Fort Bragg meeting of pastors questioned
April 11 2003 by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor

Fort Bragg meeting of pastors questioned | Friday, April 11, 2003

Friday, April 11, 2003

Fort Bragg meeting of pastors questioned

By Steve DeVane BR Managing Editor

Army officials have decided that a planned meeting of pastors at Fort Bragg meets military guidelines.

The gathering April 22-23 is intended to help pastors learn evangelism lessons from military strategy, according to its organizer, Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla. The event is part of training for pastors in the FAITH Sunday School evangelism program.

A watchdog group tried to get the event cancelled, saying it violates the separation of church and state.

Carol Darby, a spokesperson for Army Special Operations Command, said Army lawyers looked into the gathering and decided that it met Department of Defense directives and Army regulations.

"The request does fall under a program called 'Community Relations,'" she said.

About four or five groups tour Army Special Operations Command under the program each year, Darby said.

While the meeting will go on, it's unclear if it will live up to its original billing.

Welch is a friend of Maj. Gen. William G. Boykin, commander of the Army's John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg.

Welch reportedly told pastors in a letter that the event is a "once in a lifetime opportunity to join a group of warriors" at Fort Bragg.

"You can be absolutely guaranteed you will never, ever have this type of opportunity again!" Welch wrote. "You will go with General Boykin and Green Beret instructors to places where no civilians and few soldiers ever go."

Pastors were told they would see a Special Forces demonstration of "today's war fighting weapons" and a visit to the "Shoot House" to learn how "Special Forces attack the enemy inside buildings."

Darby said the pastors will have access similar to that granted to other civic groups. The group will watch some training and hear "briefings" about Special Operations capabilities, she said.

In a telephone interview, Welch said he doesn't back down from his statements. "We will see some things the average citizen doesn't see, simply because the average citizen doesn't go through the trouble to ask and go out there," he said.

Welch said he doesn't know of any "major changes" to the program.

Army Special Operations Command officials added a presentation by the unit's chaplain to the program because they thought it might interest the pastors, Darby said. Such changes are often made in the program depending on the age and interest of the group, she said.

Welch's letter reportedly said the event would include a speech by Boykin and informal time with the general.

Darby said Boykin would likely only meet and welcome the group to Fort Bragg.

Welch said Boykin he believes that Boykin will get to spend time with the group. The general's interaction with the group was always subject to his availability, Welch said.

Welch also indicated in his letter to pastors that they would spend the night on post.

Darby said they will stay in a hotel off post at their own expense.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) had raised questions about Boykin's endorsement of the program and the use of military facilities and personnel for the event. The group wrote a letter of protest to Army Secretary Thomas E. White calling for the event to be cancelled.

"This is a clear violation of the separation of church and state," said AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. "Our military has no business using its resources to aid evangelism.

"It is especially outrageous to hold this kind of event at a time when America's relationship with Muslim countries is strained. This sends exactly the wrong signal at the wrong time."

Welch took issue with the AU statement regarding Muslims.

"What did that have to do with anything?" he said.

Welch said that the group had made "uneducated, uninformed and outright ignorant statements." He said AU wrongly believed that his group was going to Fort Bragg for a revival.

Joseph Conn, an AU spokesman, said Welch's promotional materials made it "pretty clear" that Welch was using military facilities and personnel to recruit people into an evangelism program.

"We don't have a problem with evangelism and spreading the gospel," he said. "We have a problem with government stepping in and helping do that.

"We're not in any way opposed to his program. We just believe it should be supported by the voluntary contributions of the faithful and not the government."

Welch said he thinks AU was trying to promote its own agenda.

""It's really a shame," he said. "They didn't have the professional courtesy, to say nothing of the professional integrity, to give me a call."

Conn said AU was basing it's objections on Welch's promotional material.

"To tell you the truth, our quarrel is not with Pastor Welch, it's with the government," he said.

Welch said he doesn't understand why AU is trying to "discriminate" against his group. He said he thinks AU owes his group and the Army an apology.

"I'm afraid we can't help him there," Conn said.

Welch said no one is going to stop him from supporting America and its troops and from praying.

"I don't see any conflict in those two," he said.

Conn said AU thought it was appropriate to bring the matter to the Army's attention.

"I don't think Pastor Welch would be nearly as excited if it was Rev. Sun Myung Moon and 50 Moon pastors getting the VIP treatment at Fort Bragg," he said.

Welch told the Raleigh News and Observer that the purpose of the trip to Fort Bragg was not to promote Christianity or evangelize.

"They (AU) read something into it that wasn't intended," Welch said. "They did not understand what we were doing."

He said the idea was to glean evangelism lessons from military strategy.

"The military is extremely successful at expanding its organization," Welch said. "Maybe we could learn how to expand our organization."

Welch, a Vietnam veteran who served in Special Forces, told the New York Times that he trained at Fort Bragg and was seeking to apply military principles to evangelism.

Welch initially spoke openly to The Times about the event, then asked that it not be made public because "I'll get in trouble."

"I don't want to do anything that sounds as if we're connected to the military," he said. "That would be an error."

Welch also volunteered that a previous FAITH Force session of 70 pastors was held at Fort Bragg last year at Boykin's invitation.

Maj. Gary Kolb, another spokesperson for Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, confirmed that a similar event was held last year.

"I don't have details," he said.

Baptist Press has reported on Boykin's participation in at least two other of Welch's FAITH events. The general told a FAITH gathering in February 2002 that the way FAITH participants are trained is similar to the concept of Special Forces training - one person trains 100, who in turn can train 10,000.

Boykin also talked about Delta Force, the Army's highly secretive counterterrorism unit. He was an original member of the unit, according to Baptist Press.

Boykin said Delta Force soldiers go as warriors into situations most civilians can't even imagine.

"We don't head into situations to keep the peace. We go in to win. I'm a warrior, not a peacekeeper," he said. "Delta Force goes in, strikes quick and gets out. Often it is a hostage situation."

Boykin asked people to pray for the war against terrorism.

"We need warriors to fight and win this battle," he said. "I'm not just talking about our men and women in uniform. I'm talking about all of you in the sanctuary.

"Bin Laden is not the enemy. No mortal is the enemy. It's the enemy you can't see. It's a war against the forces of darkness. The battle won't be won with guns. It will be won on our knees."

Boykin also spoke at a FAITH event in January.

"When you stepped into the FAITH arena, you said, 'Here am I. Send me,'" he said. "Not every Christian is a soul-winner, but you said, 'Here am I. Send me.' You volunteered to be a part of this battle."

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4/11/2003 12:00:00 AM by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments
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