Published May 04, 2009
Arlington, VA -- The U.S. Military said that reports from Al Jazeera English that evangelical Christian soldiers in Afghanistan handed out Bibles to local Afghans and operated under instructions from their chaplain to "hunt people for Jesus" grossly misrepresent the truth and that in reality Bibles were confiscated, not handed out.
The Al Jazeera broadcast includes a video taken a year ago in which a small group of U.S. Soldiers at Bagram Air Base are seen discussing what to do with a pile of Bibles printed in the Pashtu and Dari languages. In the video the chaplain points out that it is against the rules to proselytize. "But you can give gifts," another soldier in the room said.
The Bibles were mailed to a Sgt. James Watt from his hometown church while he was stationed at Bagram.
There is no proof the Bibles were confiscated, "but there is of course no proof they were handed out either", said U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, Col. Greg Julian.
Julian expressed frustration that stories like these and other controversial issues "may cause locals to lash out," possibly inciting more violence in the region.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen told reporters he had not heard of the reports at a press conference Monday at the Pentagon. "It certainly is, from the United States Military perspective, not our position to ever push an specific kind of religion. Period."
Al Jazeera claims, based on inside video obtained from an independent documentary director, that the evangelical group at Bagram had a clear purpose -- to spread Christianity. "They were on a mission, but it appears it was not just a military one," the video begins.
Col. Julian said the video was edited and only tells half the story. Had the video of the troops with the Bibles been played through, it would have shown that the chaplain instructed that the Bibles not be distributed, Col. Julian said.
And later on in the Al Jazeera broadcast Army Chaplain Lt. Col. Gary Hensley is seen instructing his congregation at the Evangelical Church at Bagram Air Base to "hunt people for Jesus." Those words were taken out of context, according to Julian. He said the chaplain was not referring to Afghans but was speaking to a group of Christians and explaining to them they needed to recruit other Americans.
The soldier responsible for bringing the Bibles to Bagram received counseling, but was not further reprimanded.
"He didn't break any rules," said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Wright, because the military was able to confiscate the Bibles before they were distributed. CENTCOM's general order No. 1 forbids U.S. soldiers from proselytizing.
A Marine caught handing out coins promoting Christianity to Iraqis in Fallujah about a year ago, infuriating Iraqi leaders, was quickly reprimanded by the U.S. Military.