3000 Orange Blossom Drive, Naples, FL
NAPLES — A veteran of the Vietnam War and the high-profile Iran-Contra scandal, 66-year-old Lt. Col. Oliver North has great respect for faith.
On Thursday night, as part of a fund-raising event for Naples-based Big Life ministries, North spoke to a crowd of about 3,000 at the First Baptist Church Naples, 3000 Orange Blossom Drive, about the role of faith in war and politics. There was no charge to attend the event, which ran from 7 p.m. to about 9 p.m.
“The money that is donated is going to support people on the ground throughout the countries where we work,” said Jason Gerlach, Big Life’s director of prayer.
During his speech, North spoke highly of the “youngsters” serving in today’s military, and took a few jabs at the media.
“It’s amazing to see the faith of the youngsters serving, and the commitment they have made to a cause in which they believe,” North told the crowd.
No stranger to controversy, North is not shy about sharing his views on contentious issues of the day, including the direction of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the Obama administration’s stated goal of ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prevents homosexuals from serving openly in the military; and the diminishing acceptance of religion in public life.
“Ours is a Judeo-Christian culture,” North said in an interview before the event. “It’s at risk today. It’s at risk because, in part, we’ve kind of walked away from it ourselves. And second of all, there’s so much of the world that’s basically being forced, sometimes at the tip of a knife or the point of a gun, not to in any way subscribe to the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
North compared the work of Big Life, which plants churches in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia, to that of the Apostle Paul. Big Life has established more than 2,800 churches in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, using indigenous people to reach out to others.
“I certainly support what they do, and that’s to spread the word of God,” North said.
North said in an interview before Thursday’s event that he believes the war in Iraq is a “won war,” but Afghanistan will continue to be a “tough fight.” The recent surge of troops in Afghanistan is already having a positive effect, he said, but that positive effect isn’t being properly covered by the media.
The troops on the ground are up to the task, North said. Success in Afghanistan depends on the political will in Washington D.C., he said. Troops could be in Afghanistan for another five or six years, North said, though the intensity of combat should diminish over time.
“The reality of it is, there is not a war that America could lose if America wants to win,” North said. “That’s a fact.”
Knowing the enemy is important, North said, and he did not hesitate to name what he believes to be the United States’ enemy.
“The enemy is radial Islam,” North said. “It’s not some nameless terrorist organization, its not Al Qaeda, and it’s not Osama Bin Laden. It’s a movement that is both social, political and religious, that insists that you adhere to their philosophy or be exterminated.”
When asked about President Obama’s pledge to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the law that bans openly gay members of the military, North questioned the timing and said it would be difficult to carry out.
Obama has called the policy “just wrong.”
“With the finest military that anybody has ever seen in the history of man, why would you want to do something like this in the middle of a war?” North asked. “And how are you going to do it in the middle of a war?”
North was recommended as a speaker for Big Life by North Naples resident Chuck Colson, a friend of the ministry, who is best known for being imprisoned after the Watergate scandal and later starting the world’s largest outreach to prisoners. Colson introduced North on Thursday night, calling him an American hero.
Because of North’s work with the military and as a war correspondent for Fox News, he has served in some of the same areas that Big Life is currently working, said Big Life Executive Director John Heerema.
“My faith makes me a better husband, a better father, hopefully a better grandfather,” North said. “It gives me the energy to do the things that I know need to be done and the opportunity to do some of the things that I might not be able to do because, at the end of the day, I know where I’m going and I know why I’m going there.
“There’s a lot of people that have no idea where they’re going and they have no idea why they’re going there.”
Connect with Ryan Mills at www.naplesnews.com/staff/ryan-mills