Chief of Chaplains office investigates war chaplain's use of baptismal pool
A recent Miami Herald war dispatch about Army chaplain Josh Llano has led to an investigation by the U.S. Army Office of the Chief of Chaplains.
Embedded Herald staff writer Meg Laughlin wrote in an April 4 story that Llano has a 500-gallon baptismal font at the U.S. base "Camp Bushmaster" in Iraq that he uses to attract soldiers to his sermons. The story says that the "pool of pristine, cool water" is a rarity during a water shortage that has kept soldiers from bathing for weeks. Before they can get in, Laughlin reports, they have to listen to Llano's sermons and participate in a one-hour baptism.
"It's simple. They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized," the story quotes Llano as saying. "Regardless of their motives, I get the chance to take them closer to the Lord."
Since the story ran, several organizations have alleged that Llano is coercing baptisms and crossing church-state lines. The backlash led to an investigation by Army Chief of Chaplains Gaylord Gunhus. He told reporters last week that Llano was probably just joking with soldiers.
"I have confidence in my chaplains," Gunhus said. "It had nothing to do with keeping people from having water or anything at all. Speculation is, he was jesting with a bunch of folks."
Pentagon spokeswoman Martha Rudd said that there is plenty of water at "Camp Bushmaster." She added that Llano's pool is intentionally only for baptisms. "Neither the Army nor the Army Chief of Chaplains approves of religious coercion, but reports we've gotten indicate that's not what this was at all," Rudd told Scripps Howard. "We don't have any information at this time that the chaplain was coercing anyone. But we're still looking into it."
Religion News Service reported on Friday that the investigation is already over and the Chief of Chaplains office has determined that Llano is not coercing soldiers into baptism. Weblog could not find the story picked up in any online publication today, but look back later this week for links.
Baptist Press admits "factual and contextual errors" in Rod Paige interview
On Friday Weblog covered the political and media backlash on U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige,who was quoted in an April 7 Baptist Press article saying, "I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith. Where a child is taught that, there is a source of strength greater than themselves."
The controversy centered not only on separation between church and state. During a press conference last Wednesday, the Department of Education released a partial transcript of the interview between Paige and Todd Starnes, director of university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, to show that the quote isn't exactly what Paige said.
Baptist Press posted the complete transcript of the interview late on Friday. An introductory paragraph reads: "The report accurately portrayed the substance of Dr. Paige's faith in God but contained factual and contextual errors in other respects. We regret the misrepresentations by the writer. Todd Starnes has been a trusted correspondent but no longer will be employed to write for Baptist Press."
In the transcript Starnes asks Paige, "Given the choice between private and Christian, or private and public universities … who do you think has the best deal?"
His answer in the Baptist Press transcript is the same as that released by the Department of Education. "That's a judgment, too, that would vary because each of them have real strong points and some of them have vulnerabilities," Paige told Starnes. "But you know, all things being equal, I'd prefer to have a child in a school where there's a strong appreciation for values, the kinds of values that I think are associated with the Christian communities, so that this child can be brought up in an environment that teaches them to have strong faith and to understand that there is a force greater than them personally."
Other articles on the story include:
Unrighteous indignation—Editorial, The Washington Times (April 12, 2003)
Religion in the public sphere—Editorial, International Herald Tribune (April 12, 2003)
Secretary of Education inappropriately accused—John Yeats, Baptist Press (April 11, 2003)
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