By Alan Dowd, byFaith magazine.
The stories seem to be picking up in frequency: a Marine court-martialed because of a Bible verse on her office computer, a formal reprimand for an Army chaplain who talked about faith in Jesus during a suicide-prevention seminar, a threatened legal challenge against a “God Bless the Military” sign posted on a Marine base in Hawaii, a Navy chaplain reassigned for expressing his views on homosexuality, another chaplain stripped of his authority for refusing to allow the base chapel to be used for same-sex ceremonies, still another threatened with early retirement for sending an email discussing changes to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, demands that an Air Force general be punished for giving credit to God, an Air Force cadet ordered to remove Bible verses from his personal whiteboard. These stories remind us that U.S. troops don’t defend only our religious freedom; from time to time, they also have to defend their own religious freedom.
America’s military is an exquisite reflection of the nation it defends, and this is a nation of many creeds. So it’s no surprise that the military includes Christians of every denomination, Jews, Muslims, atheists, pagans and, like the general population, a growing percentage of so-called “nones” (not to be confused with “nuns”).
Surveys of the U.S. military reveal that active-duty personnel self-identify as: 2.77 percent Adventist, 17.56 percent Baptist, 0.27 percent Brethren, 2.23 percent Congregational, 0.87 percent Eastern, 0.86 percent Episcopal, 0.99 percent Evangelical, 3.61 percent humanist, 1.09 percent Jewish, 2.57 percent Lutheran, 3.7 percent Methodist, 1.3 percent Mormon, 0.45 percent Muslim, 0.4 percent Orthodox, 3.28 percent Other Christian, 6.54 percent Other Protestant, 1.18 percent pagan, 2.89 percent Pentecostal/Charismatic, 1.68 percent Presbyterian, 20.11 percent Roman Catholic, and 25.5 percent No Religious Preference.
Add it all up, and at least 66 percent of the military is Christian. However, as Scott Taylor, who piloted F-15E fighter-bombers in peacetime and wartime, is quick to note, “I was a Christian serving in the U.S. military. I wasn’t serving in a Christian military.”
That’s an important distinction to keep in mind as we wrestle with this challenge of religious freedom inside the military.