Commentary

Christian love wasn’t meant to be weaponized: A retired Air Force chaplain and rabbi’s message

When an anonymous Army officer’s wife sent an email to Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation Aug. 31, a supporter of the foundation, retired Air Force Col. (Chaplain) Joel R. Schwartzman, a Jewish rabbi, felt compelled to write back.

Schwartzman served more than 23 years in the Air Force, including at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He also served two Denver synagogues from 2000 to 2011, one as an associate rabbi for a year, and Congregation B’nai Chaim for a decade as senior rabbi, where he is now serving as emeritus.

The Army wife’s letter, in which she asked MRFF to quit attacking Christians, admonished Weinstein and other Jews “to bend a knee” and accept Christ as their savior. It is s typical of some of the mail that Weinstein receives, though many of those letters and emails are vile and despicable. Other supporters and board members of MRFF also responded, but the rabbi’s Sept. 1 letter is particularly powerful. The two letters follow:

‘HATEFUL SINNERS SUCH AS YOU’

Hello Mr. Weinstein,

Just wondering what your organization, the MRFF, is really all about?

My husband is in the Army and we are very much blessed by the Grace of our Savior in our home and our lives.

We have never seen Jesus pushed on anyone during our time in the service.

We do try to share the Free Gift of Christ’s Salvation with as many other soldiers and their families as we can, but we never force anyone to come to Christ.

Why does the MRFF attack only Christians? We have more Christians in the Army than all of the other religions combined.

Also as a Jew don’t you think that your peoples’ heritage already has a bad enough history record of attacking Christians? You and the MRFF are only making the Jewish reputation even worse with your constant attacks.

So your wife writes books about the so-called bad letters you get?

Maybe you all should realize that you deserve a lot of the blame yourselves. Please find something more worthwhile to do and leave us Christians alone.

Jesus Christ would welcome hateful sinners such as you and the MRFF, if you would but bend the knee and confess Him as your only Savior. (Romans 14:11)

Even the torturer of Christians, Saul of Tarsus, bent the knee and became St. Paul.

You and your MRFF are modern day Sauls.

Please surrender to Christ before it is too late. He is the Only Way. (John 14:6)

An eternity in hell awaits Jews like you and your MRFF who refuse. (Matthew 13:42)

Remember that Jesus Christ loves you and the MRFF.

— A Proud Christian and Army Officer’s wife and mother

* * *

‘A VERY PERSONAL RESPONSE’

As others have responded to the email you sent to Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, I don’t intend to repeat what they wrote, as they answered you line for line. Rather, as a rabbi and a Jew who is proud of his Judaism, I wanted to give you my very personal response to what you wrote.

At the heart of your letter was your attempt to bring Mikey and, I would suppose, all Jews including me to Christ. You may think that this is an act of sincerity, decency and concern for our salvation. If, but for a moment, you were to turn on yourself what you are saying and attempting, you might feel the emotions you generated in me when I read your email.

How would you respond if someone were to come at you with a threat that either you convert to their brand of religion or you would burn for eternity? How would you like it if they called you names, falsely accused you of all kinds of terrible acts and condemned your faith and your religion? How would you feel if this threat were made real by your receiving symbols of hate because you believe what you do? How would you feel if they threatened your life and the lives of your family members and the people who believe as you do? I’ll bet that you wouldn’t like it. I’ll further bet that the person might frighten you a bit, especially if this were happening repeatedly throughout your people’s history, born out by terrible persecution, exile and death.

You would and should feel fear. Because, taken to extremes, this person is threatening not only your life, but the lives, property and dreams of everyone you hold dear. He or she is saying, either believe as I do, or I’ll make you — or, worse, God will make you. I may even kill you because of what you believe. That’s what God wants me to do. I’ll save you by killing you in the name of … what?

Others have pointed out to you that, for centuries, Christians have been doing this to Jews, pillaging, raping and murdering my people. Still many, many Jews have clung to our faith in the God who covenanted with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We as a people are alive today, not because of Christian zealotry, but in spite of it.

During my time as an Air Force rabbi, I encountered people like yourself who, believing that they were doing good in trying to force me and mine to convert for the sake of our souls, caused no end of harm and pain. If I could not convince these people of my love for and commitment to my own way of life, I sought refuge in the the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which forbids proselytization, especially by superiors of their subordinates. In other words, commanders cannot force or command someone who works for him or her to attend Bible studies, prayer breakfasts and the like.

This sort of thing went on then, and I am absolutely certain that it goes on now. The MRFF protects all military and even civilian personnel from what frankly is religious harassment, be it well meant or not. No military person has a right to threaten, cajole, urge or otherwise tamper with another person’s soul! Certainly we can discuss and even debate religious views; but, no one can use coercion, trying to force religion on others — not in this person’s military.

Rather than condemn the MRFF, you would do well to cease your activities and study your Bible. Christian love was never meant to be used as a weapon or a cudgel. Christian zealots throw New Testament verses around like knives and axes. They were not meant to be tools that would act to intimidate and frighten others. They were meant to cultivate faith among Christians.

As I am not a Christian and do not ever intend to be one, I would prefer that you simply leave me and my people alone. Please! Practice the tolerance, love and decency that Christianity, in its best form, preaches. And understand that Mikey, the MRFF and a host of others who support this work haven’t the slightest intention of harming Christians. What they do intend is to prevent Christians from harming others — their persons, their careers, their co-workers and their friends.

I hope that you get what I am saying. I have a sense that you’ll think that I’m lost and headed for hell. That’s your belief and I am deeply sorry you think this way. But if you come at me with this threat, if you send your children to condemn my children, if you call me names and attempt to coerce me, my fellow Jews and other Christians to adopt your brand of Christianity, you will find us resistant and you may even find us willing, like the MRFF, to take you on and teach you something about the Constitution of these United States, which prohibits proselytization within the ranks of the United States military.

Be well. Stay well!

— Chaplain, Colonel, USAF (Ret) Joel R. Schwartzman

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