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Air Force Academy adds pagan worship space

The Air Force Academy used to be considered a hotbed of Christian activity.  Now the chapel program  is adding a stone circle for use by pagan cadets:

The Air Force Academy chapel will add a worship area for followers of Earth-centered religions during a dedication ceremony, which is tentatively scheduled to be held at the circle March 10.

The circle, located atop the hill overlooking the Cadet Chapel and Visitor Center, will be the latest addition to a collection of worship areas that includes Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist sacred spaces.

Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier, NCO in charge of the Academy's Astronautics laboratories, worked with the chapel to create the official worship area for both cadets and other servicemembers in the Colorado Springs area who practice Earth-centered spirituality. . . .

The Academy’s chaplains have supported Sergeant Longcrier's efforts every step of the way, the NCO said.

“There really haven’t been any obstacles for the new circle,” he said. “The chaplain’s office has been 100-percent supportive.” . . .

The presence of diverse worship areas reflects a sea change from five years ago, when reports surfaced alleging religious intolerance at the Academy. Sergeant Longcrier became Pagan shortly after arriving at the Academy in 2006 and said he believes the climate has improved dramatically.

“When I first arrived here, Earth-centered cadets didn’t have anywhere to call home,” he said. “Now, they meet every Monday night, they get to go on retreats, and they have a stone circle. … We have representation on the Cadet Interfaith Council, and I even meet with the Chaplains at Peterson Air Force Base once a year to discuss religious climate.”

via Academy chapel to add outdoor circle to worship areas.

UPDATE: But a controversy has broken out. Someone put a cross in the circle. Pagans are scandalized at the sacrilege:

The Air Force Academy, stung several years ago by accusations of Christian bias, has built a new outdoor worship area for pagans and other practitioners of Earth-based religions.

But its opening, heralded as a sign of a more tolerant religious climate at the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., was marred by the discovery two weeks ago of a large wooden cross placed there.

“We’ve been making great progress at the Air Force Academy. This is clearly a setback,” said Mikey Weinstein, a 1977 graduate of the academy. He is founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and has often tangled with the academy over such issues.

Although he credits the academy’s superintendent, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, with an improved climate of religious tolerance, Weinstein criticized other academy officials as trivializing the incident, which he said was not revealed to cadets.

Rhetorically addressing academy officials, Weinstein said Tuesday, “It’s been two weeks — were you going to get around to telling them about this horrible thing that happened, and why haven’t you?”

Academy spokesman John Van Winkle said officials reported the situation to those on base and issued a message reiterating the school’s policy of religious tolerance and respect.

In a statement, Gould said, “We absolutely will not stand for this type of destructive behavior. I consider this no different than someone writing graffiti on the Cadet Chapel.”

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

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  • fws

    Why not just eliminate the chaplaincy program completely? I don´t really want my tax dollars spent that way. The only other alternative MUST look just as this article presents. Eventually we will need to also allow bloody sacrifices for Id and the muslim holidays, and sexual temple rituals for those who decide to revive greco/roman spirituality. Yikes. With my tax dollars. Simple solution: eliminate all religious exercises done on govt property or with govt money. But then how would we legally allow for prayer say between a hospital patient and her pastor ? not so simple I guess after all.

    Placing a wooden cross in the jewish chappel would be the same thing. Christians should not do such things. It is sinful. God is displeased with such behavior. True God pleasing visible piety is to mind to our own business and not meddle in that of others. We will have our hands full in attempting to please God in this correct way.

  • fws

    Why not just eliminate the chaplaincy program completely? I don´t really want my tax dollars spent that way. The only other alternative MUST look just as this article presents. Eventually we will need to also allow bloody sacrifices for Id and the muslim holidays, and sexual temple rituals for those who decide to revive greco/roman spirituality. Yikes. With my tax dollars. Simple solution: eliminate all religious exercises done on govt property or with govt money. But then how would we legally allow for prayer say between a hospital patient and her pastor ? not so simple I guess after all.

    Placing a wooden cross in the jewish chappel would be the same thing. Christians should not do such things. It is sinful. God is displeased with such behavior. True God pleasing visible piety is to mind to our own business and not meddle in that of others. We will have our hands full in attempting to please God in this correct way.

  • fws

    Fortunately Lutheran don´t have a moral or religious dog in this fight. This is purely a practical and secular non-religious matter.

  • fws

    Fortunately Lutheran don´t have a moral or religious dog in this fight. This is purely a practical and secular non-religious matter.

  • Richard

    Eliminating the chaplaincy program is not realistic. Soldiers need spiritual support. The chaplaincy program is broke in many ways, but throwing it out will not serve our soldiers.

  • Richard

    Eliminating the chaplaincy program is not realistic. Soldiers need spiritual support. The chaplaincy program is broke in many ways, but throwing it out will not serve our soldiers.

  • Kirk

    I’m really glad someone put a cross on the Pagan site. That sure showed them! I bet that they’re all about to convert to Christianity, as we speak!

    But seriously, if the Chaplaincy exists to serve the needs of our soldiers, then it needs to serve the needs of all of them, Catholics, Muslims, Pagans, etc, alike. I don’t see why this is such a point of controversy. Pagans have been worshiping in base chapels for years.

  • Kirk

    I’m really glad someone put a cross on the Pagan site. That sure showed them! I bet that they’re all about to convert to Christianity, as we speak!

    But seriously, if the Chaplaincy exists to serve the needs of our soldiers, then it needs to serve the needs of all of them, Catholics, Muslims, Pagans, etc, alike. I don’t see why this is such a point of controversy. Pagans have been worshiping in base chapels for years.

  • BC

    It isn’t the pagans who are scandalized–it’s Mikey Weinstein who is scandalized. He’s the only source for that article. Take a look at Get Religion’s coverage

  • BC

    It isn’t the pagans who are scandalized–it’s Mikey Weinstein who is scandalized. He’s the only source for that article. Take a look at Get Religion’s coverage

  • fws

    The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has it exactly right on this point of the chaplaincy. They provide their own chaplains to serve the troops at their own expense. I do imagine that the military might provide free military transport and other incidental support, but this IS the best model. If we Lutherans feel we need to provide spiritual support for our troops, then let US foot the bill and provide doctrinally sound support that is not unionistic.

    We appear to encourage our LCMS members in the military to attend services run by penticostal chaplains or worse and encourage our clergy to compromise their witness by serving as plain wrap “protestant” chaplains, and then try to follow a different standard in civilian life. How can this do anything but damage the work and witness of the LCMS?

  • fws

    The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has it exactly right on this point of the chaplaincy. They provide their own chaplains to serve the troops at their own expense. I do imagine that the military might provide free military transport and other incidental support, but this IS the best model. If we Lutherans feel we need to provide spiritual support for our troops, then let US foot the bill and provide doctrinally sound support that is not unionistic.

    We appear to encourage our LCMS members in the military to attend services run by penticostal chaplains or worse and encourage our clergy to compromise their witness by serving as plain wrap “protestant” chaplains, and then try to follow a different standard in civilian life. How can this do anything but damage the work and witness of the LCMS?

  • Orianna Laun

    If I’m not mistaken, the LCMS has the largest number of chaplains in the military in comparison with other denominations.
    It’s not an easy-fix for this issue due to the growing plurality of religions in America, all of which want recognition. In former times, the military recognized Jewish or Protestant or Catholic only. Why is that? Is it because the numbers of “other” were so small or is it because the numbers of “other” didn’t expect to have their sect recognized? I don’t know, but it seems that there are more people clamoring to be recognized. Like the CSI:NY last night which had a religion of vampires and the one man said, “I don’t expect you to understand our religion, but it has gotten us through some tough times.” I still find that line mind-boggling. How can a religion of sucking blood be sustaining in crisis? I guess one could ask the same about a religion which drinks blood and eats body. It’s a mystery of faith, I guess.

  • Orianna Laun

    If I’m not mistaken, the LCMS has the largest number of chaplains in the military in comparison with other denominations.
    It’s not an easy-fix for this issue due to the growing plurality of religions in America, all of which want recognition. In former times, the military recognized Jewish or Protestant or Catholic only. Why is that? Is it because the numbers of “other” were so small or is it because the numbers of “other” didn’t expect to have their sect recognized? I don’t know, but it seems that there are more people clamoring to be recognized. Like the CSI:NY last night which had a religion of vampires and the one man said, “I don’t expect you to understand our religion, but it has gotten us through some tough times.” I still find that line mind-boggling. How can a religion of sucking blood be sustaining in crisis? I guess one could ask the same about a religion which drinks blood and eats body. It’s a mystery of faith, I guess.

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ C-Christian Soldier

    Sadly-a few years ago…when the AFA’s chaplains offered prayer w/ the Cadets at games and et,.al and the likes of the ACLU were ‘outraged’ I saw NO OUTRAGE from Christian leaders supporting those chaplains…..
    C-CS

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ C-Christian Soldier

    Sadly-a few years ago…when the AFA’s chaplains offered prayer w/ the Cadets at games and et,.al and the likes of the ACLU were ‘outraged’ I saw NO OUTRAGE from Christian leaders supporting those chaplains…..
    C-CS

  • Cincinnatus

    The only real problem I have with this–beyond personal convictions regarding the validity of “earth-worship”–is that it may indeed be a waste of public money. Seriously, how many earth-worshipers are there at the Air Force Academy?

  • Cincinnatus

    The only real problem I have with this–beyond personal convictions regarding the validity of “earth-worship”–is that it may indeed be a waste of public money. Seriously, how many earth-worshipers are there at the Air Force Academy?

  • Sara

    Cincinnatus, there are enough of them to warrent a circle. There are quite a few Pagans in the military, and regardless of whether you respect us for our beliefs, you should respect their service and sacrifice to our country. http://www.milpagan.org/

    And yes the Pagans are scandalized. This stunt is a poly to intimidate the people who would use this space for peaceful worship. I have no problem with your cross but I’d rather not have it in my place of worship just as you would not want a pentagram in yours. The USAF has had a history of intimdation, and this just goes to show that while the people in charge are trying to make a show of inclusion and tolerance, it has not yet penetrated the culture of the academy or the rest of the military. The circle at Fort Hood was established in 1999 and has been repeatedly vandalized, including breaking the stone altar. So naturally we’re concerned about this, myself personally for the people who could be intimidated or even asulted for their beliefs.

    And as for costs, really? It’s a bunch of rocks… in a circle (actually two circles). Compare that to the cost of a building.

    All we want is the right to practice our beliefs, the same as you.

  • Sara

    Cincinnatus, there are enough of them to warrent a circle. There are quite a few Pagans in the military, and regardless of whether you respect us for our beliefs, you should respect their service and sacrifice to our country. http://www.milpagan.org/

    And yes the Pagans are scandalized. This stunt is a poly to intimidate the people who would use this space for peaceful worship. I have no problem with your cross but I’d rather not have it in my place of worship just as you would not want a pentagram in yours. The USAF has had a history of intimdation, and this just goes to show that while the people in charge are trying to make a show of inclusion and tolerance, it has not yet penetrated the culture of the academy or the rest of the military. The circle at Fort Hood was established in 1999 and has been repeatedly vandalized, including breaking the stone altar. So naturally we’re concerned about this, myself personally for the people who could be intimidated or even asulted for their beliefs.

    And as for costs, really? It’s a bunch of rocks… in a circle (actually two circles). Compare that to the cost of a building.

    All we want is the right to practice our beliefs, the same as you.

  • Cincinnatus

    Sara, you’re making all sorts of uncharitable assumptions about me here. Apparently there are enough to warrant a circle (two, I suppose would be enough). I am with Kirk on this issue: I have no problem with this, and I’m not entirely certain why it is a concern.

  • Cincinnatus

    Sara, you’re making all sorts of uncharitable assumptions about me here. Apparently there are enough to warrant a circle (two, I suppose would be enough). I am with Kirk on this issue: I have no problem with this, and I’m not entirely certain why it is a concern.

  • DonS

    The First Amendment guarantees each of us the right to practice our faith without interference from the government. As with all constitutional rights, there is a zone of reasonableness concerning this right, which is generally drawn where the practice of our right would unduly interfere with the rights of others (thus, no child sacrifices). While for most of us, this just means the government needs to leave us alone, for those who volunteer or are drafted for military service, which restricts their right to come and go as they please, the government’s duty is higher. It needs to make reasonable accommodation for the practice of religious faith by military members. It strikes me that this pagan circle is appropriate under this standard. As a Christian, of course, I hate everything about it, and rue the descent of our society to a place where this is an issue. But, it is, and we all should want our government to be neutral in these matters, because that is ultimately a protection for us all.

    As far as the cross incident is concerned, of course doing such a thing is no way to win converts to Christianity. It is an unfortunate incident, as was the theft of a half dozen or so Baby Jesus figures from local nativity scenes in our community this past Christmas season.

  • DonS

    The First Amendment guarantees each of us the right to practice our faith without interference from the government. As with all constitutional rights, there is a zone of reasonableness concerning this right, which is generally drawn where the practice of our right would unduly interfere with the rights of others (thus, no child sacrifices). While for most of us, this just means the government needs to leave us alone, for those who volunteer or are drafted for military service, which restricts their right to come and go as they please, the government’s duty is higher. It needs to make reasonable accommodation for the practice of religious faith by military members. It strikes me that this pagan circle is appropriate under this standard. As a Christian, of course, I hate everything about it, and rue the descent of our society to a place where this is an issue. But, it is, and we all should want our government to be neutral in these matters, because that is ultimately a protection for us all.

    As far as the cross incident is concerned, of course doing such a thing is no way to win converts to Christianity. It is an unfortunate incident, as was the theft of a half dozen or so Baby Jesus figures from local nativity scenes in our community this past Christmas season.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Yes I think it is actually feasible to do away with the chaplaincy program these days, and still serve the troops and “provide for their Spiritual needs.’ I think the military could just provide the same type of training that they do for journalists to pastors and leave it at that.
    It was almost done away with in the eighties, but because a few Wisconsin guys got locked up in Vietnam it was decided that their model didn’t work, but it didn’t work because it clashed with the old guard, even as it kept with the constitution.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Yes I think it is actually feasible to do away with the chaplaincy program these days, and still serve the troops and “provide for their Spiritual needs.’ I think the military could just provide the same type of training that they do for journalists to pastors and leave it at that.
    It was almost done away with in the eighties, but because a few Wisconsin guys got locked up in Vietnam it was decided that their model didn’t work, but it didn’t work because it clashed with the old guard, even as it kept with the constitution.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith’s statements

    The Air Force Academy used to be considered a hotbed of Christian activity. Now the chapel program is adding a stone circle for use by pagan cadets.

    make it sound like the Academy is no longer a “hotbed of Christian activity”. But the latter sentence hardly precludes the first, as indeed Veith’s update shows, at least in part. Pity that at least some who imagine themselves followers of Christ think that the most God-pleasing thing to do is to stick a cross in the middle of the stone circle.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith’s statements

    The Air Force Academy used to be considered a hotbed of Christian activity. Now the chapel program is adding a stone circle for use by pagan cadets.

    make it sound like the Academy is no longer a “hotbed of Christian activity”. But the latter sentence hardly precludes the first, as indeed Veith’s update shows, at least in part. Pity that at least some who imagine themselves followers of Christ think that the most God-pleasing thing to do is to stick a cross in the middle of the stone circle.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bror (@13), can you say more about your statement that “It was almost done away with in the eighties, but because a few Wisconsin guys got locked up in Vietnam it was decided that their model didn’t work, but it didn’t work because it clashed with the old guard, even as it kept with the constitution.”? I don’t know what you’re talking about.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bror (@13), can you say more about your statement that “It was almost done away with in the eighties, but because a few Wisconsin guys got locked up in Vietnam it was decided that their model didn’t work, but it didn’t work because it clashed with the old guard, even as it kept with the constitution.”? I don’t know what you’re talking about.

  • Ryan

    I have always thought the WELS system was the best over the LCMS.

  • Ryan

    I have always thought the WELS system was the best over the LCMS.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    tODD,
    In my Chaplaincy training it was a big part of the history and justification for the chaplain program. A bunch of guys at Harvard or Yale decided to try the constitutionality of the program. And they almost succeeded, they were essentially proposing that all churches do what the Wels did. But then it came to attention that during Vietnam some WELS chaplains were locked up and detained because they didn’t have the right papers etc to be on base or ministering to their guys on the battle field. So the judge ruled in favor of the chaplain program, which has now become all but hopeless in my opinion. I wanted to do it. But it puts extreme pressure on a guy to remain faithful to any confessional Lutheran stance. I could tell you stories of what I had to put up with in my training days, eventually it didn’t work out. I know guys that do it, and remain true, and my hats are off, but they will tell you it isn’t exactly easy either.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    tODD,
    In my Chaplaincy training it was a big part of the history and justification for the chaplain program. A bunch of guys at Harvard or Yale decided to try the constitutionality of the program. And they almost succeeded, they were essentially proposing that all churches do what the Wels did. But then it came to attention that during Vietnam some WELS chaplains were locked up and detained because they didn’t have the right papers etc to be on base or ministering to their guys on the battle field. So the judge ruled in favor of the chaplain program, which has now become all but hopeless in my opinion. I wanted to do it. But it puts extreme pressure on a guy to remain faithful to any confessional Lutheran stance. I could tell you stories of what I had to put up with in my training days, eventually it didn’t work out. I know guys that do it, and remain true, and my hats are off, but they will tell you it isn’t exactly easy either.

  • Joe

    I agree that the WELS has the best format.

  • Joe

    I agree that the WELS has the best format.

  • kerner

    I also agree that WELS has the best format. Mixing religion and government rarely makes government better, but it almost always makes religion worse.

  • kerner

    I also agree that WELS has the best format. Mixing religion and government rarely makes government better, but it almost always makes religion worse.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bror (@17), “during Vietnam some WELS chaplains were locked up and detained because they didn’t have the right papers etc to be on base or ministering to their guys on the battle field” makes it sound like it was more a bureaucratic problem than one of appropriate model. Would you say that’s inaccurate?

    Anyhow, yay for WELS! Of course, their (our) actions here stem from their (our) understanding of the doctrine of fellowship.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bror (@17), “during Vietnam some WELS chaplains were locked up and detained because they didn’t have the right papers etc to be on base or ministering to their guys on the battle field” makes it sound like it was more a bureaucratic problem than one of appropriate model. Would you say that’s inaccurate?

    Anyhow, yay for WELS! Of course, their (our) actions here stem from their (our) understanding of the doctrine of fellowship.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    In fact I think the Wels was probably within their rights to sue the government over that one. But yes WELS saved the chaplain program, which is I’m sure not how they would like to be remembered.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    In fact I think the Wels was probably within their rights to sue the government over that one. But yes WELS saved the chaplain program, which is I’m sure not how they would like to be remembered.

  • Joe

    “Anyhow, yay for WELS! Of course, their (our) actions here stem from their (our) understanding of the doctrine of fellowship.”

    Which (I learned from reading the NPH People’s Bible commentary on fellowship) the WELS learned from the LCMS and then the LCMS changed its position.

  • Joe

    “Anyhow, yay for WELS! Of course, their (our) actions here stem from their (our) understanding of the doctrine of fellowship.”

    Which (I learned from reading the NPH People’s Bible commentary on fellowship) the WELS learned from the LCMS and then the LCMS changed its position.

  • Kandyce

    I agree with those who say that military chaplaincy is not a good thing, however, providing space for people to worship on military installations is necessary. My husband did not have a car when he first entered the military and he couldn’t get off base to worship (I encouraged him to contact local LCMS congregations, but none of them got back to him, much less offered to pick him up for Sunday worship). I encouraged him to go to the base chapel for worship and he went once and declined to go again because, well, he was offered a quasi-nondenominational type service that offended him. If his installation had a dedicated LCMS pastor to come by and provide services (provided by the church, not the AF) then everything would be cool. The Air Force does have less religious diversity than the civilian world, but that doesn’t mean that they should be in any way mean to those who don’t check the “Christian” box on their papers. That is a terrible witness.

  • Kandyce

    I agree with those who say that military chaplaincy is not a good thing, however, providing space for people to worship on military installations is necessary. My husband did not have a car when he first entered the military and he couldn’t get off base to worship (I encouraged him to contact local LCMS congregations, but none of them got back to him, much less offered to pick him up for Sunday worship). I encouraged him to go to the base chapel for worship and he went once and declined to go again because, well, he was offered a quasi-nondenominational type service that offended him. If his installation had a dedicated LCMS pastor to come by and provide services (provided by the church, not the AF) then everything would be cool. The Air Force does have less religious diversity than the civilian world, but that doesn’t mean that they should be in any way mean to those who don’t check the “Christian” box on their papers. That is a terrible witness.

  • fws

    kandyce @ 23

    it is sad that LCMS congregations close to military bases do not have a conscience directed toward more actively serving LCMS military personel. This is not only a disservice to LCMS persons, it is also probably a great loss of missionary opportunity. I am pretty sure that LCMS lutherans motivated enough to look for a nearby LCMS congretion to bond with would probably also invite others to church if they were provided transportation.

    the small ELS congregations near the tacoma military and airforce bases were quite active in seeking to serve our military there. they affected the lives of very many. many of who were not Lutherans at first.

  • fws

    kandyce @ 23

    it is sad that LCMS congregations close to military bases do not have a conscience directed toward more actively serving LCMS military personel. This is not only a disservice to LCMS persons, it is also probably a great loss of missionary opportunity. I am pretty sure that LCMS lutherans motivated enough to look for a nearby LCMS congretion to bond with would probably also invite others to church if they were provided transportation.

    the small ELS congregations near the tacoma military and airforce bases were quite active in seeking to serve our military there. they affected the lives of very many. many of who were not Lutherans at first.


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