FORT BENNING, Ga. — The U.S. Army has issued a “letter of concern” to a Georgia chaplain for citing the Bible during a recent suicide prevention training session.
According to reports, Col. David Fivecoat, the commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Fort Benning, Ga., ordered Chaplain (CPT) Joe Lawhorn, to come to his office on Thanksgiving Day, at which time he presented him with the letter. Fivecoat expressed concern over the content of the session with the 5th Ranger Training Battalion at the University of North Georgia.
According to the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, during the training session at issue, Lawhorn spoke about his past personal struggle with depression when he was a ranger, and explained that he overcame the condition after considering the example of King David in the Scriptures. He also provided other generic resources that he thought may be helpful to those attending the session.
“During this training, you advocated, or were perceived to advocate, for Christianity and used Christian Scripture and solutions,” the letter from Fivecoat read. “This is in direct contrast with Army Regulation 600-20 and violates the Army’s Equal Opportunity Policy.”
He then strictly informed Lawhorn that he needed to be more diverse in this thinking.
“As the battalion chaplain, you are entrusted with the emotional and spiritual well-being of the soldiers in the batallion,” Fivecoat wrote. “You, above all others, must be cognizant of the various beliefs held by diverse soldiers. During mandatory training briefings, it is imperative you create an environment of tolerance and understanding.”
He advised Lawhorn that the letter would be placed in his local personnel file for up to three years, but stated that Lawhorn had several days to submit a response, after which Fivecoat would either file or withdraw the letter.
But the Alliance saw nothing wrong with Lawhorn’s presentation, so it responded to Fivecoat on the chaplain’s behalf.
“Chaplain Lawhorn did what good chaplains do; he was candid, genuine and authentic,” wrote Alliance Director Chaplain (Col.) Ron Crews, USA Retired. “He spoke from first person to let his soldiers know that he too deals with depression.”
“Revealing his personal struggle with depression required a large measure of courage and mutual trust,” he continued. “His story involves his faith journey. … I also remind you that his use of his faith journey is covered by the Right of Conscience clause…”
Crews asked that Fivecoat’s “letter of concern” not be placed in Lawhorn’s file.
“No chaplain should be threatened for doing exactly what a chaplain is supposed to do,” Crews added in a recent press release about the matter. “Chaplains bare their souls for their soldiers to help them with crises they may be going through. That’s what chaplains do. Chaplain Lawhorn should be commended not condemned.”
A final decision has not yet been issued as to whether the Fivecoat will stand by or rescind his letter.