David Belden wrote the article, “Backward Christian Soldiers,” for the New Humanist magazine in January of 2008, but there’s reason to believe the problem he describes is still serious. Belden tells the story of Mikey Weinstein, “who has become the leading whistleblower and campaigner against the influence of fundamentalist evangelicals in the US military.” Weinstein is the author of “With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military” and founder of the website, Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Belden begins …
If you heard it said that America’s military was being taken over by agents of apocalyptic Christianity, you might think it the fiction of some leftwing alarmist. But what if it came from a man who said, “I never thought, coming from a conservative military Republican family filled with [US Air Force] Academy graduates and people that have been in so much combat, that at this point in my life, after being a White House lawyer, a lawyer for a Texas billionaire, a businessman, that I’d suddenly become this political activist”?
Weinstein says …
“We are facing a national security threat in this country that is every bit as significant in magnitude, width and breadth internally as that presented externally by the now-resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda. And it is the destruction of the US constitutionally mandated wall separating metaphysical and physical, spiritual and non-spiritual, church and state, in the technologically most lethal organisation every created by humankind, which is our honourable and noble military. I’m here to report to you today that that wall is nothing but smoke and debris. We are facing an absolute fundamentalist Christianisation – a Talibanisation – of the US Marine Corps, Army, Navy, and Air Force.”
Weinstein’s explanation for how evangelicals were able to “gain traction” in the Academy is surprising and counterintuitive:
Weinstein says that the problem goes back to the ending of the draft in 1972, after which the military became less representative of the entire population and more of what is now called “red state” or rural and small-town America. But he also mentions the admission of women to the Academy, which took place in 1976, and the eventual inability of the school to create a respectful atmosphere for women. In 2003 a huge sexual abuse scandal broke, when dozens of women cadets at the Academy said they had been reprimanded or ostracised when they reported being raped. This echoed a scandal in the Navy from twelve years earlier, at the infamous Tailhook Convention, when women were subject to a culture of abuse. Weinstein mentions that the evangelicals began to get traction in the Academy because they claimed to know how to train young men to respect women and practise chastity. Was the American military so floored by feminism that it did not know how to train its young men to accept women as equals, and so fell back upon the heartland pastors who claimed they knew how to create chaste Christian soldiers?
Belden’s article is especially interesting because he poses this conundrum:
Morale is the great necessity in the military. But when I ask Mikey Weinstein about the vacuum that the evangelicals filled, and what he would have put in its place, the non-stop talker is at a loss for words.
Other resources on the subject.
First, this nine-minute video makes a compelling case that “the wall separating church and state in our United States military is nothing but smoke and debris.”
“Soldier Who Sued Army Facing Threats” (from TruthOut.Org)
“Hold On, Christian Soldiers” (from Time Magazine)
“Are U.S. Troops being force-fed Christianity?” (from Christian Science Monitor)
“General Petraeus: A Supporter of Christian Nationalists?” (from Mother Jones).
CNN interview with Jeremy Hall (July 9, 2008):