Group Trains Air Force Cadets to Proselytize

By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 12, 2005

A private missionary group has assigned a pair of full-time Christian ministers to the U.S. Air Force Academy, where they are training cadets to evangelize among their peers, according to a confidential letter to supporters.

The letter makes clear that the organized evangelization effort has continued this year despite an outcry over alleged proselytizing at the academy that has prompted a Pentagon investigation, congressional hearings, a civil lawsuit and new Air Force guidelines on religion.

"Praise God that we have been allowed access by the Academy into the cadet areas to minister among the cadets. We have recently been given an unused classroom to meet with cadets at any time during the day," the husband-and-wife team of Darren and Gina Lindblom said in the Oct. 11 letter to their donors.

Following allegations of religious intolerance at the academy, the Air Force issued interim guidelines in late August that caution senior officers against discussing their faith with subordinates. But the guidelines do not limit "voluntary, peer to peer discussions," and they do not say whether Air Force officials can provide office space or other assistance to professional missionaries who train cadets to evangelize among their peers.

The Lindbloms' letter was made public by Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, a 1977 Air Force Academy alumnus who was a White House lawyer in the Reagan administration. He has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Air Force of violating the First Amendment's establishment clause by fostering evangelical Christianity over all faiths.

Weinstein, who has been joined in the suit by four recent graduates of the academy, said that some other religious groups are allowed onto the academy's campus, but only during certain hours and under close supervision by Air Force chaplains.

"The only group that gets 24/7 unrestricted access to cadets is this fundamentalist, born-again Christian group," Weinstein charged.

The Lindbloms are not chaplains hired by the military. They are private, full-time ministers assigned to the Air Force Academy by the Navigators, a Colorado-based group whose motto is: "To know Christ and to make Him known." It began in 1933 as a ministry to sailors and now has missionaries in 104 countries, according to its Web site.

Reached by telephone at their home in Colorado Springs, the Lindbloms declined to comment on their letter or their missionary work.

Lauren Libby, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Navigators, said the Lindbloms were assigned to the academy earlier this year, replacing a previous young couple. He said the Navigators have placed full-time staff members at the academy for more than a decade. "We're there as a spiritual resource to cadets," he said. "We've had a very good experience there."

Libby also said that the Navigators are following the Air Force guidelines, which have been criticized as infringing religious freedom by more than 70 members of Congress and several Christian lobbying groups, including Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition. "Those are the guidelines, and we honor them," Libby said.

In their letter, the Lindbloms referred several times to the guidelines and to Weinstein's lawsuit, saying that "we are vitally aware we are in the front lines of a spiritual battle."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company