Military will allow evangelism but not proselytizing

Responding to the uproar about the prospect for court martials for evangelism that we blogged about, the military is clarifying that evangelism will, in fact, be allowed.  Just not proselytizing.

So what’s the difference?  The military’s definition is after the jump.  Is this a valid distinction?  What will determine one from the other?  How might this apply outside the military, to the ways Christians share their faith in the public square?  Is there some “witnessing” that should be out of bounds? 

By journalist Bob Smietana:

Members of the military are free to share their faith as long as they don’t harrass others, the Department of Defense said in a statement Thursday.

A Pentagon ban on proselytzing had caused an uproar in social media this week. Conservative activists claimed that service members could face court martial for talking about Jesus.

But a Defense Department spokesman said that evangelizing is allowed, as long as it is not disruptive.

“Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one’s beliefs (proselytization),” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, in an email.

“If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence. Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case-by-case basis.”

via Military says no court martials for sharing faith | The Tennessean | tennessean.com.

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.

  • Grace

    “How might this apply outside the military, to the ways Christians share their faith in the public square?”

    It doesn’t apply. We have Freedom of Speech, and Freedom of Religion – put them together, and the answer again is “it doesn’t apply” –

    “Is there some “witnessing” that should be out of bounds?”

    Telling people about Jesus Christ is not “out of bounds” – again, we have Freedom of Speech, and Freedom of Religion. No one needs to listen to what another says, that applies to any subject.

  • Tom Hering

    Sounds like evangelism is okay, but if you’re told by an individual it’s unwelcome, and you do it again – and especially if your repeated attempts begin to have a negative effect on a unit – it will be treated as harassment.

    How did we ever get the idea that we’re not really doing evangelism unless we’re overcoming our fears of rejection, and doing whatever it takes to overcome the resistance of others? When did Evangelicals become the Borg?

  • Jeremiah Oehlerich

    I think the use of terms such as “evangelize” and “proselytize” are being poorly defined by the military PR in this instance. Having read the regs shared by Carl in the last post on this issues, it seems to be concerned with use of rank and authority within the military to attempt conversions or force participation in religious activities or ceremonies. Not sure a specific term for things such as commanders ordering troops to attend Christian rock concerts actually exists, so the term “proselytize” was used, perhaps because it has a negative connotation, in some circles anyways, in today’s age. As some one who’s wife is an active duty Marine, the actual regulations seem to make sense in the context of a chain of command. Where things get muddied is the mess created by trying to differentiate between “proselytizing” and “evangelizing.”

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    The operative question: What constitutes “unwanted, intrusive” attempts? Is this going to be like sexual harassment where the offense is solely up to the subjective opinion of the recipient?

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