Thursday, June 23, 2005

"Intolerance" at the Air Force Academy?

What's the real question going on over the question of religious "intolerance" at the US Air Force Academy?

A report was released yesterday (6/22/05) from a task force commissioned to investigate the issue. I tried to locate a copy of that report, and couldn't find it on the net, so I wrote to the Academy, seeing if they could send me a copy. I was told that it hadn't been released to the public yet, but would be available soon. So I write without having seen the report itself, and stand subject to correction when I do.

However, what intrigues me is that the thrust of the complaints seem to be 2: first, that some "evangelical Christians" (student and staff) are said to be over-zealous in their faith, and secondly, that there is anti-semitism there at the Academy.

What is not being noted is that the 2 charges are opposed to each other on their face.

Anyone who argues that "evangelical Christians" are anti-semitic knows nothing about evangelical Christianity. Nothing.

Before I became a Lutheran, I was an "evangelical Christian," and, in fact, graduated from Chicago's Moody Bible Institute. I was a student there in the mid 1970s, and graduated in 1976. If anything, evangelical Christians will generally bend over backwards to try to put a good face on Judaism. Students there, for example, would excuse almost any atrocity committed by the state of Israel. Anti-semitism was and is harshly condemned by evangelical Christians, and evangelical Christians are known by the state of Israel to be among the most reliable supporters of Israel, and can be counted on to vote for candidates who support Israel.

What I suspect is the problem at the Academy is witnessing and attempting to convert Jewish students to Christianity. Such attempts are not -- by any stretch -- anti-semitism, any more than attempts to convert Buddhists is "anti-Buddhism." Or whatever.

Students in a school such as the USAF Academy should not, of course, be subjected to religious pressure from professors or staff. And it's a matter of simple courtesy that if someone says, "I'm not interested in discussing religion," the subject should be dropped.

However, I'm troubled by the idea that simple discussions of religious faith constitute a climate of intolerance, and more particularly with the idea that attempts at conversion are somehow anti-semitic.

A related issue is that of how a college atmosphere should operate. Part of learning is a sometimes robust give and take of ideas, and adults 18-22 (the likely range of age for 99% of students at the Academy) should be able to deal with those with whom they disagree. Dealing with those of differing religious ideas is a skill that should especially be cultivated among those who will be military officers, and who will have to work with such differences on a regular basis.

America is a very religious country: Christians here tend to take their faith seriously, but so do many Jews, Muslims, or whatever. Secularists who pretend otherwise are deluding themselves. A school such as the Academy which draws from a wide-range of American geography will find this played out there at the school. The free exchange of ideas about faith should be encouraged, rather than stifled.

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