On May 4, Al Jazeera English ran a report suggesting that U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan may have been violating anti-proselytizing rules by distributing Dari-and Pashto-language New Testament Bibles.
Central Command General Order No. 1 specifically forbids “proselytizing of any faith, religion or practice.” The footage came from documentary filmmaker Brian Hughes
The report showed a service from approximately a year ago, with the head U.S. military chaplain in Afghanistan, Lt. Colonel Gary Hensley, talking about the need to spread the Gospel.
"The special forces guys — they hunt men basically," Hensley said. "We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down. Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That’s what we do, that’s our business."
In another clip, Sgt. Jon Watt mentions during a Bible study class: "My church collected some money to get Bibles for Afghanistan. They came and sent the money out."
In a discussion about General Order No. 1, Watt says "you can’t proselytize, but you can give gifts."
In the extended documentary footage Watt talks about how this worked in Iraq. "I bought a carpet and then I gave the guy a Bible after I conducted my business… The expressions that I got from the people in Iraq [were] just phenomenal, they were hungry for The Word."
The day of the Al Jazeera English broadcast, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen was asked about the report.
"My reaction is twofold," Mullen said. "One is that I’m not aware of the details of this and certainly want to know more about it. Secondly, it certainly is — from the United States military’s perspective — not our position to ever push any specific kind of religion. Period."
Pentagon officials immediately began assailing the story as "wrong." Pentagon officials said that Lt. Col. Hensley was not promoting the proselytizing of Afghans, and Watt was counseled not to distribute them.
Though a discussion about what to do with the Bibles was captured on video, Pentagon officials said the end result that the Bibles were not distributed but confiscated by the chaplain — which is not shown in the footage.
"A documentary filmmaker was allowed onto Bagram last May to shoot footage of religious sessions involving troops," the Pentagon said. "He recorded a session where a participant displayed Bibles translated into Dari and Pashto that had been sent to him by his church back home. After a discussion of how or if they should be distributed, the chaplain running the service reaffirmed Gen. Order No. 1 and the Bibles were not distributed and were confiscated."
As to the Lt. Col. Hensley urging his congregation to hunt people for Jesus, the Pentagon official said the chaplain was speaking in general terms and not urging them to go out into Afghanistan to convert locals.
(That, of course, does not touch the issue of Sgt. Watt distributing Bibles in Iraq.)
On May 5, Army spokeswoman Major Jennifer Willis told Reuters that at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan "the Bibles shown on Al Jazeera’s clip were, in fact, collected by the chaplains and later destroyed. They were never distributed."
Today, Christian Broadcasting’s David Brody says "the Bibles were burned because the rules on the base say that all garbage is burned at the end of the day. But just asking here; if the U.S. Military seized a stack full of Korans, would they be burned? You think that might cause a little outrage in the Muslim world?"
Brody also makes note of The Great Commission in the Book of Matthew where Jesus says "(G)o and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."