Is the U.S. military coming to be dominated by members of a small, characteristically intolerant sliver of Christianity on a God-appointed mission to harvest souls and battle evil?
When considering your government, do you believe in the primacy of Jefferson, Franklin, and Madison or Falwell, Robertson, and Haggard? That is to say, should the peoples’ handbook for governing, educating and protecting the public be the US Constitution or the Bible? Thankfully, for over two centuries the huge majority of Americans have put their faith in the former. In fact, our sacred founding doctrine, with its emphasis on secular governing, clearly sets us apart from the radical religious fundamentalists that we are now explicitly fighting– al-Qaeda, the Mahdi Army and the Taliban—and those we struggle with implicitly—Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.
But now it is increasingly coming to light that over the last decade a fervent minority of fundamentalists have been waging, and winning, a rear-guard guerrilla campaign to seize crucial positions of influence within our secular framework. Some of it has been in plain sight—Bush makes no bones about his willingness to make domestic and foreign policy based on scripture—but there is a less recognizable, more insidious, campaign going on in the halls of congress and within the armed forces.
Most Muslim and Christian fundamentalists have very similar world views regarding the juxtaposition between their faiths and politics, and their associated callings:
a) they believe they are waiting for the second coming of God’s representative (Messiah) on earth, which will trigger an end-times scenario of mass religious purification leaving only true believers to attain salvation in Heaven. Fundamentalist Christians refer to this as the Rapture. Most Muslims believe that the MahdÄ« will come to help the Messiah (i.e., Jesus) to defeat the Antichrist, before establishing a just Islamic social order in preparation for Judgment Day.
b) they profess that man-made laws are not to be revered, but instead should be seen as subordinate to the higher laws interpreted from the words and actions of their prophet as revealed in the sacred texts—the Koran and Bible
c) they believe that it is their duty to actively convert the un-churched, or un-mosqued, and to purify the ranks. It’s their God-given right to proselytize among the unconvinced to save souls—to create the largest possible armies of true believers.
There are plenty of other similarities, but you get the point. Let me be clear, I don’t share these peoples’ presumptions, but I believe that they have every constitutional right to vocalize them in our great nation. I have no desire to try to tell these people that what they believe is wrong—how can I, how can one know? But I do reserve the right, actually the Constitution guarantees my right, at least where my country is concerned, to tell them to keep it away from government, schools and the military. After all, I pay their salaries.
Shouldn’t we be terrified that our country is engaged in a military struggle wherein powerful forces on both sides control devastating destructive capacity, especially on the Christian side, and who believe it is their higher calling to use any means within their power to lay the groundwork for the second coming and an apocalyptic religious purification?
I’m shaking in my boots, but thanks to some very courageous people, led by Michael Weinstein, this frightening development, this insidious infection eating away at the foundational pillars of our constitution, is now being outed in public. It’s not enough to just recognize that this is transpiring right under our noses, we must put our own boots on the ground to fight for our founding principles, and maybe for our very lives. Please read on, and think about what you can do to help…
A lot of people say to me, ‘Why did you kill Christ?’ I dunno, it was one of those parties, got out of hand, you know. -Lenny Bruce
The CRUSADERS by Robert C. Koehler Sixteen words may be all that stand right now between the apparatus of government and the Founding Fathers’ worst nightmare. And those words are starting to give.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”
When George Bush, in the wake of 9/11, puffed himself into Richard the Lionheart and declared he would lead the country in a “crusade” against terrorism — you know, crusade, as in slaughter of Muslim infidels — turns out . . . oh, how awkward (if you’re on White House spin duty) . . . he may have been speaking literally.
What’s certain, in any case, is that a lot of people in high and low places within the Bush administration — and in particular, the military — heard him literally, and regard the war on terror as a religious war: “The enemy has got a face. He’s called Satan. He lives in Fallujah. And we’re going to destroy him,” a lieutenant colonel, according to a BBC reporter, said to his troops on the eve of the destruction of that undefended city in post-election 2004.
“I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol,” Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Jerry Boykin notoriously boasted a few years back, speaking of a Muslim warlord in Somalia. And by the way, George Bush is “in the White House because God put him there.”
And, of course, just the other day, Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, who conducted the first official investigation into Pat Tillman’s death, opined that Tillman’s family is only pestering the Army for the, ahem, truth about how he died because their loved one, a non-believer with no heavenly reward to reap, is now “worm dirt.”
Until I read the newly published “With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military” (St. Martin’s Press), Michael Weinstein’s disturbing account of anti-Semitism at the U.S. Air Force Academy, I shrugged off each of these remarks, and so much more, as isolated, almost comically intolerant noises out of True Believer Land. Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do . . .
Now my blood runs cold. Weinstein, a 1977 graduate of the Academy and former assistant general counsel in the Reagan administration, and a lifelong Republican, has devoted the last several years of his life to battling what he has come to regard as a fundamentalist takeover of the Academy, turning it, in effect, into a taxpayer-supported Evangelical institution. He charges that the separation of church and state is rapidly vanishing at the school, which routinely promotes sectarian religious events, tolerates the proselytizing of uniquely vulnerable new recruits and, basically, conflates evangelical interests and the national interest.
If you think this is just a fight over some abstract principle, with ramifications only for atheist, Jewish, Buddhist and other cadets who may be “offended” by fundamentalist God talk, I urge you to check out Weinstein’s book or website (militaryreligiousfreedom.org). He documents a chilling phenomenon: The whole U.S. military, up and down the chain of command, is coming to be dominated by members of a small, characteristically intolerant sliver of Christianity who truly regard themselves as Christian soldiers, on a God-appointed mission to harvest souls and battle evil.
Weinstein, whose family tradition of national service is pretty impressive, does not do battle lightly with those who now run his alma mater. One of his sons is a recent graduate of the Air Force Academy and the other is still a cadet there. His eldest son’s wife, a Christian, was his son’s classmate at the Academy, and Weinstein’s brother-in-law, also a Christian, is a grad as well. And his father graduated from Annapolis. The fact that both sons endured anti-Semitic harassment initially spurred him to take action. But this goes deeper than disrespect for other faiths. The attitude he has encountered in his attempt to hold the institution, and the rest of the military, accountable smacks of a coup: “The Christian Taliban is running the Department of Defense,” he told me. “It inundates everything.”
Can you imagine a contingent of religious zealots, with their contempt for secular values (and such manifestations of secular order as the U.S. Constitution) — and with their zest for holy war — in control of the most potent fighting force and weaponry in human history? Is this possible?
Well, said Weinstein, consider the 523rd Fighter Squadron, based at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., which calls itself The Crusaders, and whose emblem consists of a sword, four crosses and a medieval knight’s helmet. Check ‘em out at globalsecurity.org, which reports that the payload on the F-16s they fly consists of “a wide variety of conventional, precision guided and nuclear weapons.”
And listen once again to Commander-in-Chief Bush, speaking in 2003 to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: “God told me to strike at al-Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East.”
If this is a religious war — a “clash of civilizations,” waged by competing agents of God’s will — victory may be indistinguishable from Armageddon. God help the human race.
– – – Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer.
Not so fast, Christian soldiers
The Pentagon has a disturbing relationship with private evangelical groups.
By Michael L. Weinstein and Reza Aslan Wednesday August 22, 2007 – LA Times OP-Ed
Maybe what the war in Iraq needs is not more troops but more religion. At least that’s the message the Department of Defense seems to be sending.
Last week, after an investigation spurred by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Pentagon abruptly announced that it would not be delivering “freedom packages” to our soldiers in Iraq, as it had originally intended.
What were the packages to contain? Not body armor or home-baked cookies. Rather, they held Bibles, proselytizing material in English and Arabic and the apocalyptic computer game “Left Behind: Eternal Forces” (derived from the series of post-Rapture novels), in which “soldiers for Christ” hunt down enemies who look suspiciously like U.N. peacekeepers.
The packages were put together by a fundamentalist Christian ministry called Operation Straight Up, or OSU. Headed by former kickboxer Jonathan Spinks, OSU is an official member of the Defense Department’s “America Supports You” program. The group has staged a number of Christian-themed shows at military bases, featuring athletes, strongmen and actor-turned-evangelist Stephen Baldwin. But thanks in part to the support of the Pentagon, Operation Straight Up has now begun focusing on Iraq, where, according to its website (on pages taken down last week), it planned an entertainment tour called the “Military Crusade.”
Apparently the wonks at the Pentagon forgot that Muslims tend to bristle at the word “crusade” and thought that what the Iraq war lacked was a dose of end-times theology.
In the end, the Defense Department realized the folly of participating in any Operation Straight Up crusade. But the episode is just another example of increasingly disturbing, and indeed unconstitutional, relationships being forged between the U.S. military and private evangelical groups.
Take, for instance, the recent scandal involving Christian Embassy, a group whose expressed purpose is to proselytize to military personnel, diplomats, Capitol Hill staffers and political appointees. In a shocking breach of security, Defense Department officials allowed a Christian Embassy film crew to roam the corridors of the Pentagon unescorted while making a promotional video featuring high-ranking officers and political appointees. (Christian Embassy, which holds prayer meetings weekly at the Pentagon, is so entrenched that Air Force Maj. Gen. John J. Catton Jr. said he’d assumed the organization was a “quasi-federal entity.”)
The Pentagon’s inspector general recently released a report recommending unspecified “corrective action” for those officers who appeared in the video for violating Defense Department regulations. But, in a telling gesture, the report avoided any discussion of how allowing an evangelical group to function within the Defense Department is an obvious violation of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment.
The extent to which such relationships have damaged international goodwill toward the U.S. is beyond measure. As the inspector general noted, a leading Turkish newspaper, Sabah, published an article on Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton, who is the U.S. liaison to the Turkish military — and who appeared in the Christian Embassy video. The article described Christian Embassy as a “radical fundamentalist sect,” perhaps irreparably damaging Sutton’s primary job objective of building closer ties to the Turkish General Staff, which has expressed alarm at the influence of fundamentalist Christian groups inside the U.S. military.
Our military personnel swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, not the Bible. Yet by turning a blind eye to OSU and Christian Embassy activities, the Pentagon is, in essence, endorsing their proselytizing. And sometimes it’s more explicit than that.
That certainly was the case with Army Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence. The Pentagon put him in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in 2003. The same year, Boykin was found to be touring American churches, where he gave speeches — in uniform — casting the Iraq war in end-times terms. “We’re in is a spiritual battle,” he told one congregation in Oregon. “Satan wants to destroy this nation . . . and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army.” The story wound up in newspapers, magazines and on “60 Minutes.” And, of course, it was reported all over the Muslim world. The Pentagon reacted with a collective shrug.
American military and political officials must, at the very least, have the foresight not to promote crusade rhetoric in the midst of an already religion-tinged war. Many of our enemies in the Mideast already believe that the world is locked in a contest between Christianity and Islam. Why are our military officials validating this ludicrous claim with their own fiery religious rhetoric?
It’s time to actively strip the so-called war on terror of its religious connotations, not add to them. Because religious wars are not just ugly, they are unwinnable. And despite what Operation Straight Up and its supporters in the Pentagon may think is taking place in Iraq, the Rapture is not a viable exit strategy.
Michael L. Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, wrote “With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military.” Reza Aslan, author of “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam,” is on the MRFF advisory board.
Note: Watch the Christian Embassy Video here: http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.com/ (click on the “Urgent Issues” tab and scroll to the bottom of the page) It’s absolutely chilling! Please consider supporting Mikey Weinstein’s worthy cause by making a donation while you are there.
- Retired general to review religion at AF Academy (seattletimes.nwsource.com)