Army Chaplain under fire for sharing John Piper's book 'Coronavirus and Christ'

U.S. Army soldiers pray on September 11, 2011 during a protestant service at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. Ten years after the 9/11 attacks in the United States and after almost a decade war in Afghanistan, American soldiers gathered for church services in prayer and solemn observance of the tragic day.
U.S. Army soldiers pray on September 11, 2011 during a protestant service at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. Ten years after the 9/11 attacks in the United States and after almost a decade war in Afghanistan, American soldiers gathered for church services in prayer and solemn observance of the tragic day. | John Moore/Getty Images

Twenty-two military chaplains are calling on a senior army chaplain to be disciplined and possibly court-martialed for sending nearly three-dozen other chaplains an email containing a copy of John Piper’s new e-book, Coronavirus and Christ.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is being urged by a national legal organization to punish Senior Chaplain Col. Moon H. Kim, the command chaplain of U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys in South Korea, the largest U.S. military installation outside of the United States. 

In a letter sent this week, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation said Kim sent out an email using his official military email address to 35 other chaplains on Wednesday containing an “unsolicited” PDF copy of Piper’s new e-book Coronavirus and Christ.

MRFF, which advocates for a strict separation of church and state within the U.S. military, is representing 22 clients all of whom are Christians from mostly mainline and progressive traditions and felt if they came forward publicly in opposition to Kim’s email they would face repercussions. 

The clients, some of whom are from the LGBT community, “do not subscribe to the ultra-conservative/Reformed/evangelical Christian theology of John Piper.” Piper is the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minnesota and the founder of DesiringGod.Org. 

The clients take issue with the fact that the famed preacher’s book says that “some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a specific judgment from God because of their sinful attitudes and actions.”

In Chapter 7 in a section titled “Examples of Specific Judgements on Specific Sins,” Piper wrote that one example “is the sin of homosexual intercourse.” Piper cited Romans 1:27 in which the Apostle Paul states that “men committing shameless acts with men” received in themselves “the due penalty for their error.” 

“That ‘due penalty’ is the painful effect ‘in themselves’ of their sin,” Piper wrote. “This ‘due penalty’ is just one example of the judgment of God that we see in Romans 1:18, where it says, ‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.’ Therefore, while not all suffering is a specific judgment for specific sins, some is.”

The Christian Post reached out to Kim for comment about his email and the MRFF complaint. A response is pending. 

A copy of Kim’s email that contained the PDF sent to the chaplains was reviewed by CP. In the body of the email, Kim wrote to fellow chaplains that he wanted to share the short booklet with them.

“This book has helped me refocus my sacred calling to my savior Jesus Christ to finish strong,” Kim wrote. “Hopefully this small booklet would help you and your Soldiers, their Families and others who you serve.”

MRFF contends that the book was “clearly meant as a full-fledged endorsement and validation of what the book espouses and proclaims.”

“Thus, in CLEAR effect, especially to the recipients of his shocking email, Chaplain (Colonel) Kim is likewise endorsing and validating the very same dictates as established by the author of this book,” the letter written by MRFF Founder Mikey Weinstein to Esper reads. 

Weinstein claims that the book “pushes the belief that the coronavirus is God’s judgment.” 

The MRFF letter also took offense to Piper’s "complementation views” and argued that his belief in “Predestination” means that “even something as deadly as coronavirus is sent from God.”

The letter contends Kim’s email was sent to subordinate chaplains by a “man in a position of substantial power and influence over them.” MRFF argues that the email violated the Department of Defense and Army equal employment opportunity policies. 

“This shot through the Chaplains Corps when that thing went out,” Weinstein, who identifies as Jewish but “not very religious,” told CP. ”It was like a 10-alarm fire. We don’t go looking for this stuff. We have clients asking for help and we put them through a protocol. We had to take a hard look at this because they are keeping this within the chaplain’s area and is not going to anybody else.”

“We took a look at the book and we listened to what the chaplains said and how it made them feel,” he added. “What are you supposed to tell a couple that has a gay child who also has COVID? ‘Well, this is your due penalty?’ It’s just horrible and wrong from the perspective that it destroys good order, discipline and unit cohesion within the military.”

Weinstein contended that the Supreme Court’s 6-2 decision in Parker v. Levy found that the First Amendment can be applied differently in the military context.

“The [ruling] stands for the fact that in the military, which includes chaplains, your First Amendment rights can be severely constrained compared to civilians because the compelling governmental interest in the military is to maximize the lethality of the military, which means maximizing good order, morale, and cohesion,” Weinstein said. 

Weinstein added that Kim has “every right” to believe the beliefs in Piper’s book but not necessarily to use his government platform and rank to promote it. 

CP also reached the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army. No responses were received by press time. 

Although MRFF’s letter does not specifically state which kind of disciplinary actions the legal group would like to see Kim subjected to, Weinstein told CP outright that he is calling for Kim to be subject to general court-martial as he is a “full colonel” who is in “rarified air in the U.S. Military Chaplains Corps.” 

“The entire world is being ravaged by COVID-19 and he has endorsed a booklet claiming that this is the punishment of God for people who have sinned, which includes gay people,” Weinstein said. “This not only in violation of the EEO provisions of the Department of Defense but a ton of other DoD and U.S. Army provisions.” 

Mike Berry, general counsel for the First Liberty Institute, an organization that defends the First Amendment rights of military members, told CP that Kim was within his rights to send the email. 

“The MRFF is not only going overboard, it is showing its true colors by asking the Pentagon to punish a chaplain for engaging in constitutionally protected activity,” Berry said. “Congress has recently and repeatedly taken actions to protect chaplains to share their religious beliefs.”

“The Constitution and federal law protect chaplains (and service members) who share their religious beliefs,” he added. “Our brave service members should be offended that Mikey Weinstein thinks they are so delicate and frail that they are incapable of hearing something with which they might disagree. Quite the contrary, the vast majority of service members with whom I served, whether senior or subordinate, were smart enough to decide for themselves.”   

Berry said that First Liberty Institute would be happy to provide Kim with a free legal representation if he is subject to disciplinary action. 

“First Liberty has won numerous cases similar to this before, and I’m very confident we would win this one too,” Berry stressed. 

Although Weinstein said that 95% of MRFF clients are Christians, he said it's uncommon for MRFF to have “an outpouring like this” in which all clients coming forward on a certain case are all Christians. 

“We have not heard from any imams, rabbis or Hindu or any other chaplains, only Christian chaplains, a number of whom are evangelical Christian chaplains,” Weinstein said. “Usually, we have atheists, agnostics, secularists, and humanists who come to us.”

One current U.S. military chaplain and one former active duty military chaplain who spoke with CP on the condition of anonymity after being connected through MRFF said that about 80% or more of the U.S. military chaplaincy subscribes to Calvinistic, conservative Christian theology. 

The current chaplain said he has met Kim in the past and has never had any problems with him. However, he said that while chaplains are entitled to their views, they need to be careful “not to put forth a view that whatever their religious background is is the established or preferred one.”

“It is a slippery slope and a place that we are better off not going,” the current chaplain said. “Now, if it were in the context of a sermon or a Bible study and you share that is your view, that is entirely appropriate.”

The chaplain said that he had never “seen anything like that” from Kim in the past. 

The former active-duty military chaplain said that he wasn’t sure what Kim’s intentions were in sending the email so he couldn’t state for sure whether he thought court-martial was an appropriate course of action. 

“I don’t know the intent and the heart of chaplain Kim,” the former chaplain said. “He may have had the purest of intent motives that he read this book and it warmed his heart and he thought everybody in the world should read it. If that is the case that is extremely poor judgment considering his position and trust given to him by the Chaplain Corps. If his intent was to leave his stamp and push his theological perspective then he should be court-martialed.” 

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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