The leader of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has demanded Wright-Patterson’s installation commander investigate an emailed invitation the organization said was sent out base wide in violation of Air Force regulations to invite people to a faith-based event.
MRFF argued the invitation to a simulcast near the base of the Aug. 10-11 “Global Leadership Summit,” which the organization described as a “fundamentalist Christian program” at a church in the Chicago suburbs, showed “egregious religious favoritism.”
Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the New Mexico-based MRFF, said in an interview more than 40 base-affiliated military personnel and civilian employees contacted him about the email, prompting him to send an Aug. 3 letter to base commander Col. Bradley McDonald, leader of the 88th Air Base Wing.
The former Air Force lawyer said the MRFF has “no issue” if the base wants “to advertise an event for any religious faith. It can be Satanism, it could be atheism, it could be anything, but they cannot send a base wide email and we made it very clear with our letter as to which Air Force regulations are being violated when they send it to everybody.”
The simulcast at Wright-Patterson was scheduled for an off-base housing area inside a chapel’s religious education facility, officials said.
Mathew D. Staver, an attorney and chairman and founder of the Florida-based Liberty Counsel, said Weinstein “overstates the case.”
“Just because it’s sponsored by a church doesn’t make it a sectarian event,” Staver said. “In fact, the speakers come from a wide variety of professional experience including the CEO of Facebook. This is an event that is focused on leadership and it is not sectarian so I don’t see that the (Military Religious Freedom Foundation) has any basis for the complaint.”
The Global Leadership Summit is sponsored by the Willow Creek Association, an affiliation of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. The summit was expected to simulcast to more than 600 locations nationwide, with more than a hundred groups in the Dayton area participating, said Susan Delay, an association spokeswoman.
Speakers scheduled at this week’s summit included Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church; Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer; Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; Marcus Lemonis, star of CNBC’s The Profit and CEO of Camping World and Good Sam; Frederik Haren, a business creativity expert; and Michael Jr., a comedian, among others, according to the WCA.
Staver dismissed the claim the base-wide email violated Air Force regulations.
“I don’t think any military regulation was violated by this email because it’s not sectarian and it’s not focused on a particular religion,” Staver said. “It is a leadership event that would benefit a wide range of people within the military.”
Weinstein questioned if Wright-Patterson personnel would attend on their own time or while on duty. “It’s being conducted exactly co-terminus with duty hours at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, so who’s paying for this?” he asked.
Marie Vanover, a Wright-Patterson spokeswoman, acknowledged the 88th Air Base Wing, which McDonald leads, received the MRFF complaint. “We have received the email from the MRFF and are currently working it,” she said in an email.
She declined further comment.
Those who complained to the MRFF about the event did not want to file a complaint with the Air Force or the federal government because they feared retribution within the command, Weinstein said. MRFF has filed a Freedom of Information Act for more information.
The Wright-Patterson email invited personnel to attend the Global Leadership Summit as part of “a 2-day live simulcast, faith-based event,” according a copy provided by the MRFF.
The invitation noted the “faith-based event” would be “hosted by world class faculty drawn from corporate, academic, and religious settings.” It also noted some speakers “will incorporate Biblical leadership principles into every day decision making.”
A link in the email to registration of the event was not working Monday.
The invitation was signed: “Your W-P Chapel Team.”
In the letter to McDonald, Weinstein argued if the event was for religious education and/or worship than the email should have been “advertised” only to “base personnel on religious index email lists” that represent Protestant-affiliated “contemporary, gospel and community” worship groups.
Weinstein noted a pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church was listed as a main speaker at the event.
A July 27 Willow Creek Association press release described the summit as focused on leadership that emphasized: “grit,” “fearlessness,” “creative problem solving,” and “developing talent.”
“Willow Creek Association is committed to the singular idea that inspired, encouraged and equipped Christian leaders transform their communities. The leaders we serve are not just full time ministry staff, but leaders in all sectors of society committed to pursuing their grander visions,” the statement added.