WASHINGTON — The Army’s chief of chaplains is being criticized for a proclamation calling for prayer and fasting on April 8, which coincides with the first night of Passover.
The Jewish holiday — one of the faith’s most important — traditionally involves a commemorative meal called a seder.
Maj. Gen. Douglas Carver, a Southern Baptist, issued a proclamation March 2 urging Army chaplains to pray and fast April 8 during a 120-day “stand down” period beginning Feb. 15 to focus on suicide-prevention awareness among soldiers.
“As spiritual leaders we are called to be a people of prayer,” Carver explained in an Internet newsletter article. “One initiative that was proposed is that we employ the power of collective prayer more consistently in our efforts to combat suicide. I have issued a call to all members of our Corps to join with me on 8 April in leading the Army Family in a special day of prayer and fasting for the preservation, protection and peace of our Army. I have directed our Center for Spiritual Leadership at the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School to provide resources to support you in your prayer effort.”
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation said the directive, which includes a resolution-style “whereas” statement saying spiritual leaders “model faith and belief in the Hand of God to intervene in the course of history and individual lives,” is “not an appropriately pluralistic description of the theological and spiritual diversity present within military chaplaincy.”
The group, founded by Air Force Academy graduate Mikey Weinstein to advocate the separation of church and state in the military, also said the Army chief of chaplains is a bureaucratic job with no constitutional authority to dictate a specific religious practice like fasting or prayer.
The web-based political magazine Truthout.org said timing the observance on a Jewish feast day was also being perceived as insensitive to people with non-Christian faiths.
Investigative reporter Jason Leopold quoted one Jewish member of the armed forces who spoke anonymously for fear of retribution calling the proclamation “an insult to all Jews” that displayed “unconscionable arrogance” by Carver.
Nominated to the post in 2007, Carver is the first Southern Baptist to be named Army chief of chaplains since the Korean War. He is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an ordained Southern Baptist minister who has been pastor of churches in Kentucky, Colorado and Virginia. His endorsement as chaplain is by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Southern Baptist label alone is enough to raise suspicion in some Jewish circles. In the past the SBC has sparred with Jewish organizations over a variety of issues, such as when Southern Baptists passed a resolution targeting Jews for evangelism in 1996 and published a prayer pamphlet urging Baptists to pray for the salvation of Jews during Jewish high holy days in 1999.
But Carver has also been called out for using apocalyptic language of his own.
“The scripture talks about how God is the One who raises up leadership,” Carver said in a 2007 interview with Baptist Press. “For such a time as this, it has appeared that God has raised me up as a Southern Baptist chaplain to provide spiritual leadership for our chaplains in the Army.”
He is on record as finding parallels in the war in Iraq and situations written about in parts of the Old Testament book of Daniel that some Christians view as end-times prophecies. Part of the modern-day nation of Iraq is called Babylon in the Bible, and Carver said at a 2006 prayer breakfast he found it strange that Saddam Hussein believed he was the reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king mentioned in Daniel.
Addressing an annual chaplains’ luncheon at the Southern Baptist Convention in 2006, Carver described America’s long war against violent religious extremism “as a war contending for the future of humanity as you and I know it.”
“But as chaplains, this is my time and your time, your destiny,” he said. “Like Daniel, you’ve been raised up to speak light into the darkness. Like Moses, you and I have been made shepherds to walk people from the darkness into the light of Christ Jesus. Like Caleb, we have been given a mountain and a vision to claim for the glory of God. Like Gideon, we have been given an army to lead.”
Carver told an Alabama Baptist church in 2006 that converging disasters like devastating hurricanes, simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and America’s allegedly crumbling moral fiber convinced him the devil was turning up an attack on the United States.
“I’m not an end-times preacher, but I think something is up,” he said. He said the current times mirror verses in Daniel 12:1-3, a passage that prophesies tribulation and consummation at the end of the world.
Carver added that Christians were destined to respond like another Old Testament character, Esther, who was placed in a certain situation “for such a time as this.”
According to Baptist Press, the SBC’s news arm, Carver chose April 8 for the prayer emphasis because it is a Wednesday, which is prayer-meeting night in most Southern Baptist churches and provides an easy opportunity for churches to pray for the military.
Carver’s office did not reply to an email requesting comment in time for this story.
The flap is the latest in a series of complaints by Jewish and religious-liberty groups about the growing power of conservative evangelical Christianity in the U.S. military.
Weinstein wrote about it in a 2007 book titled With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)