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The latest on that coercive baptism story

Once again, Ginger is on top of developments in the story of US Army Chaplain Josh Llano, who reportedly traded water for baptisms. After receiving numerous complaints about Llano’s reported activities, the Army investigated, and yesterday they cleared Llano of any wrongdoing.

The Army determined that Josh Llano, 32, did not coerce any soldiers into conversion as an April 4 Miami Herald article indicated. The article generated numerous complaints that led the chaplain chief, Maj. Gen. Gaylord Gunhus, to call for an inquiry.

Lt. Col. Eric Wester, spokesman for the Chaplain Corps in Virginia, said the Army also disputes the article’s contention that Llano’s pool was the only such source of water during a shortage at Camp Bushmaster.

The article said thousands of Army V Corps combat support troops were filthy and that Llano’s “pristine” pool offered soldiers a chance to be “clean for the first time in weeks.”

“The implication that soldiers were without water for hygiene or other purposes was false,” Wester said.

“All needs for water were met before this chaplain was offered water to provide for immersion purposes.”

Mark Seibel, the Herald’s managing editor, defended the article in a report about the Army’s findings.

That article is here, via Arguing with Signs, which also has a link to this story and the following quote from Mark Seibel that’s not found in the Chron account:

“I don’t think the story suggested coercion,” he said. “That’s just how some people want to read it. … We stand by the story as it was written. He made the remarks that he made, and Meg was not the only person who heard them.”

I’m with Bryan on this one. The original story wouldn’t have generated such a huge negative response had it not been crystal clear that coercion was implied. I don’t know what happened but if the Army’s findings are correct, then this story was an injustice. The onus is on the Herald right now.

Not to say that I think Llano is completely in the clear here. I agree with Ginger about this bit:

Wester said Llano does not recall saying, “It’s simple. They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized.”

Those are weasel words. Does Llano mean that the sentiment was accurate but the wording was off, or does he mean he never said anything like that and moreover never would say anything like that? The former requires a clarification, the latter that the reporter not produce a tape recording that contradicts him. I’ll grant that this quote does not come from Llano directly, and thus may once again be possibly inaccurate, but the question remains: what exactly did he say, and what did he mean by it? I’m willing to cut Llano some slack here, but until he says on the record what his words and intentions really were, I won’t completely dismiss the possibility that the Army is covering its rear end. Hey, Mark Seibel, how about producing one of those other people that heard Llano’s remarks along with your reporter and having them give their accounts? Until one of those things happens, Llano has the benefit of my doubt but the case isn’t closed.

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  1. Smirking Chupacabra says:

    I’d love to give Llano the benefit of the doubt, but I grew up in West Texas (in the Church of Christ) and lived in a predominently Baptist town. Unfortunately, it sounds pretty par for the course.

    A lot of folks in both denominations have a personal “scorecard” for how many people they bring to Jesus. I can’t tell you how many people I saw who worked really hard to get someone baptized, then left the convert on his/her own and move on to the next possible convert.

    I’m no psychologist, but this behavior kind of reminds of the guy you knew in college who would lavish attention on a woman until she slept with him, then move on to the next conquest. (Before folks get mad, I’m not equating religion with casual sex – it’s the personal trait of an individual I’m talking about).

    I really hate to be cynical here, but my first inclination to to go with the reporter. (sigh)

    Keep up the good work Charles.

  2. Thanks. You may well be right. All I’m saying at this point is that the Army has cleared the guy, and the newspaper editor has spoken about but not produced other supporting evidence. The ball is in the paper’s court. They need to produce whatever other evidence they have, or they lose credibility. I’m certainly willing to believe them, but they need to help themselves out here.

  3. Bryan says:

    I have to disagree with Chupacabra on this. I’ve been on both sides of this fence, as an agnostic/atheist journalist and as a seminarian, I’ve worked with numerous chaplains (but not this one).

    Nowhere in Baptist doctrine is there a suggestion that you *can* be saved by baptism. If he *were* doing this, he’d be doing a tremendous disservice to those who were being baptized.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen numerous instances where quotes were pulled out of context, overheard, etc. and used as damning evidence.

    As for the “scorecard,” the baptisms are only part of the equation. For baptists, “decisions” are worth more generally than baptisms (for the theological reasons discussed above).

    My ultimate belief is that this soldier was saying something sarcastically (chaplain humor) to another soldier, and this was overheard by the reporter as a real belief.

  4. Smirking Chupacabra says:

    Bryan –

    I see your point theologically, and you may well be right, but believe me, I saw literally 25-30 occurances of this kind of behavior among Baptists and C of C’ers while I was growing up. I’m not saying that the two denominations teach this as doctrine, just that some of the more, shall we say, “earnestly competitive” folks practice these types of behaviors. One of them was a Southern Baptist minister who tried (unsucessfully) for two years to convert my sister from the C of C. One reason she didn’t do it was because she had seen his track record of converting people, then leaving them on their own.

    On a more personal note – it seems we are mirror images. I grew up with a very strong belief in Christianity, but am now agnostic bordering on atheist. I’m far from anti-religion, but it just doesn’t work for me.
    Have a tremendous day, all.

  5. Stacie says:

    I have to agree with Bryan, Soldiers are allowed to joke and that is probably what was going on. The reporter should print an apology herself, notice it has been a different reporter’s name on every different story about Chaplain Llano. He received alot of crap on the internet about this and it was just people jumping the gun and not getting the true facts. I bet this story gets left off of alot of bloggers websites. Thanks for printing it on yours.

  6. Ginger says:

    Anyone who does not think a Southern Baptist would bully someone into being baptized, regardless of theological benefits, hasn’t been around enough Southern Baptists.

    BTDT, thanks. Still not baptized.