“I would suggest that you remove the article and video of former Chaplain Kurt Bishop. He was my former chaplain, has been discharged and is under federal indictment for 32 counts.” This was an e-mail we received in May 2010 from a senior NCO in the Arizona National Guard. The news shocked and saddened us. Terry had met Bishop in the field hospital at FOB Salerno in southeastern Afghanistan. A series of interlocking tents, the hospital took in wounded helicoptered in and tended to Afghan children suffering from burns and diseases. Terry had seen Bishop at the hospital, joking with the medical team, helping out during mass casualties and triages. I was stuck in Bagram for about a week, waiting for a spot on a helo bound for Salerno, and my own first glimpse of Bishop was in the immediate aftermath of a rocket attack. In fact, as Terry wrote in a blog, Bishop was the one to assure Terry I was all right.
After that we saw Bishop a number of times, and his work at the hospital and his relationship with the team impressed us both. So much so that we included him in the documentary as an illustration of ministering across faith lines. And when it came time to choose six chaplains to profile for a series in the Christian Science Monitor, Bishop was among them. He was the subject of “Prayer and humor hold a trauma unit together in Afghanistan,” and it is this article that the Arizona National Guard NCO wanted us to remove from our site. We understood his request but decided that the article and accompanying video were part of the public record and therefore needed to stay. Also, at the time Bishop had not yet been found guilty of any crime.
He has since been convicted of a felony and a misdemeanor for having falsified military honors. Under normal circumstances, a newspaper might simply add a footnote to the on-line version of the article, but Clara Germani, who edited the original series, felt these were not usual circumstances. We had in-depth knowledge of Bishop, and we both felt that his story raised important issues: is our worst act our most defining one? Do our bad actions invalidate our good ones? How do we reconcile the fact that we often have many sides, bright and dark? In the course of researching this, it became apparent that Bishop’s action also tied into a more general debate about lying about military honors: is it protected free speech or a criminal act?
The article came out in the April 3rd edition of the Christian Science Monitor under the headline “Did a chaplain’s fake Purple Heart erase good deeds?” along with a shorter piece on the Constitutional issues raised. It grew out of both our time with him in Afghanistan in 2007 as well as a number of conversations with Bishop over the past year and interviews with some of his former colleagues. Watching him struggle with shedding a persona that he had fraudulently invented and maintained, something Bishop said back in 2007 suddenly took on deeper meaning. Every morning, he said, “I pray, ‘God, help me get out of the way so you can use me.'”