Top Air Force chaplain cleared to take pulpit job
Col. Michael Whittington, a church member who will begin work Aug. 5 as the new senior minister at the Antioch, Tenn., church, told The Christian Chronicle that “this attack on Christianity at the Air Force Academy is far greater than a single person.”
“This strikes at the very heart of our constitutional freedom to exercise our religious faith,” Whittington said.
The 26-year Air Force veteran voiced his concerns in late July after the Pentagon removed an “administrative hold” on his retirement, allowing him to start his new preaching job on schedule.
Antioch hired Whittington last spring, expecting him to begin work in August. But then his retirement was put on hold after claims of religious intolerance and improper proselytizing by evangelical Christian officers erupted at the 4,300-student academy.
The Pentagon put a hold on Whittington’s retirement in June after Chaplain Capt. Melinda Morton claimed he ordered her transfer to Japan because she spoke out on religious diversity. But that hold was removed July 20, academy spokesman Johnny Whitaker said.
“God’s in control of the situation and we knew that his timing would be just right,” said Kent Johnson, an elder at the 1,000-member Antioch church. “We knew that Whit would report to us when he was supposed to.”
Whitaker referred questions about the Morton inquiry to Pentagon spokesmen, who did not return calls seeking comment.
“I would like to discuss the details of the bogus accusations,” Whittington said, “but Air Force regulation prohibits me from talking about it until after my retirement.”
Critics claim evangelicals in and out of uniform speak out too aggressively, creating an academy environment that Americans United for Separation of Church and State characterized as “systematic and pervasive religious bias and intolerance at the highest levels,” according to Religion News Service. However, an executive with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family described the campaign against evangelicals as a “witch hunt.”
A military panel’s report on the academy’s religious climate found no “overt religious discrimination, but a failure to accommodate all members’ needs,” RNS reported. That panel was led by Lt. Gen. Roger Brady, a member of the Falls Church, Va., church.
Whittington said he’s confident his communications and leadership skills will benefit the Antioch church.
“We’re just so anxious to get to Antioch and start our new work,” he said. “It’s an honor for my wife Debbie and me to go there. I believe in God’s providence and plan to serve the Antioch church and community as long as the Lord wants me to.”