A 10-month Defense Department investigation has found that a senior Pentagon official violated internal policies when he spoke before church groups depicting the war on terrorism as a clash between Judeo-Christian values and Satan.
The investigation report recommends “appropriate corrective action” be taken against Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, the deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence who over two years made a series of religious speeches with remarks including that terrorists hate America because it is a Christian nation and that President Bush was put in office by God, according to Thursday’s Washington Post, which obtained a copy of the report a day earlier.
Defense officials said no decision has been made on what action might be taken against Boykin. The paper anonymously quoted one official, however, who said the report is being viewed as a “complete exoneration,” finding Boykin responsible for only a few “relatively minor offenses” related to technical issues.
The report steered clear of commenting on whether it was appropriate for Boykin, who spoke in 23 churches since January of 2002, to inject religion into his descriptions of counterterrorism efforts, according to reports in both the Post and Reuters.
Instead, the investigation faulted Boykin for failure to obtain clearance for his remarks. He also failed to clarify that his remarks were personal and not official, speaking in uniform all but twice in the series of speeches delivered mostly at Baptist and Pentecostal churches. Boykin also failed to report a $260 travel reimbursement from one of the sponsoring religious groups, which isn’t identified in the news reports.
It also cited a “mitigating factor” that Boykin said he repeatedly asked military lawyers about the propriety of making speeches and that he recalled no one advising him to get advance clearance.
Among the engagements included in the investigation are two speeches by Boykin promoting the LifeWay Christian Resources FAITH Sunday school evangelism strategy at national conferences at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla. The church’s pastor is Bobby Welch, co-developer of FAITH, who in June was elected as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Welch also teamed with Boykin to invite pastors to a “FAITH Force Multipliers Meeting” at Fort Bragg, N.C., promising access to areas “where no civilians and few soldiers ever go.” After Americans United for the Separation of Church and State protested against using government resources for evangelism, the military reportedly scaled back plans for special access.
In a January 2003 speech at Welch’s church, Boykin told the story of a top-ranking lieutenant to a Somali warlord who boasted on CNN that he would not be captured because Allah would protect him.
“Well, you know what I knew, that my God was bigger than his,” Boykin said. “I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol. But I prayed, Lord let us get that man.”
The man was eventually caught, Boykin said, recounting the following conversation when the two met face to face. “I looked at him and said, ‘Are you Osman Atto?’ And he said ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘Mr. Atto, you underestimated our God.'”
Two years ago Boykin urged the FAITH conference to fight the war on terror with prayer. “Bin Laden is not the enemy,” he said. “No mortal is the enemy. It’s the enemy you can’t see. It’s a war against the forces of darkness. The battle won’t be won with guns. It will be won on our knees.”
Muslim groups loudly protested such fiery religious rhetoric, which was in sharp contrast to President Bush’s insistence that the war on terror is not against Islam. Bush declined to discipline Boykin but said the general didn’t represent his views. Boykin apologized for offending anyone but didn’t retract his remarks.
A Muslim-American leader welcomed the Pentagon report and said he hoped Boykin will be reassigned to a position where he would not harm America’s image in the Muslim world.
“Gen. Boykin is free to hold whatever views he wishes, no matter how stereotypical or inaccurate,” Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement. “But he should not use his position of respect in our nation’s military to promote those views.”
Welch could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon, but last October he wrote a column accusing critics of Boykin of backstabbing.
“America needs to thank God for sparing this brave, good man who can help our nation at such a time as this,” Welch wrote in Baptist Press.
First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., was among the churches playing host to Boykin, who spoke in the church fellowship hall as featured speaker for a Baptist Men’s Day.
Ed Beddingfield, the church’s pastor, described Boykin’s speech as “entirely in character” with other programs led by military personnel in the church, which is located in a military town. He compared it to a college professor who is a Christian speaking on a layman’s Sunday about how he serves Christ in the classroom.
Beddingfield said Boykin appeared in uniform at his church, but so have other chaplains and local commanders who have spoken in worship services. “It’s not out of character in this location,” he said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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