By Bill Sherman,

A former military chaplain who was court-martialed for violating Navy policy about public prayer in Jesus’ name said he will defend the right of chaplains in Tulsa [Oklahoma] to pray in Jesus’ name at City Council meetings.

“They want to include all the faiths except for my faith,” said Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt, an evangelical Christian. “They’re proselytizing us, forcing us to conform to a government-sanitized religion, and punishing us by exclusion.”

Klingenschmitt, who was removed from the Navy after his court-martial conviction, has been traveling and speaking widely in defense of the right of people to pray according to their own conscience and tradition. [This story is covered on page 24 of the April 2007 Levitt Letter.]

“I’ll write to Tulsa councilmen, demanding that they protect chaplains who pray in Jesus’ name,” Klingenschmitt said. “And the people of Oklahoma will stand with me because they stand with Jesus.”

Klingenschmitt said he is scheduled to speak in the city of Moore on Jan. 27, and if the problem is not resolved by then, he will come to Tulsa to address it.

“America is the land of freedom of religion, and free speech,” he said. “The First Amendment protects the speaker and the worshipper, not the bystander who’s easily offended. It’s the same problem the Pharisees had in Acts chapter four. They ordered Peter and John to stop preaching in Jesus’ name. When they disobeyed, and continued to pray, they were flogged.”

Klingenschmitt was a longtime Navy chaplain who in recent years had been in trouble with his superiors for the evangelical content of his prayer and preaching. In February 2006, the secretary of the Navy instituted a new policy requiring nonsectarian prayers of uniformed chaplains in public.

“I challenged that policy on March 30, 2006, by praying in Jesus’ name, in uniform, outside the White House,” Klingenschmitt said. He was court-martialed for violating the policy, and in September 2006 he was found guilty.

Meanwhile, Klingenschmitt took the case to Congress, who agreed with him and ordered the Navy to rescind the policy.
As a result, he said, “other chaplains are now free to pray in Jesus’ name. It’s back to the way it’s been since the 1860s.”

The Rev. Bob Yandian, pastor of Grace Church, a large charismatic church in south Tulsa, said he thought it was “absolutely inappropriate” for Christians to be asked not to pray publicly in the name of Jesus. He said the request puts a demand on Christianity that is not asked of any other religion. The name of Jesus is central to the Christian faith.

“We have two mandates in the New Testament,” he said. “Jesus told us in his admonition to the disciples to . . . ‘pray in my name,’ and (the Apostle) Paul made it clear in Colossians 3:17 that ‘Whatever you do in word and in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.’ So Paul simply boiled the entire Christian life down to: The name of Jesus should be involved in almost every deed we do, and every word we say, which would include prayer.”

Yandian said if he was invited to pray publicly, and was asked not to pray in the name of Jesus, he still would accept the invitation. “It would be uncomfortable. I believe it would be inappropriate. But it would not stop me from being able to pray effectively,” he said.

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