted."
Weinstein said the military brass who participated in the video "were clearly identified by their positions within the Defense Department, however, the video did not include any disclaimers indicating that the views expressed were not those of the Defense of Department."
Recently, President Bush nominated Brig. Gen. Cecil R. Richardson, the deputy Air Force Chief of Chaplains, to replace the outgoing Air Force Chief of Chaplains, and is in line to be promoted to Major General. Richardson was quoted in a front-page, July 12, 2005, New York Times story saying the Air Force reserves the right "to evangelize the unchurched." The distinction, Richardson said at the time, "is that proselytizing is trying to convert someone in an aggressive way, while evangelizing is more gently sharing the gospel."
Weinstein filed a federal lawsuit against the Air Force in October 2005 after Richardson's comments were published alleging "severe, systemic and pervasive" religious discrimination within the Air Force. Weinstein is a 1977 graduate of the Academy. His sons and a daughter in law are also academy graduates. Weinstein's book, "With God On Our Side: One Man's War Against An Evangelical Coup in America's Military," details the virulent anti-Semitism he was subjected to while he attended the academy and the religious intolerance that has permeated throughout the halls over the past several years.
The federal lawsuit Weinstein filed was dismissed, but the Air Force agreed to withdraw a document that authorized chaplains to evangelize members of the military. The Senate Armed Services Committee has endorsed Richardson’s promotion. Still, Weinstein said MRFF would lobby senators to oppose Richardson's nomination because of his past statements Richardson has refused to retract.
Neither Chaplain Waite, who is not currently assigned to the U.S. Navy Operational Ministries Center in Norfolk, Virginia, nor a Pentagon spokesperson returned calls for comment. A spokeswoman for the Graduate Theological Foundation, where Waite is listed as a faculty member, also did not return calls or emails for comment.
Waite, who was formerly the pastor of a 3,600 member mega-church in Oklahoma City, first came under scrutiny last year after when MRFF senior research director Chris Rodda noticed Waite’s photograph on a website for Revival Fire Ministries, a fundamentalist Christian organization. Waite was photographed in his Navy uniform which is prominently displayed on the Revival Fires website and was featured in a brochure for a 2006 camp meeting that advertised Waite as having "distributed thousands of Bibles provided by Revival Fires" in Iraq. He believes the organization has played an integral part on the war on terror.
"I believe Revival Fires truly became a genuine hero in the war on terror," Waite says in a statement that appears under his photograph on Revival Fires’ website. "Not knowing where I was going to get a sufficient number of God's Word for my men, I began to inquire from others about the possibility of securing bibles. The immediate response I received was that Revival Fires had provided literally thousands of copies of the Word of God for the U.S. Military. Needless to say, I could not pass them out fast enough.
In an article in Oklahoma’s Ponca City News last August, Waite said that the distribution of Bibles to US troops in 2003 resulted in several dozen troops asking to be baptized.
“I personally saw 60 men come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I baptized 44 of them at midnight (for security reasons) in the Tigris River on Easter Sunday, with another 16 following shortly thereafter," Waite said, according to the report in the Ponca City News.
However, photographs of the baptism, which were featured on the Baptist Press website http://baptistpress.net/bpnews.asp?id=16462clearly show that the ceremony took place in broad daylight. Moreover, Waite said that 20 members of the military who asked to be baptized were turned away because they “did not seem ready to make such a commitment.”
Last October, Waite appeared in an advertisement published in Time magazine using his Navy chaplaincy position to promote another fundamentalist Christian organization. That too would be a violation of Military regulations.
Weinstein excoriated Waite for exaggerating his educational background as well as Waite’s alleged constitutional violations conducted in the name of religion.