By Worthy News Chief International Correspondent Stefan J. Bos with reports from the United States and Afghanistan
WASHINGTON/KABUL (Worthy News)– The president of a US-based group helping Christians persecuted for their faith has expressed outrage that United States military personnel have burned confiscated Bibles in Afghanistan.
"It really should shake the core of every Christian to realize that Bibles are being burned," said Carl Moeller President of Open Doors USA in an interview with Mission Network News monitored Friday, May 22, by Worthy News.
The Bibles, printed in the two most common Afghan languages, were burned amid concern they would be used to try to convert Afghans, the Cable News Network (CNN) quoted a a Defense Department spokesman as saying.
The unsolicited Bibles sent by a church in the United States were confiscated about a year ago at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan because military rules forbid troops of "any religion" from proselytizing while deployed there, Lt. Col. Mark Wright said.
Such religious outreach can endanger American troops and civilians in the devoutly Muslim nation, Wright added.
"The decision was made that it was a 'force protection' measure to throw them away, because, if they did get out, it could be perceived by Afghans that the U.S. government or the U.S. military was trying to convert Muslims," Wright said.
The military said a soldier at Bagram received the Bibles and didn't realize he wasn't allowed to hand them out. The Al Jazeera network has shown footage of the Bibles at a prayer service where an unnamed soldier says members of his church raised money for them.
The chaplain later "corrected" the soldier and confiscated the Bibles, Wright said.
However military analyst and Pentagon adviser, Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis, criticized the move. "There is no need to burn the Bibles. They could have been shipped back," he said. "Just imagine if we, the same the United States military, were to take a bunch of Korans and burn them. I can imagine the ramifications across the world."
In a statement, the Pentagon said military officers considered sending the Bibles back to the church, but they worried the church would turn around and send them to another organization in Afghanistan — giving the impression that they had been distributed by the U.S. government.
There is reportedly a tiny Christian minority in Afghanistan, however especially former converts can faith death because of their faith, several rights investigators have confirmed.
The row over the Bible burning comes shortly after the Pentagon announced this week that it no longer includes a Bible quote on the cover page of daily intelligence briefings it sends to the White House as was practice during the George W. Bush administration.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he did not know how long the Worldwide Intelligence Update cover sheets quoted from the Bible. Air Force Maj. Gen. Glen Shaffer, who was responsible for including them, retired in August 2003, according to his biography.
On Thursday, April 10, 2003, for example, the report quoted the book of Psalms — "Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him. … To deliver their soul from death." — and featured pictures of the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down and celebrating crowds in Baghdad, reported the Associated Press news agency.
"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand," read the cover quote two weeks earlier, on March 31, above a picture of a U.S. tank driving through the desert, according to the magazine, which obtained copies of the documents.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has said U.S. soldiers "are not Christian crusaders, and they ought not be depicted as such."
"Depicting the Iraq conflict as some sort of holy war is completely outrageous," Lynn said in a statement. "It's contrary to the constitutional separation of religion and government, and it's tremendously damaging to America's reputation in the world."
While the policy was controversial, supporters said it was aimed at relieving some of the stress faced by President Bush, as the death toll of American troops continued rising in Iraq and Afghanistan.