The latest issue of Touchstone has an editorial on the the current controversy regarding the military chaplaincy. Back in February, the U.S. Air Force issued policy guidelines that discouraged "sectarian" prayer at public official functions and called for the chaplaincy to be sensitive to the diverse faiths of those in uniform. This action was sparked by complaints of anti-Semitism and the high involvement of evangelicals at the Air Force Academy.
The National Association of Evangelicals has weighed in on the matter with a statement on Religious Freedom for Soldiers and Military Chaplains. The Touchstone editorial is highly critical of the NAE's statement because it advocates the use of "inclusive language of civic faith when praying at memorials or convocations with religiously diverse audiences."
The Touchstone editors cut right to the chase when they retort:
Civic faith? Is this a different religion from the private faith of the voluntary assemblies?
Clearly, the Air Force Command is not seeking to tell anyone how to pray in divine service. The issue is whether religiously specific prayers should be offered in public assembly, especially mandatory functions for military personnel. And the Air Force Command has made its preference known: the name of Jesus Christ should not be mentioned in such assemblies.
This poses a problem for Christians. As the editorial puts it, "For millions of Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Fundamentalists, and Catholics, there's not a way to 'Get God in the room' except through the mediation of Jesus... It is the only prayer that they believe God receives. The one praying is recognizing that he can come before God only through the mediation of a priest, the high priest Jesus." How can a Christian chaplain, committed to the exclusive claims of the Gospel, pray a "non-sectarian" prayer in good conscience?
The answer is, he can't. This leaves Christians with one option in the current political climate. They ought to voluntarily refrain from praying in public assemblies. There is no shame in this, because the Air Force has indicated that only unitarian prayers are welcome anyway.
It's preferable to exercise our faith in private services than to compromise it for the sake of retaining some--any--public influence. The sooner American Christians recognize this reality, the better. And, I thank rabid secularists like Madalyn Murray O'Hair and Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State for bringing us to this juncture.
Every institution or organization, whether it be a family, a business corporation, or a state, has the need to have certain official functions solemnized, by either the offering of a prayer, the swearing of an oath, or something being blessed (christened). Such solemnizing actions presuppose religion. And for the Christian, this religion cannot ever be some kind of vague theism.
America is in the absurd situation of having a beautiful National Cathedral that is explicitly Christian in architecture and furnishing (despite the presence of Darth Vader on the northwest tower) that hosts all sorts of interfaith ceremonies. Many other examples can be brought forward. Every session of Congress is opened with prayer and the President-elect places his hand on an open Bible while being sworn into office. From the inscription "In God We Trust" on our currency to the crosses at Arlington, could anything be more plain than that the United States has pretended to be Christian without explicitly confessing Christ?
Basically, Americans have wanted to have their cake and eat it too, by claiming on one hand to be founded on Judeo-Christian principles and on the other hand to have a secular government that has no intention of serving the King of kings. This confusion is the direct cause of the culture war we are now engaged in.
The bottom line is, in order to be true to its reason for being, a nation must not dissociate itself from its rootedness in the transcendent. In order for governmental authority to be legitimate it must be formally based in divine Authority. For Christians, this Authority is identified as the redemptive-mediatorial rule of the Lord Jesus Christ.