May 30, 2008 – Some U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq appear to have launched a major initiative to covert thousands of Iraqi citizens to Christianity by distributing Bibles and other fundamentalist Christian literature translated into Arabic to Iraqi Muslims.
A recent article published on the website of Mission Network News reported that Bible Pathway Ministries, a fundamentalist Christian organization, has provided thousands of a special military edition of its Daily Devotional Bible study book to members of the 101st Airborne Division of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, currently stationed in Iraq, the project “came into being when a chaplain in Iraq (who has since finished his tour) requested some books from Bible Pathway Ministries (BPM).”
“The resulting product is a 6″x9″ 496-page illustrated book with embossed cover containing 366 daily devotional commentaries, maps, charts, and additional helpful information,” the Mission Network News report says.
Chief Warrant Officer Rene Llanos of the 101st Airborne told Mission Network News, “the soldiers who are patrolling and walking the streets are taking along this copy, and they’re using it to minister to the local residents.”
“Our division is also getting ready to head toward Afghanistan, so there will be copies heading out with the soldiers,” Llanos said. “We need to pray for protection for our soldiers as they patrol and pray that God would continue to open doors. The soldiers are being placed in strategic places with a purpose. They’re continuing to spread the Word.”
Karen Hawkins, a BPM official, said military chaplains “were trying to encourage [soldiers] to be in the Word everyday because they’re in a very dangerous situation, and they need that protection.”
That would appear to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibiting government officials, including military personnel, from using the machinery of the state to promote any form of religion. The book’s cover includes the logos of the five branches of the armed forces giving the impression that it’s a publication sanctioned by the Pentagon.
The distribution of the Bibles and Christian literature comes on the heels of a report published Wednesday by McClatchy Newspapers stating that U.S. Marines guarding the entrance to the city of Fallujah have been handing out “witnessing coins” to Sunni Muslims entering the city that read in Arabic on one side: “Where will you spend eternity?” and “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16” on the other.
A Pentagon spokesman said he was unaware of the issue involving the distribution of coins and Bibles and declined to comment.
The issue comes at a particularly sensitive time for Sunnis who recently clashed with U.S. military in an area west of Baghdad week after an American soldier was found to have used a Koran, the Islamic holy book, for target practice. Following a daylong protest by Iraqis that threatened to turn violent, Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond issued a public apology to Sunnis in the area.
“I come before you here seeking your forgiveness,” Hammond said. “In the most humble manner I look in your eyes today and I say please forgive me and my soldiers.”
The soldier who shot up the Koran was disciplined and removed from duty in Iraq.
Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the government watchdog agency The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), said the religious intolerance among U.S. military personnel calls for a federal investigation.
“The shocking actions revealed just last week of American soldiers in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan callously using the Koran for automatic weapons “target practice” is absolutely connected to the same issues of national security breach wrought by our United States armed forces proselytizing the local populations via the distribution to them of fundamentalist Christian coins, bibles, tracts, comics and related religious materials written in Arabic,” Weistein said.
“The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has been acutely aware of such astonishing unconstitutional and illicit proselytizing in Iraq and Afghanistan for over three years now and knows how massively pervasive it really is. These proselytizing transgressions are all blatant violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and MRFF is now demanding that any and all responsible military personnel be immediately prosecuted under Article 92 of the UCMJ: Failure to Obey an Order or Regulation,” Weinstein added.
Members of the U.S. military first started actively proselytizing Iraqi Muslims soon after the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003.
In a newsletter published in 2004 by the fundamentalist group International Ministerial Fellowship (IMF), Capt. Steve Mickel, an Army chaplain, claimed that Iraqis were eager to be converted to Christianity and that he personally tried to convert dozens of Iraqis, which is also an apparent constitutional violation.
“I am able to give them tracts on how to be saved, printed in Arabic,” Mickel said, according to a copy of the IMF newsletter. “I wish I had enough Arabic Bibles to give them as well. The issue of mailing Arabic Bibles into Iraq from the U.S. is difficult (given the current postal regulations prohibiting all religious materials contrary to Islam except for personal use of the soldiers). But the hunger for the Word of God in Iraq is very great, as I have witnessed first-hand.”
Mickel evangelized Iraqis while delivering leftover food to local residents from his unit’s mess hall. He handed out Bibles translated into Arabic in the village of Ad Dawr, a predominantly Sunni territory where Saddam Hussein was captured.
“Such fundamentalist Christian proselytizing DIRECTLY violates General Order 1A, Part 2, Section J issued by General Tommy Franks on behalf of the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) back in December of 2000 which strictly prohibits “proselytizing of any religion, faith or practice,” said Weinstein, a former Reagan administration White House counsel, former general counsel to presidential candidate H. Ross Perot, and former Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG).
In addition to coins and Bibles, there have been reports of the distribution to Iraqi children of Christian comic books published by companies such as Chick Publications. These inflammatory comic books, published in English and Arabic, not only depict Mohammed, but show both Mohammed and Muslims burning in hell because they did not accept Jesus as their savior before they died.
Chick Publications states on its website that its literature “is desperately needed by Muslims, but getting it to them without endangering our soldiers or enflaming the Muslim leadership will not be easy.”
Postal regulations prohibit sending bulk religious materials contrary to Islam into Iraq, but allow religious materials to be sent to an individual soldier for their personal use.
Sending more of these materials than would be necessary for an individual’s personal use, but not a large enough quantity to risk being flagged by the postal service, is one way that these materials are making their way into Iraq. Chick Publications advises those wanting to send their literature to military personnel to first find out “just what tracts would be most useful and how many they can effectively use,” and “to find out whether the tracts can be drop shipped from Chick Publications or if they should be sent as personal mail from the soldiers’ families.”
A spokesman for Chick refused to comment for this story about the comics handed out to Iraqis.
Meanwhile, members of the 101st Airborne stationed in Iraq will continue their work evangelizing Iraqis unless it is told otherwise.
Llanos, the division’s chief warrant officer, said about 2,000 copies of the military edition of the Bible provided to the 101st Airborne will soon be distributed to Iraqis.
However, reports on the Bible Pathway Ministries website up to 30,000 of the Christian books have been distributed to military personnel, some of which will presumably end up in the hands of Iraqis.