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Religion Last Updated: Mar 13th, 2008 - 00:10:08

Navy chaplain who called for attack on Islam finds his credentials under scrutiny
By Jason Leopold
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Mar 13, 2008, 01:06

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On paper, Lieutenant Commander Brian K. Waite, a United States Navy chaplain, appears to be one of the nation's foremost scholars on a wide range of topics such as traumatology, theology, and Biblical history.

According to the July 2005 issue of "Tower Notes," the newsletter of the Graduate Theological Foundation, where Waite is the Father Francis Duffy Professor of Military Chaplaincy, the Navy chaplain's official biography states that he holds two doctorates, a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Georgia's Covington Theological Seminary, and a doctorate in Religious Studies from American Christian College and Seminary in Oklahoma.

But a closer look at Waite's credentials shows that the chaplain, who serves tens of thousands of military personnel, may not be as scholarly as he holds himself out to be.

Indeed, Covington Theological Seminary is just one of the religious institutions on Waite's lengthy resume that has been identified as a "diploma mill," and has been found to award degrees to students through "correspondence" studies. Covington had received its accreditation status by The International Accrediting Commission for Schools, Colleges and Theological Seminaries (IAC) of Missouri, which was caught up in a federal investigation more than a decade ago for accrediting more than 150 higher learning institutions that failed to meet the most basic standards under the US Department of Education, the Generally Accepted Accrediting Principles, and the Council on Higher Education (CHEA).

In 1989, Missouri's attorney general launched an investigation to determine the ease of which IAC awarded accreditation to schools, particularly Bible colleges, as long as the educational institutions had the cash. The attorney general set up a fictitious college, the East Missouri Business College, and rented a one-room office in St. Louis and issued a typewritten catalog with such school executives as "Peelsburi Doughboy" and "Wonarmmd Mann."

"Their marine biology text was The Little Green Book of Fishes. The school's motto, translated from Latin, was "Education is for the birds," according to Bears' Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning, written by John and Mariah Bear. "Nonetheless, Dr. George Reuter, Director of the IAC, visited the school, accepted their money, and duly accredited them. Soon after, the IAC was enjoined from operating and slapped with a substantial fine, and the good Dr. Reuter decided to retire."

In a article on "Degree Mills," John Bear, who worked as a consultant with the FBI on the issue from 1979 to 1992, addressed the specific problems that arise in dealing with religious schools.

"Because constitutional safeguards in the United States guarantee separation of church and state, most states have been reluctant to pass any laws restricting the activities of churches -- including their right to grant degrees to all who make an appropriately large donation," John Baer wrote. "In many states, religious schools are not regulated but are restricted to granting religious degrees. But in some, like Louisiana and Hawaii, if you established your own one-person church yesterday, you could start your university today and award a Ph.D. in nuclear physics tomorrow. Many states say that religious schools can only grant religious degrees. A diploma mill in Louisiana took that argument to new limits, when they announced that because God created everything, no matter what you studied, it was the study of the work of God, and therefore a religious degree. Twice, the Louisiana courts upheld this argument."

Waite's other alma mater', American Christian College and Seminary, formerly American Bible College and Seminary, which itself was formerly the University of Biblical Studies & Seminary, permanently shut down in 2005 after losing their accreditation with the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS).

TRACS is a recognized accrediting association that also approved accreditation for Liberty University, Bob Jones University, and Patrick Henry College. American Christian College and Seminary, however, apparently didn't meet TRACS's rigorous standards. At the association's April 2003 meeting officials refused to reaffirm the school's accreditation because it failed to comply with numerous educational standards.

On the website for St. John's church, a civilian Anglican church near the military station where Waite is stationed, he is listed as a Former Priest Associate and Chaplain-in-Residence. Waite's bio on the church's website contains additional information about his background that could not be verified with state officials. The bio states, "Chaplain Waite is also recognized as one of the foremost traumatologists in the nation, holding certification as a Field Traumatologist with the International Traumatology Institute at the University of South Florida. He holds 'Diplomat' [sic] status with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, and has served as point person for Harvard University�s Crisis Response portion of the Kennedy School of Government�s National Securities Program."

"Field Traumatologist" appears to be the lowest level of certification issued by the University of South Florida's International Traumatology Institute. The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress provides applicants with certification in traumatology by simply filling out an application for a fee of $375, according to its website.

Military chaplains have come under fire from civil rights groups over the past several years for allegedly force-feeding soldiers on the battlefield a form of fundamentalist Christianity origination from highly controversial, apocalyptic "End Times" evangelists and their mega-churches. Evangelical Christians have become such a dominating presence in the military�s chaplain corps that the Air Force held a four-day Spiritual Fitness Conference at the Hilton Hotel in Colorado Springs in 2005 for chaplains and their families. The Air Force picked up the $300,000 tab it cost to stage the event.

The presence of evangelical Christian chaplains in the military is certainly nothing new, but it comes at what some believe are widespread constitutional violations with the full knowledge and support of Pentagon brass.

Chaplains and their evangelist counterparts who lead mega churches across the country have been invited to US military installations throughout the world and have been openly proselytizing military personnel, in violation of the basic tenets of the United States Constitution. Under federal law, chaplains are only authorized to offer �spiritual guidance� to soldiers. They are strictly prohibited from using government resources to proselytize or convert soldiers.

Last year, Col. William Broome, the Pentagon chaplain, and his deputy, Maj. Alan Pomaville, invited David Kistler, president of Hickory, North Carolina-based H.O.P.E. Ministries International, to speak to DoD employees at a Pentagon prayer breakfast June 6 and in the Pentagon auditorium June 7, according to a copy of a recent newsletter published by H.O.P.E Ministries. Kistler, according to written statements made to his congregation, spent a considerable amount of his time at the Pentagon proselytizing DoD employees in violation of federal law.

Kistler is a somewhat controversial figure whose sermons contain apocalyptic messages and bizarre prophecies. He believes certain Democratic lawmakers will burn in hell while "good Christians," such as President Bush, will be swept up into the heavens.

The Rapture will soon vacuum up good Christians, including George W. Bush, to Heaven, he said in a past sermon to his congregation. Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton will not be Raptured up to Heaven. Following The Rapture, the Anti-Christ will appear and children will be "micro-chipped."

Last August, the Pentagon's inspector general (IG), acting on a complaint filed by the nonprofit government watchdog group rhw Military Religious Freedom Foundation, issued a 47-page report that concluded that high-ranking Army and Air Force personnel violated long-standing military policy by appearing in a promotional video for an evangelical Christian organization while in uniform and on active duty.

The IG report recommended Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack Catton, Army Brig. Gen. Bob Caslen, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton, and a colonel and lieutenant colonel "improperly endorsed and participated with a non-Federal entity while in uniform" and the men should be disciplined for misconduct. Caslen was formerly the deputy director for political-military affairs for the war on terrorism, directorate for strategic plans and policy, joint staff. He now oversees the cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Caslen told DoD investigators he agreed to appear in the video upon learning other senior Pentagon officials had been interviewed for the promotional video.

The report singled out former Pentagon Chaplain Col. Ralph G. Benson, whom the inspector general said knowingly mislead the Department of Defense when he requested permission from DoD officials to film a video inside the Pentagon claiming he was interested in gathering information about the Pentagon's "own ministry." In fact, the report says, Benson was determined to use the video to "attract new supporters" to the Christian Embassy, an evangelical organization that evangelizes members of the military and politicians in Washington, DC, via daily Bible studies and outreach events. The group holds prayer breakfasts on Wednesdays in the Pentagon's executive dining room, according to the organization's web site. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, founded the Christian Embassy 30 years ago.

Mikey Weinstein, the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), discovered the video on the Christian Embassy web site. Weinstein drafted a letter to the inspector general alleging misconduct by the officers, citing the military's strict policy that prohibits military personnel from appearing in uniform and participating in "speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches, rallies or any public demonstration . . . which may imply Service sanction of the cause for which the demonstration or activity is conducted."

Weinstein said the military brass who participated in the video "were clearly identified by their positions within the Defense Department, however, the video did not include any disclaimers indicating that the views expressed were not those of the Defense Department."

Recently, President Bush nominated Brig. Gen. Cecil R. Richardson, the Deputy Air Force Chief of Chaplains, to replace the outgoing Air Force Chief of Chaplains, and Richardson is in line to be promoted to Major General. Richardson was quoted in a front page, July 12, 2005, New York Times story saying the Air Force reserves the right "to evangelize the unchurched." The distinction, Richardson said at the time, "is that proselytizing is trying to convert someone in an aggressive way, while evangelizing is more gently sharing the gospel."

Weinstein filed a federal lawsuit against the Air Force in October 2005 after Richardson's comments were published alleging "severe, systemic and pervasive" religious discrimination within the Air Force. Weinstein is a 1977 graduate of the academy. His sons and a daughter-in-law are also academy graduates. Weinstein's book, "With God On Our Side: One Man's War Against An Evangelical Coup in America's Military," details the virulent anti-Semitism he was subjected to while he attended the academy and the religious intolerance that has permeated throughout the halls over the past several years.

The federal lawsuit Weinstein filed was dismissed, but the Air Force agreed to withdraw a document that authorized chaplains to evangelize members of the military. The Senate Armed Services Committee has endorsed Richardson�s promotion. Still, Weinstein said MRFF would lobby senators to oppose Richardson's nomination because of past statements Richardson has refused to retract.

Neither Chaplain Waite, who is not currently assigned to the U.S. Navy Operational Ministries Center in Norfolk, Virginia, nor a Pentagon spokesperson returned calls for comment. A spokeswoman for the Graduate Theological Foundation, where Waite is listed as a faculty member, also did not return calls or emails for comment.

Waite, who was formerly the pastor of a 3,600 member mega-church in Oklahoma City, first came under scrutiny last year when MRFF senior research director Chris Rodda noticed Waite�s photograph on a website for Revival Fire Ministries, a fundamentalist Christian organization. Waite was photographed in his Navy uniform which is prominently displayed on the Revival Fires website and was featured in a brochure for a 2006 camp meeting that advertised Waite as having "distributed thousands of Bibles provided by Revival Fires" in Iraq. He believes the organization has played an integral part in the war on terror.

"I believe Revival Fires truly became a genuine hero in the war on terror," Waite says in a statement that appears under his photograph on Revival Fires� website. "Not knowing where I was going to get a sufficient number of God's Word for my men, I began to inquire from others about the possibility of securing bibles. The immediate response I received was that Revival Fires had provided literally thousands of copies of the Word of God for the U.S. Military. Needless to say, I could not pass them out fast enough."

In an article in Oklahoma�s Ponca City News last August, Waite said that the distribution of Bibles to US troops in 2003 resulted in several dozen troops asking to be baptized.

�I personally saw 60 men come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I baptized 44 of them at midnight (for security reasons) in the Tigris River on Easter Sunday, with another 16 following shortly thereafter," Waite said, according to the report in the Ponca City News.

However, photographs of the baptism, which were featured on the Baptist Press website show that the ceremony took place in broad daylight. Moreover, Waite said that 20 members of the military who asked to be baptized were turned away because they �did not seem ready to make such a commitment.�

Last October, Waite appeared in an advertisement published in Time magazine using his Navy chaplaincy position to promote another fundamentalist Christian organization. That too would be a violation of Military regulations.

Weinstein excoriated Waite for exaggerating his educational background as well as Waite�s alleged constitutional violations conducted in the name of religion.

�Chaplain Waite is to the United States Navy�s military chaplaincy what doctor Joseph Mengele was to Nazi concentration camp medicine," Weinstein said in an interview. �Chaplain Waite�s educational credentials are rivaled only by Ronald McDonald and his stellar job at Hamburger College. Sadly, this man�s constitutional violations are far more typical of the military chaplaincy today than being an exception to the rule.�

Weinstein's organization also discovered that Chaplain Waite is the author of an anti-Islamic book that calls in to question whether he can provide religious support to all faiths. Details about Waite's book, which was first published in January on the website led to further investigation into Waite's tenure as a chaplain in the US Navy.

Waite is the author of "Islam Uncovered," which holds that the Muslim faith is itself culpable for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, reported.

"Undoubtedly our world will experience additional terrorist attempts or strikes all in the name of Allah. Some of these attacks may occur within the borders of our own nation by the remaining cell groups interspersed and hiding among the Muslim population of the United States. My words may make a number of Muslims in this country and abroad very uncomfortable. To them I would say, 'Deal with it!' The suspicion that you encounter is merely a consequence to your own belief system. . . . ," Waite's book says. " . . . Should Islam be immune from attack because it calls itself a religion? If Adolf Hitler called Nazism a religion, would we be speaking German today? Evil is evil, no matter what nomenclature it hides under."

The book was removed from bookstore shelves after it was discovered that Waite had plagiarized much of the material and that the supporting blurbs on the back cover of the book from prominent members of the religious community had been fabricated.

Waite is also the author of "For God & Country: One Chaplain's Perspective of War and the Life Lessons Learned," published in 2005. Waite portrays himself in the book as one of the many Americans who felt compelled to serve in the military in the wake of the 9/11. According to the book, Waite was the command chaplain for an Air Force Reserve unit when he got "the overwhelming urge that God had something else" for him to do, and then contradicts himself later in the book by writing that his return to active duty "had nothing to do with external circumstances in [his] life at the time."

Jason Leopold is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Mr. Leopold is also a two-time winner of the Project Censored award, most recently, in 2007, for an investigative story related to Halliburton's work in Iran.

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