DOD: Pentagon Officers Promoted Right Wing Christian Group
Here's an audio clip from the Christian Embassy video:
As described in Jeff Sharlet's story Inside Christian Embassy -- an exclusive interview, Christian Embassy promotes a heavily politicized, right wing version of Christianity and seems to hold that there was Biblical justification for the US invasion of Iraq.
Here's Jason Leopold's fine summary of this news, up on Truthout.org, Video, Report Details Evangelism at Highest Levels of US Military. Excerpt :
A report released publicly on Thursday by the Defense Department's (DOD) inspector general has found high-ranking Army and Air Force personnel violated long-standing military regulations when they participated in a promotional video for an evangelical Christian organization while in uniform and on active duty. The report recommended Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack Catton, Army Brig. Gen. Bob Caslen, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton, and a colonel and lieutenant colonel whose names were redacted in the inspector general's report, "improperly endorsed and participated with a non-Federal entity while in uniform" and the men should be disciplined for misconduct. Caslen was formerly the deputy director for political-military affairs for the war on terrorism, directorate for strategic plans and policy, joint staff. He now oversees the cadets at the Military Academy at West Point. Caslen told DOD investigators he agreed to appear in the video upon learning other senior Pentagon officials had been interviewed for the promotional video. The inspector general's report recommended the "Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Army take appropriate corrective action with respect to the military officers concerned."
A lawsuit filed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (see this Dec. 13, 2006 Slate story, "Onward Christian Soldiers", for the full text of MRFF's legal complaint ) was dismissed for "lack of standing" but a just released 47 page report from the Department of Defense Inspector General concurs [ see Truthout full PDF of report], substantially, with MRFF's allegations that high ranking Pentagon officials improperly endorsed the "Christian Embassy" in the making of the video. Please keep the following in mind: Individuals featured in the Christian Embassy promotional video are among the highest ranking members of the United States military, and as such they are supposed to be the ones setting the standards for military behavior. The Pentagon Inspector General's report provides evidence for the following conclusion which I have been substantiating, along with other MRFF researchers : The United States military is now heavily influenced by para-church ministries that promote politicized, right leaning, religious ideological views, and that influence extends from the upper levels of the Pentagon down to the level of the military rank and file. A few months ago that would have been an unfounded assertion on my part, but since then I've been working as part of a team effort, under the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, to amass evidence to support that claim. I can't divulge specifics right now, but yesterday I wrote, in general terms, of what I have helped uncover, for MRFF, on the spread of Christian nationalist events, improperly endorsed by the US military, across the nation. Material from that research will be emerging over the course of the next few weeks and months.
"We are the aroma of Christ !" declares on Military officer in the video, and the joyous abandon of the officers in the video suggest a disturbing conclusion, that the lines between their personal religious beliefs and their roles as United States military officers had become so blurred they no longer could tell where the proper lines were, and that blurring raises troubling questions about the integrity of the military chain of command. Some of the officers in the video sought to defend their participation with the claim that Christian Embassy has become a "quasi governmental organization". The July 20, 2007 Pentagon Inspector General's report concludes that seven high ranking Pentagon military officers "violated JER sections 2635.702(b), "appearance of government sanction" and 3-300.a, on personal participation in non-Federal entities, DoD directive (DoDD) 1334.1, "Wearing of The Uniform", and Army and Air Force uniform standards. A Military Religious Freedom Foundation press release detailed the high points of the report:
The 46-page report dated July 20, 2007 found that: 1. Pentagon Chaplain Colonel Ralph G. Benson obtained limited approval for the non-profit, non-Federal religious organization “Christian Embassy” to film in the Pentagon by mischaracterizing the purpose and proponent of their new, fundraising video. He had stated that the video was to document the Pentagon’s own ministry rather than that of a non-Federal entity, when it was actually intended to attract new supporters. 2. Benson thus provided “Christian Embassy” a selective benefit, including permission to film and unescorted access to Pentagon areas and personnel that other organizations would not have received. 3. Seven high-ranking military officers, including major generals and brigadier generals were filmed in interviews with “Christian Embassy” during the duty day with rank clearly displayed in official and often identifiable Pentagon locations. 4. None of the officers had sought or received approval to participate in official capacity or uniform. 5. The officers’ remarks conferred approval of and support to “Christian Embassy”, and some officers’ remarks implied that they spoke for a group of senior military leaders. 6. The officers defended their actions by asserting that “Christian Embassy” had become a “quasi-Federal entity”, since the Department of Defense had endorsed the organization to General Officers for over twenty five years. “Christian Embassy” is in fact affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ, a worldwide evangelical missionary organization. 7. Chaplain Benson defended his actions by asserting a First Amendment Establishment Clause right in connection with his professional status. 8. Mr. Robert Varney, Executive Director of “Christian Embassy”, testified that the new video was used for his organization’s fundraising; indeed the new video covered exclusively the non-Federal organization, but did not mention the Pentagon’s ministry. 9. The new video updated “Christian Embassy’s” prior promo video of 2001 and included endorsements of the organization and its “services” from supporters working on Capitol Hill, other Federal agencies and embassies, wholly unconnected with the Pentagon’s ministry. 10. The non-DoD speakers on the video included six congressmen, two ambassadors, two ambassadors’ wives, as well as the Under Secretary of benefits for Veterans’ Affairs and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who acknowledged in the video “Christian Embassy’s” international and federal-governmental evangelical outreach. 11. The report concluded that Major Generals Peter Sutton and John Catton, Brigadier Generals Vincent Brooks and Robert Caslen “improperly endorsed and participated with a non-Federal entity while in uniform”. It recommends that the Air Force and the Army “consider appropriate corrective action...” (p.44) 12. The report also concluded that the Pentagon Chaplain’s office authorized contractor badge status to 34 religiously affiliated volunteers, including Christian Embassy employees. Further, it noted that the Inspector General’s office is “unconvinced” that these passes were properly authorized and “suggests that a contractor badge is not appropriate for these individuals”.As Alan Cooperman described the controversy over the video, reporting for the Washington Post back on Monday, December 11, 2006:
A military watchdog group is asking the Defense Department to investigate whether seven Army and Air Force officers violated regulations by appearing in uniform in a promotional video for an evangelical Christian organization. In the video, much of which was filmed inside the Pentagon, four generals and three colonels praise the Christian Embassy, a group that evangelizes among military leaders, politicians and diplomats in Washington. Some of the officers describe their efforts to spread their faith within the military. "I found a wonderful opportunity as a director on the joint staff, as I meet the people that come into my directorate," Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack J. Catton Jr. says in the video. "And I tell them right up front who Jack Catton is, and I start with the fact that I'm an old-fashioned American, and my first priority is my faith in God, then my family and then country. I share my faith because it describes who I am." Pete Geren, a former acting secretary of the Air Force who oversaw the service's response in 2005 to accusations that evangelical Christians were pressuring cadets at the Air Force Academy, also appears in the video. The Christian Embassy "has been a rock that I can rely on, been an organization that helped me in my walk with Christ, and I'm just thankful for the service they give," he says.Christian Embassy is a para-church organization of Campus Crusade For Christ, whose founder Bill Bright was one of the early leaders on the Christian right to advocate the use of "cell groups as an organizing tactic. Writing for the Village Voice in 1999, Claire Barliant summarized the political roots of Bill Bright's "Campus Crusade For Christ" and its offshoot, Christian Embassy:
Campus Crusade was founded in 1951 at UCLA by Bill Bright, a businessman who experienced a call to preach in 1948. At its inception, Bright imitated communist recruitment tactics, and promoted his ministry as a revolutionary movement. In the '70s, Bright described his group as a "conspiracy to overthrow the world." Sara Diamond, an authority on right-wing movements, asserts that "Bright's goal was to recruit young people away from the Left and into a conservative brand of Christianity." In 1975, Bright fronted a group of businessmen in the purchase of a mansion in Washington, D.C. Calling it the "Christian Embassy," he staffed it with Campus Crusaders who offered religious guidance to pols.In a December 23, 2006 piece entitled "Inside Christian Embassy", journalist Jeff Sharlet, now an associate editor at Rolling Stone, summarizes the genesis of Christian Embassy and gives a rundown on the heavily politicized nature of the ministry:
Christian Embassy originated in a 1974 collaboration between Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade, and then-Arizona Congressman John Conlan. They wanted to persuade evangelicals that it was not only permissible to participate in politics, it was necessary to save the nation from "moral decay" and imminent collapse. Bright is best known for Campus Crusade's pollyanna-ish appeals to Christian college students, but his politics were anything but sunny: Typical of his rhetoric throughout his career were his declarations at a 1962 Arizona Governor's Prayer Breakfast that the United States had between two and ten years before a complete communist take-over, and that the only hope was a complete rejection of secularism, according to the wisdom of II Chronicles, chapter six. That's the part where King Solomon decrees that all government business will be conducted in the temple.... Following are ten key points from McCullough’s description of Christian Embassy, which McCullough said functions “very much” like the Fellowship, or the Family, the self-described “invisible” network of prayer cells for elites in government, military, and business described in my 2003 Harper’s article, “Jesus Plus Nothing.” The Fellowship produces the annual National Prayer Breakfast (although it tries to keep its involvement quiet); Christian Embassy has no analogous public face.
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