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National Cathedral Bible blessing is not a 'constitutional horror'

Washington National Cathedral
The Very Rev. Randolph Hollerith, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, left, and the Right Rev. Carl Wright, bishop suffragan for the U.S. Armed Forces and federal ministries in the Episcopal Church, center, bless the official Bible of the newly created Space Force during a service at the cathedral on Jan. 12, 2020. Maj. Gen. Steven Schaick, the Air Force's chief of chaplains, is holding the Bible on the right. |

Apparently theocracy is being launched through the U.S. military by the Episcopal Church.

A small but aggressive secular group that peddles theocracy conspiracy theories is getting media attention for complaining about blessing a military Bible. According to an NPR headline, the ceremony sparked “outrage.”

The public “outrage” seemingly was mostly confined to several irritable tweets.

The liberal Washington National Cathedral hosted a pro forma Bible blessing for the new U.S. Space Command, attended by the U.S. Air Force chief of chaplains. Officiating was the Episcopal Church’s Bishop to the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries Carl Wright.

This Bible will be used to swear in future officers of the U.S. Space Command, if they so choose.

The complainant against the Bible blessing was Mikey Weinstein, of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which through media advocacy and litigation condemns military chaplaincies and imagines the military is a hotbed of “Christian privilege.”

“The MRFF condemns, in as full-throated a manner as is humanly possible, the shocking and repulsive display of only the most vile, exclusivist, fundamentalist Christian supremacy, dominance, triumphalism and exceptionalism which occurred at yesterday’s ‘blessing’ at the Washington National Cathedral,” Weinstein complained.

Anyone who’s familiar with National Cathedral can only laugh at Weinstein’s faux outrage. The cathedral belongs to the Episcopal Church and, in contrast to “fundamentalist Christianity supremacy,” is home to refined mainline Protestant liberalism and political correctness.

The Episcopal Church and the Washington National Cathedral, because of their history as pastorate to America’s political and cultural elites, do often officiate in rites of American civil religion. Although small and declining, the Episcopal Church continues to play an outsized role in military chaplaincy.

In recent years the Episcopal Church is better known for LGBTQ advocacy and climate change activism than for robust Christian orthodoxy, much less “fundamentalism.” Oblivious or indifferent to that reality, Weinstein warned:

“If MRFF’s fervent attempts to exhaust all DoD administrative remedies to eliminate this fundamentalist Christian tyranny and oppression fail, MRFF will plan to stop this matter in federal court in Northern Virginia. The utilization of a Christian Bible to ‘swear in’ commanders of the new Space Force or any other DoD branch at ANY level is completely violative of the bedrock separation of church and state mandate of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

Of course, military commanders are sworn in on whatever book they choose, or no book at all. There is no compulsion, just as military chaplains of various religions can’t and don’t compel any service member to participate in any religious rites. And the chaplaincy doesn’t promote Christian “supremacy.” Recently the U.S. Army commissioned its first female Muslim candidate for chaplaincy. The chaplaincy represents America’s religious diversity, and it also reflects that most Americans identify as Christian.

Secularist fanatics like Weinstein believe religion should be effectively banished from public life. But humans are intrinsically spiritual. Every nation and community will have spirituality, just as each person has soul and spirit. America affirms religious freedom. America does not restrict religion to closets and basements. Religion is not strictly private or personal. It is communal and public.

For all their contemporary faddishness and occasional silliness, the Episcopal Church and the Washington National Cathedral serve important roles in mediating public religiosity in America, inimitably deploying the stately tools and arenas of their tradition. Authentic “fundamentalists” can offer nothing similar.

Weinstein called the brief National Cathedral Bible blessing a “constitutional horror.” But it was just the opposite, illustrating that religious institutions and religious voices are protected by the Constitution, which is essential to liberty for all people.

This article was originally published at Juicy Ecumenism, The Institute on Religion & Democracy's blog. Follow Mark on Twitter: @markdtooley

Mark Tooley became president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) in 2009. He joined IRD in 1994 to found its United Methodist committee (UMAction). He is also editor of IRD's foreign policy and national security journal, Providence. Follow Mark on Twitter @markdtooley.

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