Blurring the line between faith and fighting
Lorie Johnson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri May 19, 2006 at 11:02:21 AM EST
Christian spiritual warfare has always been a component of certain Christian sects. Girding up to battle Satan is one thing, but what happens when the line between spirituality and reality becomes blurred or even absent? And what happens when this religious ideology percolates into our Armed Forces?
"I'm going to burn the devil out of your life," my roommate declared as she burned some of my books on metaphysics and alchemy on the barbeque grill in our shared apartment.

The year was 1981, and I was a young airman in the USAF stationed in the SF Bay Area. I watched in astonished surprise, which turned into icy determaination, as she burned a rare and costly alchemy book that had taken me months to find and purchase in this pre-internet time.

"Why are you doing this?" I managed to ask. She went into a lenghty explanation about Satan and salvation and how 'the occult' was 'of the devil' and that I needed to be 'exorcized' and saved to 'get the devil out of me'. "It's war," she concluded.

She lost that battle in her self-proclaimed 'war' -and a good sized chunk of her paycheck that month- ordered to pay me back for the books she'd destroyed. Deadbolt locks were put on our bedroom doors to prevent such things from happening again. And I moved to a different apartment to get away from her and her boyfriend's 'home church'- which was a dozen people loudly praying in the livingroom. I heard my name mentioned in these 'salvation prayers' more than a few times. It was the start of 13 years of ongoing skirmishes with hardcore evangelicals determined to save me - and other 'unchurched' members.

But her statement that "It's war", stuck with me, and when I found a newly published book on the subject a few months later, "Holy Terror", I read it eagerly, and with growing dismay. It was the book that launched me on my ongoing studies- and for 25 years, I have been watching this rising tide of spiritually motivated 'war' lapping at the secular foundations of this country- and leaching into our armed forces.

Military imagery is everywhere you look in Evangelical churches. And there are entire ministries which use military imagery [warning- noisy Flash splash page] to drive home their eagerness to spread Christ's word through apparent force of arms. This continues with the generous use of police and court terms as well as military terminology and repurposing of common acronyms into Christian ones.

Why all the military imagery and terminology? Isn't spiritual warfare enough? Why does it appear that many churches are more than ready to take the next step, and take this 'warfare' out of the churches and into the streets? And why the warlike emphasis on teen evangelicism? Battlecry is one of the most overt examples of the use of military imagery and martyrdom to fire young people up into some kind of crazed fury. Their use of military terms is the most overt, and the use of SEALS in their latest mass rally is disturbing on many levels- not the least of which is the tie-in with military recuritment in the real-life armed forces.

What awaits them there? More religious motivation and reinforcement of their beliefs. And sometimes that reinforcement is is opportunistic in intent- young soldiers who are far from home may have little choice but to participate in these activities.

Those who join the USAF Academy have an even more coercive environment awaiting them. The USAF Academy is smack dab in the middle of several of the most influential Dominionist-oriented organizations in the country.

The ultimate goal, true believers in charge of our military, is already  coming to fruition:

During the Kosovo bombing campaign a year ago, a reporter asked a middle-aged man whose reserve unit was preparing to be shipped to the Balkans: "Are you afraid?" "No, I'm not afraid," the reservist replied, "because the Lord is on my side." A young, sincerely religious pilot fondly told another reporter about prayer meetings in the chaplain's office before bombing raids, where a small group petitioned God for safety and success.

These perspectives make sense for Christians only if the God known in Jesus takes sides in war. But can a Christian really claim that "The Lord is on my side" in war, or pray for the success of missiles?

Apparently so. And it is now OK for military chaplains, once trained to be non-sectrian in their ministries to pray in Jesus' name in public venues.

The new language says: "Each chaplain shall have the prerogative to pray according to the dictates of the chaplain's own conscience, except as must be limited by military necessity, with any such limitation being imposed in the least restrictive manner feasible."

The provision seeks to correct what some House members have considered inappropriate military restrictions, especially on evangelical chaplains who normally follow the New Testament pattern of praying in Jesus' name.

It is clear that more moderate religious voices have been silenced. But for how long? Will there be a backlash of moderate or secular voices to counteract this Christianizaton of our military? For the sake of our country's future, I sincerely hope so.

One of the most overt exploiters of military personnel is The Campus Crusade for Christ which 'seeds' evangelical ministries around the world- using military personnel. My former roommate was one of these people.

God is raising up a network of locally-led Military Ministry-coached Campus Crusade for Christ ministries on military installations and ships across the world. The Military Ministry is working to help leaders like you build movements that will transform their installations or ship to "Reach the World through the Military of the World".

Our desire is to develop a movement on every installation and ship that is not merely a club, but rather a transformational community. We envision a community where lost personnel and their families are being transformed by the gospel of Christ (Col. 1:13-14); where Christians are being transformed in "grace and truth relationships" (Eph. 4); and where military bases and the world are being transformed by laborers who are sent (Matt. 9:37-39).

Lost, eh? That was a word that was used quite frequently by my former roomie. Sounds like they're still at it.

by Lorie Johnson on Fri May 19, 2006 at 11:14:27 AM EST

As a survivor--and "collatteral damage"--of "spiritual warfare" movements in dominionism, I applaud you for noting this.

People honestly have no idea just how extensive this imagery is within dominionism, and in particular the pente and neopente churches in which dominion theology emerged.  (In fact, "dominion theology" is in fact the prototypical "spiritual warfare" movement, and the extent of military and police imagery has grown the longer dominion theology has been around.  It's particularly bad in what used to be known as the "Toronto" and "Brownsville" movements (and what is now known as "Third Wave" pentecostalism--partly because it's spread to so many churches, and partly because it's increasingly recognised that the roots were around far before Toronto or Brownsville; to note full disclosure, I'm a survivor of a "Third Wave" pente church that was doing "Brownsville" type madness a good thirty years before the Pensacola "revival").)

It is really only now as a walkaway--and having had experience talking to what I term "sane Christians"--that I can truthfully say that the type of religion that is promoted in the pente-dominionist churches in particular (one of the biggies being Ted Haggard's New Life Church, which has been linked with the USAFA religious coercion scandals) is not what mainstream Christianity would recognise as "Christian".  Dominionist theology is very, very different from mainstream Christianity, I'm realising, and people whose main frame of reference is from a moderate or even conservative non-dominionist Christian church almost uniformly tell me they are utterly shocked at how spirituality was twisted in the group I escaped.

In some ways, the closest analogue is with another group altogether--Scientology, which is highly coercive and also has strong "spiritual warfare" memes (the SEA Orgs, signing people up for 1-billion-year "tours of duty", etc.) and even a deliverance-ministry movement of its own.  Literally, it is as if the same base of coercion, conspiracy theories, and military imagery was used by both groups--only one wrapped it up in Biblical imagery, and the other wrapped it up in bad space opera.

The military theology isn't new in the most hardline dominionist churches.  One thing I keep remembering--and, especially now with the fact that threatening noises are being made over nuking Iran and how relations with Russia are going south, having nightmares about again--is a scene from the early 80's, when relations between the US under Reagan and the USSR under Chernenko had gone south to the point that people thought the Cold War might well go hot soon.

The preacher was talking about how God's chosen would be "raptured up"...and they would get a heaven-side seat as the USSR invaded Israel, the US launched a retaliatory strike against the USSR, and most of humanity was annihilated in literal nuclear hellfire--and at the end of the Tribulation, the few survivors who hadn't converted would be slaughtered as the "warriors of God" (who had been watching the holocaust and were laughing--yes, the preacher emphasised this--laughing at the poor bastards who got nuked because they were Getting Theirs) came down and slew everyone who wasn't explicitly a God Warrior.   Then God would provide a new heaven and new earth, thanks to this one being rendered uninhabitable until the death of the sun. :P

As they were describing everyone getting nuked and people having a heaven-side seat to it, the place was going nuts with orgiastic joy, especially the preacher, over the fact that over 99 percent of the human population was going to die because they were not dominionist pentes.  And yes, they went over how most Christians would burn too, because God would see them as "lukewarm".

The people in my church wanted a nuclear fucking war that would destroy the planet and most of humanity.  Were happy about it.  Were literally dancing in the aisles and praising God that it looked like Mutually Assured Destruction was about to come to pass.  (And people talk about people celebrating when the World Trade Center fell :P)

It still makes me sick and sad and scared to think of it, and recent world events are bringing the flashbacks of that back to me in nightmares. :(

by dogemperor on Sat May 20, 2006 at 10:26:09 AM EST


You certainly showed more patience and forbearance than I would have.  Did you ever ask your ex-roomie what kind of god she was following? I'm a firm believer in "By their fruits shall ye know them."
I am also "old school" Army and I remember our chaplain in Vietnam. He was a Jesuit priest who was always ready to pray with and counsel us no matter what our religion was.  
BTW, the savage militarism in Christianity is definitely not from the teachings of Jesus but rather from the "germanization" of Christianity which began under the Emperor Charlemagne in the 8th and 9th centuries. This has been going on for a long time.

by Frank Frey on Mon May 22, 2006 at 11:44:55 AM EST

Way back then, in the early 80s, I was a brand-new enlistee who was still operating in the 'be nice' pattern of interaction with everyone. The thought would not have occurred to me, even though I'd just made the break from my own childhood faith.

Fast forward to today, and such an interaction would be far different. I am still a polite person, but the polish of years has reduced my tolerance for nonsense by a considerable amount, and I do not suffer fools- even religious ones- gladly.

I knew good chaplains while I served. One in particular- Chaplain Rowell- was instrumental in getting me to understand that "Christian" did not automatically mean "intolerant bonehead". He had midnight breakfasts for those of us who worked the overnight shifts, visited us frequently, and had a wonderful sense of humor.

But the beginnings of the 'biblian' sort of Christianity were there- all the Bible study groups hogging teletype circuits and the unsubtle push for those of us who were 'unchurched' to join their ranks were already in place. They've just grown bolder in those 25 years.

by Lorie Johnson on Mon May 22, 2006 at 02:00:54 PM EST

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