Evangelicals and the USAF Academy
It is clear that the local evangelical organizations in Boulder, Colorado- where the Academy is located- have a very tight and heavily influential relationship with the Academy and its staff and cadets.
in the Online Journal goes into quite a bit of detail about the long running relationships of some very well known Evangelical (and dominionist) Christian organizations. Several former cadets are suing the Academy, citing religious pressure above and beyond the norm. Here are some excerpts:
The Air Force Academy, located in Colorado Springs, is surrounded by right-wing evangelical groups, several of which maintain close relationships with the academy's faculty, staff, and cadets. These groups and the military officials who follow them have been integrating evangelical Christianity into official academy activities for at least 12 years. Over this time, they have promoted evangelical beliefs to cadets, used their religion as a tool for military training, and encouraged religious conformity on campus.
Read that again: Twelve years- long enough for many of the graduates influenced by these groups to have gained enough rank to themselves influence military policy.
Here's the list of organizations that surround and work with the staff at the Academy:
In addition to being headquarters for Air Force Space Command, Northern Command, NORAD, numerous Air Force bases, and the Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs is also home to the nation's largest, most influential and politically active evangelical organizations: James Dobson's Focus on the Family, which is so large that it maintains its own zip code, claims more than 200 million followers worldwide, and is located directly across the highway from the academy.
Dobson, who is one of the most powerful and influential religious leaders in the world, believes the Supreme Court is guilty of "the biggest holocaust in world history"; regularly denounces "judicial tyranny" against Christians; and has gone after the creators of Sponge Bob Square Pants and many other cartoons for "promoting a homosexual agenda to children." Most recently Dobson has been in the news for receiving "inside" information regarding failed Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers' willingness to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Also situated on the far north side of Colorado Springs is New Life Church, where it was built, in part, so it could be seen from the Air Force Academy.  Sporting Air Force colors, the silver and blue megachurch, along with its leader Ted Haggard, are there not just to be seen, but to aggressively recruit new members for what they believe to be a "spiritual war" of epic proportions.
Haggard, who many consider to be more influential than Dobson, meets with President Bush or his advisors every Monday and leads the nation's most powerful religious lobbying group: the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which claims about 45,000 churches consisting of 30 million members nationwide.
Haggard's influence deserves notice because he preaches that wars, disasters, and other tragedies are opportunities for spreading evangelical Protestantism throughout the world  and that the end result of globalization will be a final spiritual battle between Muslims and evangelicals. "My fear," he told Jeff Sharlet of Harpers Magazine, "is that my children will grow up in an Islamic state."
For this reason (see above link) Haggard believes "spiritual war" requires a military component. He teaches a "strong ideology of the use of power, of military might, as a public service" and supports preemptive war because he believes the Bible instructs Christians to proactively abolish sinners. He told Sharlet he believes in violent warfare because "the Bible's bloody. There's a lot about blood."
One New Lifer who spoke to Sharlet thinks of Colorado Springs as a "spiritual Gettysburg" -- "a battleground between good and evil." He believes God called him to Colorado Springs and says many of the people he knows, including those working at the surrounding Air Force Bases, feel the same way.  "I'm a warrior for God. Colorado Springs is my training ground," he said.
"The Bible's bloody. There's a lot about blood". Adding to this the testosterone-charged "Warrior Jesus" of the Left Behind series and the young minds that the Academy is training, and you have a potentially explosive combination of dogma and military training.
Colorado Springs has been seen as a religious battleground for years. People actually 'prayer-walk' this city, spray cooking oil on places they believe are inhabited by 'strongholds' of demonic spirits, and have made it very uncomfortable for people of other faiths, including moderate Christians, to live there.
But these groups concentrate their greatest effort and firepower on the Academy's students:
Other issues that raised concerns amongst the two groups include:
* Protestant cadets were commonly told that Jesus had "called" them to the academy as part of God's plan for their lives.
* Cadets who chose not to attend after-dinner chapel services were made to suffer humiliation by being marched back to their dormitories in what was called the "Heathen Flight."
* Commission ceremonies for graduating officers have been held at off-campus churches.
* In December of 2003, in the academy's newspaper, hundreds of staff members -- including the then-dean of the faculty, the current dean of faculty, and 16 department heads or deputy department heads -- expressed their belief that "Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the world" and directed students to contact them so they could "discuss Jesus."
* The academy commandant, Brigadier General Johnny Weida, a born-again Christian, said in a statement to cadets in June 2003 that their first responsibility was to their God. He has also strongly endorsed National Prayer Day, an event sponsored by Focus on the Family and chaired by James Dobson's wife, Shirley.
* The academy has provided passes for Christian cadets who wish to attend church services and activities off campus, such as at New Life Church. They, however, have denied Jewish, Seven-Day Adventist, and those with other beliefs, the right to leave the campus for non-evangelical religious services.
* Several faculty members have introduced themselves to their classes as born-again Christians and encouraged non-evangelical students to convert to evangelical Christianity throughout the course of the term.
* Staff and faculty members have led prayer sessions at several mandatory school activities, such as academic exams, meals at the dining hall, awards ceremonies, military-training-event dinners, and basic training cadet cadre meetings.
Attempts to correct the problems at the Academy have so far yielded mixed, and often, unsatisfactory results. And of course, the evangelical organizations cited have resorted to their usual tactic of smear campaigns against the people who are standing up to them:
In order to help correct the problems they observed at the academy, the team that first brought the issue into light from Yale Divinity School developed and proposed a program designed to thoroughly teach religious tolerance to the cadets and to make clear the importance of keeping official duties religiously neutral.
However, the program was substantially modified after a visit from the Air Force's chief of chaplains, Major General Charles Baldwin, and, as a result, the program does not teach the fundamental aspects of separation of church and state.
Moreover, Baldwin removed parts of the program that were meant to increase understanding of non-Christian religions, such as Buddhism, Judaism and Native American spirituality, and also took out a clip from "Schindler's List," the 1993 movie on the Holocaust.
Captain Morton, who helped design the original religious tolerance program with the team from Yale, says it has been watered down and is no longer an effective tool for correcting the problems.
Americans United summarized: "firsthand, eyewitness reports confirm that this . . . program is woefully inadequate to address the pervasive problems of official religious intolerance, discrimination, and coercion at the academy."
The classes were further undermined, according to American United, by senior academy officials, who while on official duty have attended religious programs, held by an evangelical Christian group, which define "secularism" and "pluralism" as threats to "the followers of Jesus." In effect, the cadet program has acted to further polarize the academy, as many evangelical faculty members, cadets, and generals now believe their religious rights are being attacked.
"The problem is people have been across the line for so many years when you try and come back in bounds, people get offended," said Lt. Gen. John Rosa. In June, Rosa said the "issue is very insidious" and could take six to eight years to fix.
Facing mounting criticism and congressional action, at the end of August the Air Force issued new guidelines restricting military officials from promoting their religious beliefs. "We will not officially endorse or establish religion, either one specific religion or the idea of religion over non-religion," the Air Force's official statement declared.
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (a Christian conservative think tank originally founded by James Dobson) believes the new guidelines are a sign that the Air Force is "caving in" to the lawsuit. "These developments raise disturbing questions about the rights of Christians in uniform," he wrote on October 11.
Focus on the Family, in an attempt to reverse the newly released guidelines, has started a campaign aimed at discrediting Yale Divinity School and Americans United. In "Architecture of a Smear," the associate editor of Focus on the Family's Citizen Magazine, Stephen Adams, blames the allegations at the academy on a few radical liberal activists who he believes are attacking the Christian majority.
Calling their millions of followers to action, the Focus on the Family website is asking members to "contact President Bush and urge him to restore the right to religious expression in the Air Force."
"We want to be sure that the president hears that a lot of people are concerned about this, and that [he] should help the Air Force cadre apply these principles fairly and constitutionally," said Tom Minnery, vice president of Government and Public Policy for Focus on the Family.
Minnery believes "there is an anti-Christian bigotry developing" at the school. "We fervently hope that this ridiculous bias of a few against the religion of the majority -- Christianity -- will now cease," he said.
Jim Backlin, vice president for legislative affairs of the Christian Coalition (a religious political group seeking to "change policy and influence decisions" from "the school boards to Washington, DC") says he recently met with the Air Force secretary's general counsel to discuss the issue. "I told the secretary we are concerned that the guidelines as written would have a chilling effect and are already having a chilling effect," Backlin said.
More than 70 members of the House have joined the cause and signed a letter to President Bush asking him to issue an executive order overriding the Air Force's new guidelines. "Christian military chaplains are under direct attack and their right to pray according to their faith is in jeopardy," the letter states.
Rep. Walter Jones, the conservative Republican who wrote the letter, said, "We believe that the Air Force's suppression of religious freedom is a pervasive problem throughout our nation's armed forces" and "it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christian chaplains to use the name of Jesus when praying."
If Bush agrees to issue an executive order permitting chaplains to proselytize, Mikey Weinstein says he will add the president's name to his lawsuit's list of defendants.
Read the entire article and follow all the links. This is a very important article, and is a reflection of many of the tactics that dominionists use in order to overtake and influence the mainstream.
The implications for our military officer corps are even more chilling. The USAF Academy is in a unique place, ground zero, if you will, of the aggressive Christian right's influence. Other military academies might not be in as close a touch with these organizations simply because of geographical concerns, but they are most likely doing their best to influence the Army and Naval academies too.
Here are links to my two earlier stories in this series:
How Minority Faiths are treated in the US Military
Evangelicals and the USAF Academy | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)
Evangelicals and the USAF Academy | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)