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Military chaplains: Obey God, not man

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Chaplain Sonny Hernandez



By Chaplain Sonny Hernandez


“… We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).


The unbending principles from the Constitution provide an overarching protection for all Americans to ensure the free exercise of religion, accommodation for sincerely held beliefs and the prevention of unlawful discrimination. Do the recurrent constitutional policies ensure the provision for Christians that serve in the military? According to the Constitution, yes – but given that the Name of Jesus appears to be desolate from Air Force publications, there is cause for concern. Christians must never omit Christ from their ministry even when asked, because Scripture commands believers to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).


Faithful to policy or fear of persecution?


In 2015, I was personally instructed by a Wright Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) official that I, as an Air Force chaplain assigned to WPAFB, could not cite faith specifics pertaining to Jesus or salvation when writing articles for official publications. After submitting an article I was tasked to write, which reflected the tenets of my faith, I was perplexed to find out that a WPAFB official altered the theological content of what I wrote to reflect his own, and informed me only after it was published.


If WPAFB officially censors speaking about faith specifics (i.e., Jesus, salvation, etc.), what message could this be sending to Christian airmen about their free exercise of religion?


An observer may be confused since the First Amendment is an inviolable liberty requiring the government to be neutral to prevent abridging the freedom of speech, or establishing one religion over another. Yet while it abridged religious speech, WPAFB simultaneously published other controversial non-religious speech. Around that same time, WPAFB published an official article about an LGBT pride run, which was a celebratory event to support the diversity and inclusion initiative for openly gay servicemen and women. WPAFB also publicized personal anecdotes that included specifics about the sexuality of a homosexual colonel serving there, yet I was unable to publish personal anecdotes that included the specifics of my faith.


In 2016, I have continued to experience adversity regarding these articles, even after being specifically asked to write one for WPAFB’s Buckeye Flyer. After writing the requested article, the same WPAFB official made it clear to me that he would not recommend the article be published because he believed it would start problems and be offensive because I referenced my theology (“Jesus as my Lord,” “the Bible as my authority”) – despite the fact I referenced that people have the right to agree with me, disagree, or have no faith at all. Is it possible that WPAFB censors Jesus because chaplains have failed to properly advise commands on religious liberty, and because they fear that someone will complain? Nevertheless, Bible-believing military chaplains must continue to persevere by exercising their faith and not being afraid to properly advise commanders on issues that pertain to religious liberty.


An objective observer might easily deduce that WPAFB prohibits publicizing Christ, as the Name of Jesus is rarely seen on WPAFB publications (as a simple Internet search will verify), but promoting homosexuality is permitted. This is why commanders may need to be respectfully reminded that the U.S. Constitution prevents the “establishment of religion, [and] prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”


There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution, Air Force policies, rules, regulations, or the law that prohibits the Name of Jesus Christ from being mentioned in Air Force publications. If that is so, why is the Name of Jesus rarely seen on Air Force publications? One might conclude that the Air Force prohibits mentioning Jesus Christ as much as possible because the government has adopted a theological position (homosexuality) that is antithetical to the teachings of Christ (Matthew 19:5) and His Word (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Romans 1). As a result, Christ is omitted out of fear of offending anti-Christian advocacy groups and LGBT supporters.


Heckler’s veto


The heckler’s veto is the suppression of speech by the government to avoid or redress the offense of others. If Air Force leaders fail to do what is right (providing for all, to include Bible-believing Christians) and instead rely on policies that do not exist (i.e., prohibiting mentioning Jesus Christ) because they fear that someone will complain, threaten, or be offended, they may be enabling the heckler’s veto. Why is this an issue? The homosexual agenda demands equality, yet its adherents execrate anyone who opposes them. They advertise for tolerance, yet they are intolerant toward anyone who calls their lifestyle sin. They will turn their intolerance and inequality for Christians to the military when they are predictably offended by permissible Christian expression. This is why chaplains must advise commanders that barring Christ is not necessary just because someone complains. Free exercise of religion is for all, regardless if someone wails that something is offensive.


Because of the fear of a heckler’s veto, it is a widely accepted among many (not all) service members and chaplains that it is not permissible to pray in the Name of Jesus Christ, that evangelism is prohibited and that it is not right to talk about religion in the workplace. All of these beliefs are incorrect. There are no policies that prohibit service members or military chaplains from praying in the Name of Christ or evangelizing, as all airman have a constitutional right to exercise their faith per their faith convictions.


Additionally, chaplains have the responsibility to advise commanders and service men and women about the recurrent constitutionality and policies to ensure that all airmen (to include Bible-believers) are safeguarded from discrimination as the result of misconceptions or ill-advisement. Chaplains serve to protect this constitutional right because it is unlawful to discriminate against, harass, or threaten another service member on the basis of his or her religion (see, for example, Air Force Instruction 36-2706, par. 1.1.1). Regardless of the heckler’s veto fear, Christians should never omit their faith, and if they are asked to, they must obey God and not man.


Defend Christ and the Constitution


Military chaplains are supposed to be the embodiment of the Constitution. Chaplains are tasked per Department of Defense Directive 1304.19 (See section 4) to “advise and assist commanders in the discharge of their responsibilities to provide for the free exercise of religion in the context of military service as guaranteed by the Constitution.”


If chaplains abandon their responsibility to do what is right (i.e., pray in Jesus’ Name, evangelize) just because anti-God advocacy groups attack, LGBT supporters complain, or officials ask them to omit the Name of Jesus, who will be the ones to have their rights suppressed? In the future, it could be your children or grandchildren who believe in Jesus Christ, and also Christians that are currently faithfully serving will suffer when religious liberty fails as a result of chaplains abandoning their responsibility.


It is expected of the chaplain to never forget that the Constitution they swore to uphold commands that Christians must be afforded the same rights as everyone else. Chaplains need to inform commanders and not ignore policy. Bible-believing military chaplains should work closely with their respective endorsing agencies and legal counsel for guidance, to ensure they are conducting themselves within policy guidelines and are subordinate at all times.


If you are a Bible-believing Christian chaplain, please wear your cross with integrity. Do not be ashamed of His Name, or else He will one day be ashamed of you (Mark 8:34-38).


Chaplain (Capt.) Sonny Hernandez is a U.S. Air Force Reserve chaplain assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. In April 2015, he was selected as the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Individual Mobilization Augmentee Company Grade Officer of the Year, and in May 2016, he was selected as 445th Airlift Wing CGO of the Quarter, first quarter. Hernandez earned a Doctorate from Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are solely his and do not necessarily represent the views of any government, military, or religious organization. Sonny Hernandez wrote this article as a civilian on his own time on an issue of public interest.


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