Top Military Chaplain Facing Disciplinary Measures Over John Piper’s Book … Piper Responds to Complaints

Camp Humphreys garrison chaplain Col. Moon H. Kim is the target of a complaint letter regarding his recommendation of John Piper’s free online book: “Coronavirus and Christ.” According to ArmyTimes.com, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF)  has called for an investigation into Col. Kim who serves as the Senior Chaplain at the largest U.S. military installation outside of the United States.

Col. Kim shared the book in an email to 35 chaplains in what the MRFF perceives as a tacit endorsement of all Piper’s views. The complaint takes specific issue with Piper’s assertion that the current global pandemic is part of God’s judgment.

The complaint letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper from MRFF’s founder and president Michael Weinstein begins: “I write to you today regarding an absolutely egregious and deplorable act taken by one of your most senior DoD chaplains serving today. A number of Christian military Chaplains from the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Air Force have asked the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to represent them regarding their collective outrage about this matter, and feel that they would be subjected to reprisal, retribution, revenge, and retaliation if they attempted to register their objections via the chain of command without anonymity.”

Weinstein upholds Piper’s right to his views and Kim’s rights to his beliefs. Where he draws the line is “that Chaplain (Colonel) Kim shares a document which propagate beliefs in vulgar contradiction to DoD and Army regulatory policy and the UCMJ and sends it out in his supervisorial capacity as THE Senior Chaplain at USAG Humphreys is in direct and wretched opposition to good order, morale, unit cohesion, and discipline. Indeed, it irrefutably establishes, by the very nature embedded in the power of his office, that this book by John Piper is his established or preferred view.”

The MRFF strongly explains that John Piper’s doctrinal position is not consistent with those of all serving military chaplains. Weinstein writes, “The book, pushing the belief that the Coronavirus is God’s judgment, is written by fundamentalist Christian preacher and author John Piper, and singles out, among other things, ‘the sin of homosexual intercourse’ as deserving ‘due penalty.’ Many of the Chaplains who received this unsolicited book from Chaplain (Colonel) Kim are from mainline and Progressive Christian denominations which do not subscribe to the ultra conservative/Reformed/evangelical Christian theology of John Piper.”

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Weinstein asks the Defense Secretary: “Is Chaplain (Colonel) Kim stating that this is THE preferred and established theology? Are military Chaplains of lesser power and rank free to raise their concerns and differ in the midst of a male, conservative/reformed/evangelical dominated, fundamentalist Christian technical Chaplain Chain? Those military Christian Chaplains on the receiving end of Chaplain (Colonel) Kim’s gross malfeasance, who have asked MRFF to speak for them, don’t think so.”

Weinstein closes with this demand: “MRFF demands that Army Chaplain (Colonel) Kim be officially, swiftly, aggressively, and visibly investigated and disciplined in punishment for his deplorable actions described above.”

John Piper Responds to the Complaints

What are the assertions that John Piper makes in his Coronavirus and Christ book and how does he respond?

In the May 11, 2020, episode of Ask Pastor John on DesiringGod.org, Piper addresses several issues. [This conversation contains excerpts from the audio transcript on the site.]

Q: As you read this response, what do you think of how you are quoted and interpreted? And is the letter a fair interpretation of your book?

Piper: Well, Tony, some of it is. I think it would be fair to say that some of my views about what the Bible teaches, even rightly understood, the author of that letter hates; he hates what I think. “They are,” he says, “incendiary,” “bigoted,” “vulgar” — not just because he misunderstands, but, in part, because he does understand, and that’s how he thinks and feels about some of what the Bible teaches. For example:

  1. The truth of Romans 5:16 that not only some death, but all death — including yours, Tony, and mine — is the result of God’s judgment on the human race because sin entered the world.
  2. That God is sovereign over the coronavirus, and sends it and ends it when he wills.
  3. That homosexual intercourse is a sin.
  4. That the coronavirus is a call for repentance to all of us — all of us — to bring our lives into alignment with the infinite worth of Jesus.

I think the author of that letter considers all of those views as wrong, and that’s putting it mildly. I mean, his language is very colorful. I consider all of those views to be true because they are what the Bible teaches, and therefore, they’re very valuable to know. So, I think it’s not just that he misunderstands, but that he gets some things right in those quotes, and he just doesn’t like them. Period.

Q: Yeah. And obviously there are places where the author of this letter gets your meaning wrong. Take us through those areas.

Piper: Well, I see at least three things that the letter and the interview with one of the news outlets gets wrong about the book. For example, when I say that “some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a specific judgment from God because of their sinful attitudes and actions” (Coronavirus and Christ, 69), he assumes that I know who those people are, or at least what kind of people they are. But here’s what I write on page 72. And if anybody wants to just check it out, pages 69–72 are the real ones he’s after, and you can go look. But here’s what I say in the summing up of that little chapter.

The coronavirus is . . . never a clear and simple punishment on any person. The most loving, Spirit-filled Christian, whose sins are forgiven through Christ, may die of the coronavirus disease. But it is fitting that every one of us search our own heart to discern if our suffering is God’s judgment on the way we live.

In other words, God does judge people with sickness. That’s very clear from 1 Corinthians 11:32, and there it’s even talking about Christians. But John Piper or you or anybody else can’t determine from outside who is experiencing the coronavirus as judgment in a punitive sense, and who’s experiencing it, say, as purification, or who’s experiencing it for other reasons that God may have. My point was that God does do all of these things, and all of us should do sober-minded self-assessment to discern — as well as we can — what God’s purposes are in all that happens to us. And I take the Bible, the Christian Scriptures, as the main guide in these things. The author of this letter apparently doesn’t, and there’s the big canyon between our worldviews.

Q: Yeah, that’s a really important point. You said there were three misunderstandings. It seems that one of those obviously is the question of homosexuality.

Piper: Right. You could say, probably, that that issue is a specific instance of the first misunderstanding. As far as I can see, the author of that letter wants to say that Piper thinks every person who engages in homosexual acts and who gets the coronavirus is being punished by God for those acts. And my response is “Well, no, it’s not that simple.”

For sure, in Romans 1:27 the Bible says that living in homosexual behavior is sometimes punished by God with a “due penalty,” which could be a disease, but not always. And sometimes disease comes not as punishment, but as a merciful wake-up call that results in repentance and reconciliation and hope. God’s ways are simply more complex than the letter acknowledges.

So, I say again, from page 72, “The coronavirus . . . is never a clear and simple punishment on any person.” It may be punishment; it may not be. And our prayer should be that all of us experience our suffering as redemptive, not punitive.

I suspect though, Tony, that this clarification won’t even come close to satisfying the author of this letter, since he considers it drivel and vulgar to even suggest that God controls this disease and would judge anyone with it.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.

This article originally appeared here.

Christine Yount Jones
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Christine Yount Jones is Content Director for Outreach Media Group. She has published several books and hundreds of articles about ministry in the last three decades. Before his death in 2003, Michael Yount and Christine had three children. Now, she and her husband, Ray Jones, together have five grown kids.