Former Air Force cadet and founder of Military Religious Freedom Foundation Michael Weinstein doesn’t want Air Force Academy cadets to participate in Operation Christmas Child to help needy children. He says academy officials crossed a line by promoting the charity because it pushes Christian ideas.
Weinstein’s accusation is the result of an email sent out last week to all Air Force cadets regarding Operation Christmas Child. The email, sent by a cadet after approval from a cadet leader, told fellow cadets about the opportunity to participate in the Christmas charity.
Maj. Darren Duncan, a Protestant chaplain from the Air Force, told The Christian Post Monday that different email lists at the academy serve different functions. The email about OCC should have been sent to the Christian distribution list instead of to all cadets.
This was “an administrative oversight at worst,” said Duncan. Once the oversight was realized, Brig. Gen. Richard Clark, the Commandant of Cadets, immediately asked the Cadet Chaplain Corps to work with the cadets who sent out the email. They then retracted the email and worked with the Cadet Chaplain Corps on the toy drive.
OCC is now being promoted as a chaplain’s program, as it was meant to be in the first place, and cadets still have the opportunity to participate. Duncan said the academy is “religiously pluralistic” and it has many different faith groups represented.
Gen. Clark did speak with Weinstein about the matter but did not apologize to him as other newspapers reported. "This was an oversight by me that has been addressed and forwarded through the proper channels," Gen. Clark said. "The cadets had nothing but good intentions, but this was something that should have started with the Chaplains, not the Cadet Wing. That doesn't mean the cadets can't volunteer for the Christmas toy drive. They can participate through the Cadet Chaplain Corps.”
Weinstein sees Operation Christmas Child as a threat. He says on his organization’s website that while OCC claims “to bring a bit of ‘Christmas cheer’ to children in disaster areas and war-stricken nations, this missionary program masquerading as an innocuous charity uses deliveries of toys and toiletries as a Trojan horse to sneak [Franklin] Graham’s fundamentalist Christian ministry of Jesus Christ.”
Graham, however, has been clear that OCC – a project by the nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse – does not hide its mission. He has stated, “It’s Operation Christmas Child. It’s a Christmas program. This is Jesus’ birthday and we’re celebrating his birth. Every gift we give, we want the child to know about the Lord Jesus Christ.”
According to the nonprofit’s mission statement, Samaritan's Purse seeks to meet “the physical needs of victims of war, poverty, famine, natural disaster and disease with the aim of demonstrating God’s love and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ." Every year, they deliver shoe boxes to needy children around the world filled with toiletries and presents that many would never have the opportunity to receive during the holiday season.
Air Force Academy cadets, on top of military training, classes and various sports and clubs, participate in service hours as part of their education. They have many cadet-led programs, OCC being one of them. In the 2010-2011 academic year, the Cadet Service Learning program had 4,499 volunteers conduct nearly 1,600 projects totaling more than 31,000 hours of service. The academy has supported various organizations including Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Race for the Cure and Habitat for Humanity.