Air Force officer under fire for saying Jesus Christ has influenced him; complaint asks he be 'visibly punished'

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Murad Sezer/Files)A U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17A Globemaster III large transport aircraft flies over a minaret after taking off from Incirlik air base in Adana, Turkey, in this August 12, 2015, file photo.

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (Christian Examiner) – The Military Religious Freedom Foundation wants an Air Force officer admonished for what the organization calls his "improper, coercive" comments, in which he says Jesus Christ has influenced the way he makes decisions.

In an Oct. 6 letter to Col. John Walker, commander of the 39th Air Base Wing, Mikey Weinstein – a former Air Force lawyer and president of MRFF – claimed Lt. Col. Michael Kersten violated military regulations when he answered a question put to him for an interview later posted on the base's website.

Lt. Col. Kersten was asked in an article titled, "Meet your leadership," if there was a leader from his career that influenced him the most and how they affected his leadership style.

As a Christian, my example is to be like Christ. He is my guide and affects all of my decisions. He teaches to do all things as unto the Lord and I believe this is synonymous with integrity first and excellence in all we do.
- Lt. Col. Michael Kersten

"There's no ONE in particular," Kersten said. "As a Christian, my example is to be like Christ. He is my guide and affects all of my decisions. He teaches to do all things as unto the Lord and I believe this is synonymous with integrity first and excellence in all we do."

Weinstein claimed in his letter 100 personnel from the base, located in a predominately Muslim country, contacted MRFF to complain. The comment, Weinstein said, also offended Turkish allies who work on the base. Christianity is already frowned upon there. Turkish militants have attacked Christians across the country and the government has eliminated Eastern Orthodox seminaries from within its borders. 

Weinstein claimed in the letter to Col. Walker that MRFF "strongly supports and would effusively defend Lt. Col. Kersten's personal right as he chooses," but not his public expression of it while serving in his capacity as leader of the 39th Medical Support Squadron at the base.

As is customary when the organization lodges a complaint, Weinstein cited Air Force Instruction 1-1 (paragraphs 2.11 and 2.12) which state that an airman, even though he possesses religious liberty, may not express his faith in a manner that has "an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety, or mission accomplishment."

Specifically, Weinstein claimed Kersten's comment is proselytism and shows favoritism toward Christianity. He also said it proves the officer is incapable of making any decision without first consulting Jesus.

"He has proclaimed to the entire Incirlik Air Base community that ALL of his decisions are based upon his Christian faith. Moreover, and perhaps even more outrageously, he claims that his exclusivist Christian faith is synonymous with two of the three Air Force official core values," Weinstein wrote.

"By unequivocally stating to the world that ALL of his decisions are based upon his Christian faith, he has broadcast to his otherwise helpless subordinates, and the multitudes of other military and civilian members which the Air Force Squadron he now commands directly and indirectly serves, that he will, in a professional setting, place decision-making primacy on his personal version of his Christian religious faith over his official military duty. One has to wonder how that sits with those who don't share his religious views. Will he (and by extension, his organization) treat non-believers, Jews or Muslims differently than Christians? He's certainly planted that all-too-substantial seed of doubt with our MRFF client complainants and that, in itself, violates AFI 1-1."

Weinstein also accused Kersten of a type of "Christian exceptionalism" and "Christian triumphalism" that excludes others and indicates his personal views will be put before his duty.

By unequivocally stating to the world that ALL of his decisions are based upon his Christian faith, he has broadcast to his otherwise helpless subordinates, and the multitudes of other military and civilian members which the Air Force Squadron he now commands directly and indirectly serves, that he will, in a professional setting, place decision-making primacy on his personal version of his Christian religious faith over his official military duty.
- Mikey Weinstein, MRFF

At the conclusion of the letter, Weinstein demanded Kersten be publicly reprimanded, "visibly punished," forced to apologize, and made to reaffirm the unit's commitment to religious, racial, sexual, political and ethnic diversity.

Weinstein and his foundation are frequently disappointed when Air Force officials find no malice, coercion or improper conduct on the part of the officers the group complains about. They have, however, been successful in some initiatives, such as getting Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin disinvited from speaking engagements for his religious viewpoints.  

Boykin, vice president with the Family Research Council, is one of the original members of Delta Force and former commander of all U.S. Special Operations Forces.