A U.S. Air Force commander is under fire for responding to recent interview questions where he said that Jesus was his "guide" and "influenced his decisions."
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Kersten serves in the 39th Medical Support Squadron on Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.
Kersten was recently featured in a "Meet Your Leadership" air base publication where he was asked which leader has influenced his career the most.
"There's no ONE in particular," Kersten responded. "As a Christian, my example is to be like Christ. He is my guide and affects all of my decisions. He teaches to do all things as unto the Lord and I believe this is synonymous with integrity first and excellence in all we do."
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) took issue with Kersten's published response, saying it "extremely offended" a number of Muslim and atheist personnel.
"(A) number of Turkish military personnel and related Turkish nationals -- the majority of whom are practitioners of the Islamic faith, also assigned at Incirlik -- were, like their fellow American/USAF MRFF allies, extremely offended," MRFF President Mikey Weinstein said.
Weinstein wrote to Kersten's leaders at the air base calling for the Air Force commander to be visibly punished for his statement, as well as apologize to airmen and their Turkish allies.
"Lt. Col. Kersten willfully and definitively violated AFI 1-1 with his sectarian Christian proselytizing statement," Weinstein wrote. "He has proclaimed to the entire Incirlik Air Base community that ALL of his decisions are based upon his Christian faith. Moreover, and perhaps even more outrageously, he claims that his exclusivist Christian faith is synonymous with two of the three Air Force official core values."
"This grievous matter is a serious situation that warrants serious action," Tobanna Barker, MRFF legal affairs coordinator, wrote later in a second letter.
Col. John C. Walker responded via letter to the MRFF, saying the Air Force supports the rights of its service members to freely practice their faith.
Dissatisfied, Barker called for harsher punishment.
"Essentially, your letter is the equivalent of a signed glamour shot sent by a celebrity to everyone who writes to them, regardless of the content of the correspondence," she wrote.
"If you will not take appropriate action, we must take appropriate action on behalf of our clients," she added. "Therefore, we must insist, sir, on a real response from you that states unambiguously whether you will take any action concerning our demand."