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The Day I Heard A B-2 Pilot Say His Loyalty To The "Lord's Army" Trumps His Air Force Oath

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The punchline to my story title? - Unless the Air Force considers the Military Religious Freedom Fundation's objections and rescinds the invitation, one of that pilot's colleagues will be the keynote speaker at the US Air Force's February 10th National Prayer Luncheon at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The USAFA suggests the event is modeled after the National Prayer Breakfast, a yearly event run by the Washington neo-fundamentalist group The Fellowship. First, a bit on The Fellowship, then I'll get to the B-2 "Stealth" bomber pilot.

Longtime Fellowship head Douglas Coe has likened his group to "the mafia" and encouraged Christians to follow Jesus with the same level of zeal as young Chinese Red Guard cadres who, during Mao Tse Tung's Cultural Revolution, were willing to chop off the heads of their own mothers and fathers, for the communist cause (here's the footage of Mr. Coe saying that, during a 1989 speech in Colorado Springs.) Another charming aspect of the Fellowship concerns journalist Jeff Sharlet's identification of Fellowship Uganda member David Bahati as principle author and legislative backer of Uganda's so-called "Kill the gays bill" which Sharlet has characterized as "possibly genocidal."

But back to the B-2 Stealth Bomber pilot. Here's the background:

Three years ago, on a beautiful sunny late Saturday morning on May 27th, 2007, at a Baptist gathering co-hosted by Task Force Patriot, in an amphitheater in the Georgia woods, amidst a group of little more than a hundred people, I heard (and recorded) one of the United States Air Force's elite B-2 bomber pilots state,

"I'm going to have to separate myself from the service of this nation if it's required in order to propagate the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I'm not going to disregard my responsibilities. But if there ever comes a time when there is a priority to be made, a decision to be made, it must always rest in the work of the Lord and the Lord's army. Because that commission is greater than the one I received from the United States Air Force Academy."

Warmly applauding Major Brian "Jethro" Neal's declaration, that many might take as a declaration of intent to commit treason, were the Task Force Patriot's leaders as well as Bobby Welch, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the only major segment of American Christianity to officially support George W. Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq.

One of Major Neal's fellow Task Force Patriot monthly speakers is former Marine Lt. Clebe McClary, who also declares his fealty to the "Lord's army." McClary, who says "USMC" means "U.S. Marine for Christ",  has been invited to be the keynote speaker at the United States Air Force's upcoming National Prayer Luncheon, to be held at the Air Force Academy this February 10th, 2011.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, as well as a range of veterans, religious, and atheist groups, has written a letter to Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. General Michael Gould, as well as US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, demanding that McClary's speaking invitation be rescinded, and the controversy has been marked by Air Force Academy statements and subsequent rebuttals from MRFF.

In a January 24th editorial, the Colorado Springs Gazette waded into the controversy with a heavily slanted broadside claiming that MRFF head Mikey Weinstein is trying to "censor" Clebe McClary.

The Gazette editorial was accompanied by a poll asking readers if they support McClary's speaking invitation. Options are 1) Yes, 2) No - because McClary is a "devout Christian" and 3) "Don't care." The poll leaves readers no option to disagree with McClary's invitation for any of the reasons MRFF has given.

A number of MRFF friends and board members have written letters to Wayne Laugesen, Editor at the Colorado Springs Gazette, rebutting Mr. Laugesen's editorial. As a former MRFF reseacher, I have written my own, below.

Dear  Mr. Laugesen,

Your Colorado Springs Gazette January 23 editorial ("Censors Want to Silence War Hero") concerning the controversy over Air Force Academy head Lt. Gen. Gould's invitation to former Marine Lt. Clebe McClary, to be the keynote speaker for the Air Force's upcoming February 10th National Prayer Luncheon at the Academy, suggests Mr. McClary's highly sectarian, exclusionary form of born-again evangelicalism is characteristic of Christianity in general.

Your claim, which is squarely debunked in a letter from Mikey Weinstein's Military Religious Freedom Foundation (co-signed by veterans, religious, and atheist groups) to Secretary of Defense Gates calling for McClary's invitation to be rescinded, is, to put it gently, absurd.

But McClary's evangelical beliefs as such aren't the central reason for rescinding his speaking invitation writes Don Byrd, in a January 27th post for the Baptist Joint Committee For Religious Liberty--which upholds traditional Baptist support for separation of church and state,

If there is a problem with inviting McClary, it is not the fact that he is an evangelical Christian, nor his religious views generally, divisive as they may be. What makes him a questionable choice is his apparent insistence on conflating military service with Christian service. Giving such a platform to a speaker who espouses those views runs the risk of sending a message that is it the Academy's view as well, or at least that the Christianization of the military is tolerated.

It is my own view that Clebe McClary's candid disdain for non born-again Christians (probably the majority of American Christians) should indeed alone disqualify him as a speaker at the allegedly ecumenical and inclusive Air Force Prayer Luncheon, and doubly so for his bold claims to be a soldier in the "Lord's army" and that "USMC" stands for "U.S. Marine for Christ" - the latter would deeply offend many Marine veterans who see themselves as part of a proud Marine Corps tradition as a professional fighting force aloof from politics, the very antithesis of an armed horde of religious zealots.

Bobby Muller, also a former Marine lieutenant as well as a 1997 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, founder and former president of Vietnam Veterans of America, and Military Religious Freedom Foundation Advisory Board member weighed in with that very sentiment:

"As a former Marine lieutenant who, like Lt. Clebe McClary, was severely wounded while leading a mission in Vietnam, I am appalled by my fellow Marine's statement that a "complete" Marine is one who likes to think that U.S.M.C. stands for "U.S. Marine for Christ." I am even more appalled that the United States Air Force Academy has invited someone with such a religiously divisive and sectarian message to speak at its upcoming National Prayer Luncheon, an event that should be inclusive of Airmen of all faiths...

Proselytizing and Christian supremacy have no place in the United States military."

If McClary speaks as planned, this will provide yet more rhetorical ammunition to those who want to inflame passions in the Islamic world by branding America's young men and women in the armed forces serving in Afghanistan and Iraq as Christian crusaders, thus placing their lives at further risk.

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Bruce Wilson is the co-founder of Talk2action, a group website which features writing and analysis on religion and politics from nationally noted authors.

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The Day I Heard A B-2 Pilot Say His Loyalty To The "Lord's Army" Trumps His Air Force Oath

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As I read this article, I asked myself what the ba... by Richard Scott on Monday, Jan 31, 2011 at 5:08:20 PM