Brigadier General E. John Teichert was recently appointed as commander of the 412th Test Wing, located at the Edwards Air Force Base in California. It’s an important position, as this group really manages the aircraft (and weapons and software and simulations) used by the Air Force.
The press release marking Teichert’s appointment made clear just how important all of this is:
After taking the reins from [Brig. Gen. Carl] Schaefer, who has led the 412th TW since April 2015, Teichert now leads a wing of more than 8,000 personnel in the developmental test and evaluation of the F-35, KC-46, F-22, F-16, B-1, B-2, B-52, C-17, C-130, KC-135, Global Hawk, joint remotely piloted aircraft and emerging technologies. Additionally, Teichert is the installation commander responsible for operating the base and supporting more than 11,000 military members and their families, civil service members and defense contractors on the second largest base in the U.S. Air Force.
The new Edwards commander stressed his appreciation of the Edwards people and its mission to provide the most lethal and technologically advanced aircraft and aircraft systems to the military.
“We are all here to make sure we test tomorrow’s technology today, for the warfighter,” Teichert said. “As you undoubtedly know, this place, Edwards Air Force Base and the 412th Test Wing, is world renowned because of what you do for the warfighter. Edwards AFB has an oversized impact on our current and future capabilities to make sure that America’s arsenal is as strong as possible because of what you do for the warfighter. I so deeply look forward to serving alongside of you over the course of the next few years.”
What has gone unmentioned in all this is how Teichert has been running an online Christian ministry for years, arguably violating military policy, in which he also expressed a desire to convert people under his command as well as his superiors.
For years now, Teichert has run a group called Prayer at Lunchtime for the United States, in which he’s posted articles and interviews merging church and state. He also has no problem using this military achievements while proselytizing — a major no-no.
When he spoke at a religious conference in 2016, he used his military title in his description. On blog posts he made, he falsely said “our nation was founded by Christians as a Christian nation.” Then there’s the list of people he wants everyone to pray for, including Donald Trump, “A return to our Biblical foundation,” “Christian leaders to find favor among men,” and “Key leaders to accept Christ as their Savior.”
Perhaps the most egregious thing he’s ever said was during a 2017 sermon for Fountain City Baptist Church in Alabama. You can hear it around the 7:30 mark or in the clip below:
… I would ask for your prayers for wisdom in my life of leadership and discernment and understanding and knowledge for influence over the nation’s senior leaders that I get to rub shoulders with. My desire in my life is to maximize my impact on people in our country for the Lord.
Maybe you’re thinking this isn’t good news, but it’s also not a big deal. Don’t politicians do things like this all the time? Don’t they constantly promote religion even when they’re supposed to help all of their constituents?
Well, according to the Air Force standards, which are often more restrictive than the laws all the rest of us have to follow, all Air Force leaders “must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief.” That’s a problem for Teichert, since he’s promoted his religion in part by linking it to his military service with no disclaimer that he’s only speaking for himself.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation and its founder Mikey Weinstein are now asking Defense Secretary James Mattis to investigate whether Teichert’s conduct “interferes with or violates the diversity or equal opportunities of service-members and civilians under his command.” The letter is written on behalf of 41 MRFF clients (32 of whom are Christians), “many of whom are in mortal fear of retaliation should they be personally identified in this matter.”
… Brig Gen Teichert’s fundamentalist Christian beliefs are — to whatever extent he feels like believing — his own to have privately, but as the Commander of an 11,000 person Wing, cannot withstand constitutional and legal scrutiny when he overtly and publicly preaches those beliefs, especially without the mandated disclaimers, on his webpage and postings. What about the Airmen and civilians at the 412th Test Wing who are agnostics, atheists, Buddhists, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, etc., or who are non-religious? What “equal opportunity” do they have with a commander who is publicly intolerant of their personal beliefs or non-beliefs? How can a commissioned officer, much less a general officer, who has taken an oath to “support and defend the Constitution,” openly and publicly defy the storied principles of the First Amendment remain an officer?
No one would take seriously a proposal for the Air Force to have separate squadrons for Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists, Muslims, Mormons, Wiccans, Atheists, etc., or non-religious personnel. That would stand the core value of “service before self” on its head. Yet, that is precisely the effect (if not overt intent) of Brig Gen Teichert’s actions here… if you are not part of his personal religious orientation, whether you believe in religion or not, you are not part of the 412th Test Wing’s “team.”
MRFF says “General Teichert should be doing time behind prison bars, not commanding a Wing wearing General’s stars”… which, like much of their rhetoric, is turned up to 11, however they would argue they’re just trying to make sure everyone’s following the rules. In the military, this sort of religious promotion — as if the military is on some sort of religious crusade — could get people killed.
Weinstein also notes that Teichert violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice along with Supreme Court rulings that make clear how military leaders don’t have the same First Amendment rights as the rest of us.
Newsweek points out that this is part of a long descent into religious conservatism for the U.S. military:
Fundamentalist Christianity has been gaining ground in the U.S. military, especially after 9/11. In 2011, it was revealed that chaplains at another California Air Force base, Vandenburg, were teaching a course in “Christian Just War Theory,” in which they used the Bible and Christ’s teachings to justify atomic warfare. A year before that, the military admitted that hundreds of thousands of high-powered rifle sights inscribed with “Jesus secret codes” were being provided to troops in the Middle East — a direct violation of military rules prohibiting religious proselytizing in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to avoid accusations of a “crusade.”
So what happens now? Either Teichert needs to apologize for using his military titles to promote Jesus, wipe his hands clean of the ministry so there’s no confusion, and reiterate how he will support all troops regardless of their religious beliefs.
On a day when FBI agent Peter Strzok was fired for privately conveying his distaste for Donald Trump (even though he had no love for Hillary Clinton, either), Teichert’s call for prayers for Trump along with his open desire to preach Christianity via the military should be far more troubling.