Has The United States Army Declared Your Congregation An “Extremist Organization”?

In July 2020, the United States Army adopted Army Regulation 600–20. This is a part of Army Command Policy and published by the HQ of the Department of the Army.

Participation in extremist organizations and activities by Army personnel is inconsistent with the responsibilities of military service. It is the policy of the United States Army to provide EO and fair treatment for all Soldiers without regard to race, color, sex (including gender identity), national origin, religion, or sexual orientation. Enforcement of this policy is a responsibility of command, is vitally important to unit cohesion and morale, and is essential to the Army’s ability to accomplish its mission. It is the commander’s responsibility to maintain good order and discipline in the unit. Every commander has the inherent authority to take appropriate actions to accomplish this goal. This paragraph identifies prohibited actions by Soldiers involving extremist organizations, discusses the authority of the commander to establish other prohibitions, and establishes that violations of prohibitions contained in this paragraph or those established by a commander may result in prosecution under various provisions of the UCMJ. This paragraph must be used in conjunction with DoDI 1325.06.

a. Participation. Military personnel must reject participation in extremist organizations and activities. Extremist organizations and activities are ones that advocate—

(1) Racial, sex (including gender identity), sexual orientation, or ethnic hatred or intolerance.

(2) Creating or engaging in discrimination based on race, color, sex (including gender identity), national origin, religion, or sexual orientation.

(3) The use of force or violence or unlawful means to deprive individuals of their rights under the United States Constitution or the laws of the United States, or any State.

(4) Support for terrorist organizations or objectives.

b. Prohibitions. Soldiers are prohibited from the following actions in support of extremist organizations or activ- ities. Penalties for violations of these prohibitions include the full range of statutory and regulatory sanctions, both criminal (UCMJ), and administrative.

(1) Participating in public demonstrations or rallies.

(2) Attending a meeting or activity with the knowledge that the meeting or activity involves an extremist cause when—

…(6) Distributing literature on or off a military installation, the primary purpose and content of which concerns advocacy or support of extremist causes, organizations, or activities; and it appears that the literature presents a clear danger to the loyalty, discipline, or morale of military personnel or the distribution would materially interfere with the accomplishment of a military mission. (p. 30).

The great question facing Christians serving in the US Army (and perhaps other branches as well) is this: what are the implications of this language? “Racial, sex (including gender identity), sexual orientation, or ethnic hatred or intolerance”? What constitutes “intolerance”? What is the status of the church under these regulations?

On p. 34, under the heading, “Relationships of Soldiers of Different Grades” there is an explicit exception for churches and other organizations:

d. These prohibitions are not intended to preclude unit-based normal team building or activity based on interaction which occurs in the context of community based, religious, or fraternal associations such as scouting, youth or adult sports leagues or teams; membership in organizations such as the Masons or Elks; religious activities including chapel, church, synagogue, mosque, or religious education; Family gatherings; unit-based social functions; or athletic events.

Under the new regulations regarding “extremist organizations,” however, there is no exception for churches or other religious organizations. The omission is notable. Without any exception it is difficult to see how many congregations might not not now be deemed  “extremist organizations.”

It is also striking that the regulations specifically exempt “fraternal organizations” (e.g., the Masons) regarding fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel. Is the Army aware of the oaths that Masons take? We Christians might read or sing an imprecatory Psalm in worship but we do not take the sorts of oaths that Masons take.

Of course the Army has an interest in its soldiers not participating in organizations advocating illegal violence against minorities etc. Of course the Army has an interest in good order and discipline. It is clear, however, the the Army (as are other branches of the military) is being used to achieve radical social goals. What is the status of Paul’s language to the Romans?

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them (Rom 1:24–32).

Scripture unequivocally condemns same-sex (homo-sexual) sexual desire, passions, and activity. Orthodox Christian churches are obligated to affirm Paul’s language. It would seem rather difficult to square the biblical and historic Christian condemnation of same-sex attraction (so-called “Side B” Christianity) and same-sex activity with the Army’s requirement that its members refrain from participating in any organization that advocates intolerance of homosexuals or homosexual behavior.

To be perfectly clear, the historic Christian sexual ethic does not imply or require that members of the LGBTQ+ community be treated badly or unjustly or rudely. Members of that community deserve the full protection of the law against violence. The LGBTQ+ community, however, has made it clear that they are not satisfied with civil toleration. They want social and legal affirmation. Again, what do the Army regulations mean by “intolerant”? Does avoiding intolerance require affirmation?

It was not that long ago that the entire US Military (and much of the rest of the government) practiced the very same intolerance now condemned in these regulations. In 2008 President Obama himself opposed same-sex marriage on the basis of his Christian commitments. Prior to the Clinton administration homosexuals were not permitted to serve in the United States military. Of course the notion that “transgender” persons would be admitted to the military was not even on the table. Any soldier who began cross-dressing would have been discharged on grounds of mental illness or unfitness for duty.

Some homosexuals did serve but when they were discovered they were given a dishonorable discharge. Then, under Clinton Administration adopted the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” but that was not sufficient for the Obama administration, which ditched “don’t ask, don’t tell” in favor of an affirmation of the right of open homosexuals to serve in the military. The current Army regulations were adopted under the Trump Administration. Now, of course, quite notoriously, military personnel in all branches are being taught to affirm all sexual identities and orientations (LTBTQ+).

The historic Christian sexual ethic forbids Christians from practicing sexual immorality and from affirming sexual immorality. This has always been our understanding of the seventh commandment. One should notice too that the Apostle Paul grounded his repudiation of same-sex orientations and behavior in nature. Christians have historically understood that same-sex orientations and behavior are contrary to the natural law of God, which is a reflection of the divine nature.

In other words, for Christians who hold the historic, traditional, biblical (and for Presbyterian and Reformed Christians, confessional) sexual ethic, it is not a matter of prejudice but principle that requires them to think and believe what they do.

When the United States went to war against the Nazis and the Axis Powers in World War II and against Communist expansion in Korea and Vietnam, or even against Iraq’s attempt conquest of Kuwait or against the terrorist organizations who attacked on 9/11, good order and discipline did not require military personnel to positively affirm homosexuality nor did it require personnel to refrain from organizations (e.g., churches) which condemn same-sex orientation or behavior (or the rest of LGBTQ+ spectrum). Obviously such regulations are not inherently necessary to execution of the mission of the military.

Government regulations are often vague and we should not doubt that Army lawyers (JAG) who helped to draft these regulations wrote them with enough wiggle room to give officers latitude to do as they will. Given the trajectory of military policy since the Obama Administrations, however, how long will it be before Christians are declared unfit to serve in the US military? That question would have been considered absurd on 9/11 but it is an open question facing Christians who wear the uniform of the U. S. Army in 2022.

The question is not whether Christians are right are wrong. The question is whether the US Military has a right to adopt policies that potentially infringe on the religious liberties of US service members in violation of the US Constitution as interpreted in the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act?

©R Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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3 comments

  1. One also needs to remember that we are living in the days of a “volunteer” army. Such was true, of course during the Iraq invasion, but issues of gender preference, etc. had not yet come in to being at that time. Meanwhile, soldiers for WW2, Korea, and Viet Nam were drafted, if they had not previously enlisted. So the Army got what it needed by default.

    Nowadays, enlistees have to join on the basis of everything from patriotism to the lack of any other likely source of lucrative employment. As a result, particularly in view of the rapid decline of cultural gender, sexual orientation, and other preference standards over the past several decades, the military has had to tweak its standards so as to not purposely (or incidentally) offend any one of these previously brainwashed groups coming out the country’s secondary schools. So they’re taking the easy way out. Long term, these recent Army regulations may provide a lucrative playground for lawyers.

  2. The pastor of our local independent fundamental Baptist church, who also runs our county’s largest (and for many years only) Christian school, which is attended by a number of Reformed military personnel, has been warning about this for many years, including at several meetings of our local Republican club.

    This is a real issue, not just a theory, and conservative churches near military installations need to be aware that an Army commander probably has the legal right to place their churches “off limits” to military personnel if the commander saw fit to do so.

    It hasn’t happened to my knowledge anywhere. The current political reality is that our military is much more conservative than our broader culture.

    But if our national culture continues to drift leftward, it is possible that a commander in a liberal community where a local church is unpopular might try this. Right now all that prevents it from happening is that our military commanders usually have enough sense not to do something that will torpedo their careers. There may come a day when an action like this would not torpedo their careers, but be viewed as a positive action.

    That day isn’t today, but the legal authority is in place to do some pretty awful things.

    • Regarding Masons — I am **NOT** defending Masons or Masonry, but the Masons have functioned as a “no-rank club” in military circles since before the United States existed as a unified country. A lot of things happen at lodge meetings, and at Boy Scout and Girl Scout meetings, and in churches and similar social groups, that would be considered “fraternization” in a different context. That’s the reason for the exemption for such activities.

      In an all-volunteer force, it’s understood that people have lives and families outside of their military service, but these are not new exemptions. They’ve been around pretty much forever, and existed back in the day when “common sense” made official regulations like this unnecessary.

      I also need to clarify this comment: “The pastor of our local independent fundamental Baptist church…” I should have said “The pastor of OUR COMMUNITY’S local independent fundamental Baptist church…” I know and like their pastor, but he and I both know we need to be in different churches. He does have a number of Reformed people who attend his church since he preaches exegetically and runs a Christian school, but I’ve only visited a few times, and even if I wanted to join, I wouldn’t qualify for membership since I’m not going to get rebaptized. A lot of military personnel keep their membership in their home church, so for them, attending a non-Reformed church for a few years when there are no viable Reformed alternatives without driving more than an hour (as I do) is not a problem. It would be a very major problem if they were living here permanently and had to join a local church. That’s one of the realities of military life — the military moves people around every two to three years, and it may be difficult or impossible to find a Reformed church in the community where Uncle Sam sends people. Attending a church that is clearly conservative, preaches exegetically, values Christian education, and isn’t hostile to Reformed people may be the only realistic choice for military personnel who have young children and simply cannot drive from Fort Leonard Wood more than an hour to Springfield or more than two hours to St. Louis. The same is true for many other military installations — when I lived outside Cannon Air Force Base, I drove nearly two hours to a small OPC before it closed, and then more than two hours to a different OPC, but most Reformed people I knew at Cannon AFB chose to attend one of several local Baptist churches that were friendly to the Reformed faith.

      The problem is acute for military personnel because they move so much and have little or no choice about where they get sent, but it’s also a problem for people in civilian life in a lot of companies that expect people to be willing to move to get promoted. I’ve known senior managers from Reformed backgrounds who got sent to communities with no Reformed churches, and worked as hard as they could to get promoted again so they could go elsewhere, but in the meantime they had to put up with the reality that they had no local church they could join without rebaptism.

      Like it or not, that’s the reality of being Reformed in large parts of the United States where there are few or no Reformed options.

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