The Army general under fire for controversial religious views is no stranger in the battle over the separation of church and state.
Six months ago Americans United for the Separation of Church and State protested then-Major Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin’s planned use of a military base in Fort Bragg, N.C., to promote a Southern Baptist evangelism-training program.
“This is a clear violation of the separation of church and state,” AU Executive Director Barry Lynn said of Boykin’s invitation to host pastors at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg. “Our military has no business using its resources to aid evangelism.”
Lynn is among those now saying that Boykin should be fired from his new job as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, because of comments made in churches over the last two years comparing the war on terror to a conflict between Christians and Satan.
“Gen. Boykin sounds more like a messianic crusader than a military commander,” said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “The nation can ill afford a commander who sees the war on terrorism as a war between dueling deities.”
President Bush has distanced himself from Boykin’s views on religion but hasn’t given him a reprimand. Bush told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Australia that he discussed Boykin’s comments with Muslim leaders in Indonesia.
“I said he didn’t reflect my opinion,” Bush said, quoted by the Associated Press. “Look, it just doesn’t reflect what the government thinks. And I think they were pleased to hear that.”
Following AU’s protest this spring, the military reportedly scaled back a “FAITH Force Multipliers Meeting” touted in advance as “a once in a lifetime opportunity to join a group of warriors” at Fort Bragg.
“Major General William G. ‘Jerry’ Boykin has personally invited you and a select group of other FAITH Pastors to join him April 22nd and 23rd,” Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., wrote in a letter inviting pastors to the meeting. “You can be absolutely guaranteed you will never, ever have this type of opportunity again!”
Welch, who is expected to be nominated next June as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, promised those attending the meeting access “to places where no civilians and few soldiers ever go,” including visits to Command Headquarters and the “Shoot House” to learn how Special Forces attack enemies inside buildings.
Welch described the purpose of the event this way. “It is believed by you, me and others that we must find a group of men who are warriors of FAITH, pastors who have the guts to lead this nation to Christ and revival!”
Welch, who is a military veteran, said critics of the meeting at Fort Bragg misunderstood its purpose, which, he said, was not to evangelize or promote Christianity.
Welch said the concept was to learn lessons about evangelism from military strategy. “The military is extremely successful at expanding its organization,” he told the Raleigh (N.C.) News-Observer. “Maybe we could learn how to expand our organization.”
After AU tried to get the event canceled, the Army said the meeting met military guidelines for “community relations” but reportedly scaled back plans for special access, reported the North Carolina Baptist newspaper Biblical Recorder.
The collaboration came about because of Welch’s friendship with Boykin, the New York Times reported at the time. Boykin had previously spoken in Welch’s church, where the FAITH outreach program, a curriculum product of the SBC’s LifeWay Christian Resources, was developed.
In a FAITH workshop at Welch’s church last year, Boykin told participants that their training was similar in concept to Special Forces training–one person trains 100, who in turn can train 10,000—according to a report in Facts & Trends, a LifeWay publication.
“It’s a forced-multiplier training,” Boykin said. “With you, with one prayer, you can call down 10,000 people. With us, with one A-team and a group of 5,000 untrained Northern Alliance warriors with heart, we can defeat the Taliban.”
Boykin said churchgoers could become “warriors” in the current war on terrorism via their prayers.
“Bin Laden is not the enemy,” Boykin 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.”
Boykin, who has since apologized for offending Muslims and claimed that his comments were taken out of context, reportedly used a similar metaphor at a prayer breakfast in Fort Myers, Fla., saying the war on terrorism wouldn’t be won without divine intervention.
“It is a spiritual enemy we have to contend with,” he said, according to a Charisma News report quoting an article in the Fort Myers News-Press. “Now is the time to fight. We’ve got to defeat them on our knees. Pray for our leaders. Pray for our nation.”
Speaking at First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla., Boykin said believed that on Sept. 11, 2001, by God’s grace two additional planes were diverted from hitting the White House and Capitol, according to the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger.
“It would be a mistake to believe that Osama bin Laden is our enemy and to make him the face of what we’re fighting,” he warned. “We are battling something much bigger–a spiritual enemy. We are hated because we are a nation of believers.”
In stories “reminiscent of a modern-day Joshua,” the Baptist newspaper reported, Boykin recalled numerous times when outnumbered troops under his command “were delivered by the hand of God.”
Once, he said, when his Special Forces unit was ordered in 1980 to rescue hostages in Iran, Boykin’s commanding officer asked him to lead the men in prayer. “So we gathered our men around us and I began to pray, ‘Lord, go with us. There are five million Iranians in that city, and only 100 of us. It is only by Your might and grace that we’ll be protected.'”
The next day, the article said, 45 of Boykin’s men were “miraculously saved” from a burning cargo plane struck by a crashing helicopter during a dust storm.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.