“…We Are the Aroma of Jesus Christ”

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The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group, has asked the Defense Department to investigate whether some Army and Air Force officers violated department regulations by appearing in uniform in a video to promote the Christian Embassy, an evangelical group.

Christian Embassy was founded by Washington officials, businesspeople and Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright. Its stated mission:

Our purpose is to care for, serve, encourage and equip leaders at the White House, at the Pentagon, in foreign embassies and on Capitol Hill. We help people in these communities reflect on and integrate their values with their work life to develop personally, professionally and spiritually.

The group’s Pentagon-specific mission is to host weekly prayer breakfasts, conduct Bible studies, offer online audio excerpts of Christian Embassy programs, and conduct small groups for Pentagon staff members. These activities, obviously, represent a legal exercise of religious evangelism. The boundary appears to have been crossed when seven Pentagon officials wore their military uniforms in a promotional video, which is on Christian Embassy’s website, but is password-protected.

These officers are identified as Pentagon staff members, but there is no disclaimer in the video that would lead viewers to understand that the video is not Pentagon-endorsed. The organization has since added a disclaimer to its website. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is also asking whether the officers in the video received permission to appear in it.

In the video, Army Brig. Gen. Bob Casen talks about the Christian Embassy’s efforts to reach admirals and generals through Flag Fellowship groups. Whenever he sees another fellowship member, he says, “I immediately feel like I am being held accountable, because we are the aroma of Jesus Christ.”

The main Bush administration precedent does not bode well for setting a tighter boundary between the officers’ personal beliefs and their official capacities. In 2003, you will recall, Army Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin was criticized for appearing in uniform before church groups and saying that George W. Bush was “appointed by God,” that the United States is “a Christian nation” and that Muslims worship “an idol.” The Office of the Inspector General found that Boykin had not violated any rules.

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