Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What's Happening to Faith in Our Military?

"Hey, Mikey!"

Remember that old television commercial for Life cereal?  "Give it to Mikey - he'll eat anything," we heard some kids say as they wonder whether or not this new breakfast cereal is any good.

"Hey!  He likes it!" they exclaim after we see Mikey quietly eating spoonful after spoonful of the cereal.

The whole "Hey, Mikey!" schtick became a popular colloquial expression on the order of "try it, you may like it."  But of all things Mikey might like, there's one Mikey who doesn't like evangelical Christians.

Michael Weinstein is a graduate of the Air Force Academy, a former judge advocate general, author, and Washington policy wonk.  He used to be a lawyer for Ross Perot, and has been called one of America's 50 most prominent Jews and one of the 100 most influential people in America's defense department.

And contrary to that formidable resume, he likes to call himself "Mikey."

Mikey is also the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which asserts that the military's only religious symbol is the American flag, and the military's only sacred document is the Constitution.

Sounds oddly like some right-wing evangelical fundamentalists, doesn't he?  Except Mikey Weinstein is no evangelical.  In fact, he's doing everything he can to strip the military of anything with the faintest odor of Christianity.  Inhibiting evangelism within the ranks is a goal that has been kicked around a few liberal organizations since about 2008, but only recently has it gained serious traction.

Well, as serious as Mikey claims to be.

On April 23, Fox News is reporting that Weinstein met with Pentagon brass in an effort to convince our military leaders that proselytization and evangelism are tantamount to treason in America's armed forces.  He called for courts martial for the "tidal wave of fundamentalists," service members who try and share their faith within the ranks.

“Someone needs to be punished for this,” Weinstein himself explained to Fox News. “Until the Air Force or Army or Navy or Marine Corps punishes a member of the military for unconstitutional religious proselytizing and oppression, we will never have the ability to stop this horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing behavior.”

To evangelicals hearing somebody level such charges and foment such rhetoric against our faith - and our faithful - it all seems bizarre, and we're easily tempted to write off Weinstein as some nut case with an ax to grind.  Sure, he may have friends in high places from his own years working in and around the Pentagon, but how likely is it that Christianity is suddenly going to be banned from America's armed forces?  Considering our legendary history of military chaplaincy, the presence of historic Christian chapels - not to mention chapels of many other faiths - at all of our academies, and the role faith plays in many of the mottoes, slogans, rites, and traditions in all branches of the service, Weinstein can't be serious.

Can he?

Here's another question:  was gay marriage on anybody's radar 10 years ago?

Considering the vitriolic swagger with which Weinstein conducts himself before the media, it's entirely likely that he badgered some generals so incessantly that they finally caved and met with him to simply get him off their backs.

But if you believe anything Weinstein has posted on his website, how relevant is his claim that 30,000 members of our armed forces have come to his organization as "spiritual rape victims/tormentees?"  With over two million active and reserve personnel, our military may not consider 30,000 people a significant number.  But our media would.  And so would politicians, don't you think?

“The armed forces are on the verge of falling apart,” Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, recently told a Washington Post reporter, characterizing proselytization as “absolutely destructive of the bonds that keep soldiers together.”

According to Wilkerson, a chaplain's role “is to minister to spiritual needs. You don’t proselytize. It’s a workplace violation.”

Which, of course, betrays a woeful ignorance on the part of Wilkerson regarding the purpose of genuine Christianity.  Unless, of course, the proselytization taking place under the guise of Christianity really is more about badgering people with religion instead of modeling Christ to one's fellow soldiers.  We shouldn't have to shove salvation down peoples' throats; aren't they supposed to be able to see the difference Christ has made in our own lives, and desire the same thing?  Unfortunately, just as we evangelicals have cultivated a poor image within our culture by our self-righteous politics and hypocritical indifference towards people unlike us, if our witness within our military bears any resemblance to our conduct among civilians, no wonder people like Weinstein appear to be gaining a foothold at the Pentagon.

The less we focus on Christ, the less our positive influence in our world.  Is Mikey capitalizing on that reality?  Hopefully, it's not too late to start living out our faith, instead of our religion.

After all, if you thought Christianity was already coming under attack from our culture, what will happen if our own military turns on us?


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