Second Place Writing – Features


Sincere Disapproval

Army Reservist Jake Malloy said his religious beliefs prohibited him from taking up arms. His commander, an evangelical pastor, didn’t think his claim was a legitimate one.
Originally published in the Columbia Missourian

At 10:30 a.m., on Oct. 14, 2005, nearly two dozen people gathered in a room at Fort Sill, Okla., to discuss the case of a soldier who did not want to go to war.

Specialist Jake Malloy was an Army cook and, by most accounts, such a nice guy that his friends worried that strangers might mistake his kindness for weakness. Yet not even his fellow soldiers, some of whom had already testified to Malloy’s uncommon decency, doubted the strength of his convictions.

To refuse a direct order to take up arms — an act of insubordination that might lead to a lengthy prison term — would require just that kind of fortitude.

In many ways, the hearing at Fort Sill was a formality. Malloy had already met with an Army chaplain, a psychiatrist and Maj. Donna Abrokwa, the officer assigned to investigate Malloy’s claim that his religious beliefs prohibited him from using lethal force against another human being.

Abrokwa assembled a record of the case that seemed to fit the Army’s definition of conscientious objection: “a firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in war of any form … by reason of religious training or belief.”

One young woman who, like Malloy, served with the 1011th Quartermaster Company, told Abrokwa that the force of Malloy’s belief and his ability to express it made her ashamed of her relatively lesser passion.

The bulk of the testimony Abrokwa had collected as part of her investigation echoed that sentiment. In fact, only one person at Fort Sill stood up that day to challenge Jake Malloy: Maj. Paul Wynn, his commanding officer.

In most cases, a commanding officer is no more important than any other witness in a conscientious objection proceeding.

Army regulations acknowledge the “personal and subjective nature” of conscientious objection, and the path to a decision is presumed to be nonadversarial.

Most of the “evidence” is written; the hearing is considered “informal,” according to the guidelines; and witnesses are not required to testify under oath.

However, right from the start, Wynn had taken an aggressive role in challenging Malloy’s claim, even going so far as to ask the Army’s judge advocate general to begin court-martial proceedings.

The hearing at Fort Sill lasted three hours, the last two of which were dominated by Wynn’s sometimes fierce questioning of Malloy’s interpretation of the Bible.

At one point, the commander asked Malloy whom Jesus considered the person with the utmost faith.

“I believe you are referring to the centurion,” Malloy replied.

“And what was his occupation?” Wynn asked.

“He was a soldier,” Malloy said.

“Did Jesus at any time tell the centurion to get out of the military?” Wynn asked.

“No, he didn’t, sir,” Malloy said.

Wynn noted that the Bible was filled with war. David killed tens of thousands, he said, and the Israelites were commanded by God numerous times to lay waste to those who did not believe.

“So here’s the question,” Wynn said. “Is God confused? Is he trying to confuse us?”

Not at all, Malloy replied. “All these warriors, which you have discussed, who were great men of faith, they were in the Old Testament, when God was setting up a kingdom on earth.”

Malloy argued that, according to the New Testament, a Christian’s purpose is to protect and advance the Kingdom of Heaven through spiritual means.

He told Wynn that when Christ was taken captive, “he says, ‘If my kingdom was of this world, my disciples would fight for me. But my kingdom is not of this world, and that is why they do not fight.’”

Five days after the hearing, Abrokwa submitted her report to the Department of the Army.

The investigation confirmed Malloy’s beliefs were sincerely held and that they “govern his actions in word and deed.”

While Abrokwa noted that some witnesses said they thought Malloy’s convictions were misguided, “no one could deny the fact that he sincerely believed in his mind that what he was doing was right.”

Abrokwa recommended that the Army classify Malloy as a conscientious objector and grant him noncombatant status.

Abrokwa also concluded that Wynn’s opposition to Malloy’s claim was “either ill-advised or misdirected,” especially with regard to his request that the soldier be court-martialed for his beliefs.

“Maj. Wynn, knowing the character of Spc. Malloy as well as he did at that time, must have acknowledged the validity of Spc. Malloy’s sincerity.”

Wynn assumed command of the 1011th Quartermaster Company in July 2005, when the Army announced that the unit would likely be deployed to Iraq. Wynn, like Malloy, is a reservist. Like Malloy, he is a Christian.

When the Army called him to active duty, Wynn was pastor at New Covenant Church, an evangelical congregation in St. Peters.

A story about Wynn’s deployment in the July 4, 2005, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recounted his final sermon before he left to begin preparing his unit to run logistical support for ground troops in Iraq.

Wynn, who is 38 and a West Point graduate who returned punts for the Army football team, had tears in his eyes as he talked about the possibility that he might not return from the fight. He told his five children: “I want you to remember your dad did the right thing.”

Before he even left for Fort Sill, Malloy submitted form DA 4187, asking the Army to classify him as a conscientious objector.

Not long after the 1011th arrived at Fort Sill to prepare for deployment, Malloy refused to take part in weapons training.

Wynn initiated an Article 15, a nonjudicial punishment, and, according to Malloy, said he would personally see to it that Malloy would spend the next 40 years in prison for his insubordination.

To file a conscientious objection claim is to submit the sincerity of one’s moral beliefs to institutional review.

The Army defines “conscientious objection” broadly to include applications that may not reflect traditional religious objections to war, but are of “equal strength, depth and duration.”

In other words, it helps to be a Quaker, but it’s not necessary. Indeed, the regulations prohibit any theological litmus test in favor of “an impartial evaluation of each person’s thinking and living in totality, past and present.”

Malloy grew up in Potosi. He attended a small Missionary Baptist church and says he became a Christian at age 9. He joined the Army Reserves in 2000, when he was 19. Malloy later explained that, while he considered war an affront to Christ’s teachings, at the time of his enlistment, he supported the use of military force to combat oppression. It was necessary for Malloy to emphasize this. The Army will not consider a conscientious objection claim from a soldier who held anti-war beliefs before coming into the service.

Nor could Malloy choose the occasion of the Iraq war as the basis for his claim: Army regulations required that he justify his moral opposition to all wars, not just one that might require his deployment.

Abrokwa interviewed two dozen 1011th soldiers during her prehearing investigation.

A handful seemed to know little about Malloy, but those who did were nearly unanimous about his intentions. They described him as kind and soft-spoken but willing to stand firmly behind his beliefs. A few mentioned that he often had a Bible with him. No one doubted that he was sincerely opposed to war. Malloy was in line for a promotion to staff sergeant when he failed to obey Wynn’s order to start weapons training. A fellow soldier, Spc. Kristin Cosgrove, recalled her reaction to the Article 15, which also meant 45 days of extra duty for Malloy and cost him his rank.

“I feel Jake’s punishment greatly outweighs anything he has ever done wrong,” she told Abrokwa in a written statement. “He is a great guy and doesn’t deserve this stress or heartache. It is all too extreme.”

But Wynn expressed outrage at Malloy’s attempt to be classified as a conscientious objector.

Before the October hearing at Fort Sill, he submitted a memo to Abrokwa that accused Malloy, “at best,” of attempting to “fraudulently hide behind an insincere belief to avoid going into a combat zone.”

He continued: “At worst, this is an act of sheer cowardice. Either way, this action shows no morals, no values, no honor, and completely disrespects each and every soldier serving in this company and serving the cause of freedom in Iraq.”

Wynn, who had served in the Gulf War and re-enlisted in the Army Reserves after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, believed Malloy had other motives for wanting to avoid combat. Wynn noted that, not long after the soldier received news of his deployment, in March 2005, Malloy got married; and Wynn accused Malloy, who graduated from MU with degrees in math and math education, of manipulating the Army into paying for his studies. “I guess his ‘conscience’ only bothered him when it was time for war and combat,” Wynn wrote, “but his ‘conscience’ did not bother him when he was paid and educated at the Army’s expense during a time of peace.”

Yet even Wynn had to agree with Malloy’s peers in the unit that the soldier was a sincere and committed Christian. What offended the commander was Malloy’s reading of Scripture. In his two-page memo to Abrokwa, Wynn, speaking as “a Christian and a pastor,” set out to prove that Malloy’s claim was based on “not even real Biblical or Christian positions.”

To expose this “lack of basic Biblical understanding,” Wynn submitted some 20 pages of theological arguments, downloaded from the Internet, in support of a Christian’s duty to fight.

“I expect that, viewed in the light of truth and better biblical understanding, Malloy’s actions will be seen for the cowardice that they truly represent,” he explained.

Wynn asserted that Malloy’s beliefs were held “in a very few Christian circles” and certainly did not represent the position of mainstream Southern Baptists, whose leadership had offered strong public support of President Bush and the decision to invade Iraq. This point was also made by Ltc. Kevin Cramm, the chaplain assigned to Malloy’s case.

In a prehearing interview with Cramm, Malloy said that one reason his conscience would not allow him take up arms was the likelihood that he would be fighting non-Christians whose death would condemn them to hell. Cramm disputed the legitimacy of that view, noting in his final report to Abrokwa that neither Southern Baptists nor the missionary Baptist congregation Malloy grew up in forbids killing in cases of self-defense or war. Like Wynn, Cramm allowed that Malloy’s convictions were probably sincere. But he concluded that they “seem to have developed within the last few months (and) correspond to his marriage and mobilization.”

In his official application to the Army, which sought to spell out how his conscience had evolved since the 1011th was mobilized, Malloy cited 37 Bible verses that emphasized God’s hope for a peaceful resolution to the battle for the human soul.

God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, he wrote, and therefore “our hope must be to bring an end to evil by filling souls with the love of Christ.

“Weapons of death cannot solve this problem. When we kill an individual we add fuel to the fire of hatred within that person’s family. The God of love and the sacrifice of his son is the hope for peace among nations and in our very lives. Knowing God has redeemed me from death, I could not put another to death for any wrong.”

Indeed, by the time of the Oct. 14, 2005, hearing at Fort Sill, Abrokwa had concluded that Malloy’s sincerity was no longer in doubt. According to a transcript of the proceeding, when Malloy began to question witnesses about what they knew of his beliefs, Abrokwa told him that line of inquiry was no longer necessary, as “it has been proven that he is a religious person.”

Malloy acknowledged that the timing of his application — two months after his marriage and when he had received notice of probable deployment — appeared suspect. But he pointed out that Army regulations made clear that the timing of a conscientious objection application was not a factor in the final decision.

Abrokwa asked Malloy if there was any specific moment, a “trigger factor,” when he knew his beliefs conflicted with his duty as a soldier. “I don’t know that any one Scripture changed it for me,” he answered. “I think oftentimes when our beliefs have to move from theory to reality, we have shifts in our thinking. I wish I could say that this moment set it off, but I think there are very few things in our lives that come down to one moment.”

After a break for lunch, Abrokwa allowed Wynn to question Malloy. An accomplished public speaker who had given scores of sermons to the congregation at New Covenant Church, Wynn challenged Malloy’s theological understanding, which, the commander emphasized, had no basis in formal religious education or training.

At one point, Wynn recalled the day he offered to forgive Malloy for disobeying orders and wipe the slate clean if he would rescind his conscientious objection application. Wynn pointed out that Malloy had taken two hours to think about it before coming back, with tears in his eyes, to reject the offer.

“Now, if you were a person of such great conviction, why didn’t you answer me immediately on the spot?” Wynn asked.

“I had my answer immediately, sir,” Malloy said. “But as I told you, though consequences don’t make my decisions, it still has an effect on me emotionally. The thought of 48 years — however many years in prison — is a troubling thought.”

As Wynn prepared to ask his next question, another soldier in the room, spoke up, hesitant at first. It was Spc. Travis Peper, Malloy’s roommate and an atheist.

“I don’t know how this fits in,” began Peper. “I’m not that well-versed in faith, but if I remember right, even when Jesus knew that he was going to get nailed to the cross, he took that time — it was a garden wasn’t it? — where he spent some time and asked God, ‘do you really want me to go through with this?’”

Wynn’s questions to Malloy became personal at times. Toward the end of the hearing, he asked Malloy if he considered Christians who did not share his beliefs about the wrongness of war if they were “immature or childish.”

Malloy replied: “They’re not wrong because they do it in faith, and if it is a matter of faith, then so be it.”

Then, pointing to his fellow soldiers in the room, he said, “These Christians here, I don’t hold anything against them for doing what they believe is right, as you yourself believe that it is right. I don’t try to deny your sincerity of your faith.”

The 1011th Quartermaster Company left for Iraq a few weeks after the hearing. Malloy remained at Fort Sill, where in late March he received a letter from the Army. It was single sentence declaration that Malloy had failed to provide “clear and convincing evidence” of his sincerity.

Malloy knew the Army’s decision would require him to be deployed to Iraq, where he would have to carry a weapon and help defend, with lethal force, his unit. He knew right away that he would refuse those orders and be court-martialed. If convicted, he would face prison time.

He read the letter again, called his wife, who, he says, was calm and reassuring.

“I just had to trust that if Jake went to jail, God was still going to take care of us,” Tiffany Malloy said. “I think in the Western world, people say Christianity is a crutch, but really it is our cross to carry. It would have been a lot easier to deny our conscience.”

The Army’s rejection of Malloy’s claim has angered some of his supporters.

Bette Evans, a professor at Creighton University who studies sincerity in the legal system and has reviewed Malloy’s case, believes Wynn’s vehement opposition had an inappropriate influence on the decision.

“Nobody should be debating theology with him,” she said. “That is real clear. The commanding officer’s piece of theology is absurd, offensive and illegal. He is not allowed to debate whose religion was true.”

James Branum of the Oklahoma Committee for Conscientious Objectors, who had helped Malloy with his application, said Malloy’s claim was a textbook case of sincere conscientious objection. “To me,” Branum said, “there was no legal justification for this ruling.”

Steve Woolford, a counselor with GI Rights Hotline, said after the draft was eliminated in the 1970s, conscientious objection became difficult for many Army commanders to accept. Yet, Woolford said, the Army usually sides with the recommendation of the investigating officer, who in Malloy’s case, believed Malloy’s plea for noncombatant status was justified. Woolford pointed out Army regulations do not require adherence to any particular religious doctrine when it comes to war.

“A person can have an entirely private religion,” he said. “Even if someone with more religious training comes to a different conclusion.”

Randall Dolinger, a chaplain with 20 years of experience, who now works for the Army Chief of Chaplain’s office, has served as the interviewing chaplain for nine conscientious objection claims. Dolinger said that to deny the existence of someone’s beliefs because they are incompatible with one’s own appears to violate Army regulations.

“Every belief is personal,” he said. “You can call yourself a Baptist, but you’re not the same as every other Baptist. Ultimately, everyone’s belief is individual. You’ve taken that label because there are some things you agree with, but not everything.”

At first, Malloy was inclined to fight the ruling on grounds that Wynn had disregarded Army regulations. However, before he could contact Branum and initiate legal proceedings, he thought better of it; he had a family to support.

Instead Malloy took a Chapter 10 “other than honorable” discharge and left the Army. On May 5, he packed his belongings and drove home to Columbia.

After his return, Malloy and his wife, Tiffany, sorted and discarded what was left of his military career. Dozens of brown T-shirts were dropped off at Good Will, and a black trash bag containing his dress uniform was headed for Maude Vintage in downtown Columbia.

On Memorial Day, Malloy and eight friends gathered for a barbecue. Although he could not bring himself to participate in any Memorial Day events, he said he is relaxed and at peace with his decision. The glorification of military might displayed at the parade and Air Show that day were not something he could support.

“It’s hard because there are a lot of people that are very supportive, especially in an environment like Memorial Day,” he said. “It feels almost mean to say anything against it.”

That same weekend, at church, Malloy had watched in dismay as the pastor of Woodcrest Chapel in Columbia asked all the veterans to stand. He was uncomfortable with the applause of the congregation, although he says he has no intention of changing his religious affiliation and, in fact, feels he has a new duty.

“Southern Baptist is the denomination I most agree with,” he said. “I’d rather be in a Baptist church opening the eyes of people around me.”