Army general's comment renew controversy over Islam
October 24 2003 by Robert Marus , Associated Baptist Press

Army general's comment renew controversy over Islam | Friday, Oct. 24, 2003

Friday, Oct. 24, 2003

Army general's comment renew controversy over Islam

By Robert Marus Associated Baptist Press

WASHINGTON - Comments by a Pentagon official casting America's struggle against terrorism as a Muslim-versus-Christian holy war are causing some news outlets to call for a reprimand by the Bush administration.

Meanwhile, some on the Religious Right have stood up to defend Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who is a highly decorated veteran of covert and American military operations.

Boykin, the Pentagon's newly named deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, sparked a controversy after NBC News and the Los Angeles Times revealed comments he made to evangelical Christian audiences.

Appearing in uniform, he repeatedly described the war against terrorism as a conflict between a "Christian nation" and radical Islamists.

During a Jan. 28 speech at a Southern Baptist evangelism conference at First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Fla., Boykin described his 1993 efforts to capture a Somali warlord who had boasted that Allah would protect him from defeat. "I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol," Boykin said.

Speaking in June 2002 at First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, Okla., he described an aerial photo he had taken over the city of Mogadishu during the 1993 conflict in Somalia. Noting strange black marks in the sky, the general claimed they were evidence of a demonic presence over the city.

"Ladies and gentleman, this is your enemy," he said. "It is the principalities of darkness. It is a demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy."

Boykin has said that radical Islamists hate the United States "because we're a Christian nation;" has described the U.S. Army as "a Christian army;" and has said that President Bush was appointed by God "for such a time as this."

Bush and White House officials have taken pains since Sept. 11, 2001, to insist the war on terrorism is not a war against Islam.

Boykin issued an apology on Oct. 17, saying that his comments had been taken out of context and that he had never intended to denigrate the Islamic faith or all Muslims.

Regarding his comments on the Somali warlord, Boykin said he had been referring not to the man's Islam, but rather to his "worship of money and power" as the "idolatry" that was inferior to Boykin's God.

Boykin's apology also contained a defense of his earlier descriptions of the U.S. as a "Christian nation."

Nonetheless, Boykin was careful to point out in the Daytona Beach speech that he wasn't attempting to foment a holy war. "Bin Laden is not the enemy. No mortal is the enemy," he said. "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."

The pastor of the Daytona Beach church defended Boykin, whom he described as a "dear friend," in a strongly worded editorial released Oct. 20 by Baptist Press.

Bobby Welch, a military Special Forces veteran, compared Boykin to past U.S. generals who "called on God, prayed to God, gave God praise and glory for victories and called upon God to defeat their enemies." Welch said that "not a single one of those military leaders ever was belittled, harassed or chastised for speaking out about their spirituality."

Lauding Boykin's past heroism, Welch said, "I despise the unthinkable and asinine fact that some take cheap backstabbing shots at a real God-fearing American hero who continually risks his life to protect all of us."

Robert Parham, head of the Baptist Center for Ethics, said that Boykin's comments seemed to reflect "bad theology," and the real question is whether his public statements were appropriate for someone in his position.

"Can he be trusted to act in the nation's interest instead of pursuing his own twisted theological agenda?" Parham asked in an Oct. 17 edition in the organization's e-mail newsletter, "The nation can ill afford a commander who sees the war on terrorism as a war between dueling deities."

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced Oct. 21 that Boykin had asked for an investigation of his past comments by the Pentagon's inspector general. Rumsfeld said he would wait for the inspector general's findings.

Boykin and Welch made headlines in April when Welch led a gathering at Fort Bragg intended to help pastors learn evangelism lessons from military strategy. The event was part of training for pastors in the FAITH Sunday School evangelism program.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State raised questions about Boykin's endorsement of the program and the use of military facilities and personnel for the event. The group asked Army Secretary Thomas E. White to cancel the event.

Army officials decided that the gathering met Department of Defense directives and Army regulations.

10/24/2003 12:00:00 AM by Robert Marus , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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