"They will not tell me what I can or can't preach."

It is an almost unbelievable circumstanc e to consider that "they" in this forceful statement is in regard to the United States Navy.

Yet Lt. Commander Philip Veitch, a chaplain in service to his God and country, faced a court-martial after leading the troops in his care in a Scripture-based sermon on the sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

"Christ is alone sufficient as our mediator," said Veitch. "We don't turn to ministers, we don't turn to priests, ministers ordained or unordained. No one compares to Christ in His sovereign competence of what He did for us at Calvary."

Veitch, in the Dec. 3 broadcast of his interview with CBN News, shared a remarkable story.

While stationed in Naples, Italy, the sermon based on Matthew 16 led him to be labeled "anti-priest," "divisive" and "anti-proselytic."

In the service that day was Veitch's wife Sharon, who cannot believe the text of his sermon created so much controversy. "His sermon was Protestant. And being Protestant, you're not of a denomination. He couldn't be proselytic in the way they wanted him to be," she told CBN.

"Anti-proselytic," rued Veitch, "that's a career-ender." Charged with disrespect toward the senior chaplain who reprimanded him, Veitch chose resignation over court-martial.

The personal cost of this decision was high. "The children had no medical coverage," said Veitch's wife Sharon. "We had no severance pay, no pension, no retirement after twelve years of service; nine of which he's been gone at sea, and I've been a single parent."

Unfortunately, Veitch and his family are not alone.

Other evangelical chaplains say they have few opportunities to win the top positions of leadership in the ranks, according to the CBN report. Some have reported being discouraged from attending Promise Keeper events; and in an extreme insult to the basic tenets of Protestant faith, former Baptist chaplain Greg DeMarco says he was asked to refrain from ending certain public prayers with the phrase, "in Jesus' name."

DeMarco, who served under the same superior officer as Veitch, retired soon after, and said that in his twenty-six years of service in the Navy, he noticed an increasing policy of discrimination toward evangelical Christians.

"This is a very important formula for evangelicals," said DeMarco. "We are told in the Bible, when we pray, to pray in Jesus' name."

Now serving as director of the Baptist Student Union for Eastern New Mexico University, DeMarco said the issues at hand are clearly that of freedom of speech and religion, which all Navy officers swear to protect and defend.

After Veitch's story captured the attention of national media, Virginia senator Charles Robb wrote a letter of support to Richard Dansing, secretary of the Navy. Robb asked that Veitch's resignation be held in abeyance until a full investigation into the "far-reaching, complex, and disturbing charges" is conducted.

The letter proved to be effective. The Inspector General of the Department of Defense and the Department of Navy are investigating Veitch's claim and the national clergy council has asked Congress to look into these and other claims of religious discrimination.

Veitch has returned to service as a chaplain at the base near his in home Camp LeJeune, N.C.

Although Veitch remains concerned at how the controversy may affect future promotions, even if religious discrimination is proven and his record cleared, Veitch says the initial small victory is one big answer to prayer.

"I've grown. I've faced a new threshold of fear and I've seen a sovereign God all the way through this thing. I credit Him, my salute is to Him."

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  • Tracy Simmons