DOD: Pentagon Officers Promoted Right Wing Christian Group
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 02:40:28 PM EST
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The now notorious "Christian Embassy" video, first publicized by journalist (and now Rolling Stone associate editor) Jeff Sharlet became the centerpiece of a legal case from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation that alleged the participation of high ranking Pentagon military officials in the video, filmed in the Pentagon, amounted to a massive violation of DOD regulations. The video featured high ranking military officers describing, in glowing terms, the work of the "Christian Embassy" in evangelizing within the Department of Defense and among both US and foreign politicians. A co-founder of Christian Embassy, Bill Bright, pioneered the use of communist organizing tactics such as "cell groups" and in the 1970's described his efforts as "conspiracy to overthrow the world."
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.

Christian Embassy is political.
Unlike the conservative Family Research Council, which McCullough describes as an explicitly political lobby with which Christian Embassy sometimes coordinates, Christian Embassy focuses on "networking, individual counseling, that kind of thing." McCullough told me that Christian Embassy is apolitical; on the other hand, he also said its ministry has a political impact: "It’s more to help the individual grow as a person in their relationship with God, and then their politics is going to be an outcome."

Christian Embassy believes religion should guide politics.
Christian Embassy believes that politicians, diplomats, and officers should not consider their personal faith separate from their politics and their official duties. McCullough offers as a role model President Bush: "...in terms of the way [Bush] talks, the way he believes, he doesn’t really say ‘Oh I’m going to do religious things now and do other things later.’"

Christian Embassy sees the top brass as its mission field
McCullough on Christian Embassy’s Pentagon presence: "At the Pentagon, we have a flag officers groups. Your stars, basically, 1-4 stars. We also have a disciple group at the pentagon. And there’s a general Bible study that meets Wednesday morning where 70-120 come. Most of our groups that we organize and work with are at the officer level. Flags, a good percentage. We have about 40 that come or are involved with that."

Christian Embassy is closely involved with political and military officials.
Those who work with Christian Embassy will typically meet in small groups, under the supervision of a counselor like McCullough, for an hour every week. Counselors typically select a scripture verse for discussion and attempt to draw out its "practical" implications, often through application to current events. Participants can and do call on Christian Embassy counselors for additional advice outside of their cell meetings. These counseling sessions typically take place in the officer’s or politician’s office. The most committed participants may travel overseas on behalf of Christian Embassy or arrange their official government travel to leave time for evangelizing work. This work may sometimes be "covert," such as a evangelizing in countries where it’s against the law.

Christian Embassy takes political positions.
Participants may call on Christian Embassy for advice on specific issues. "'What does the Bible say about this?'" is a common question, according to McCullough. He says Christian Embassy will not give explicit policy advice, but as a counselor, he would tell a member of Congress or a military official that a particular position -- pro-choice politics, or pacifism, for instance -- is "contrary to scripture."

Christian Embassy believes the Iraq War may be biblically sanctioned.
On the question of the war in Iraq, McCullough counsels: "We have war all throughout the Bible. Man’s history is war. So what’s the right thing? Not necessarily [the] war in the Bible. But what are you looking for? Is peace possible?" McCullough answered his own question by laughing.

Christian Embassy is a lobby in all but name.
McCullough says Christian Embassy is not a lobbying organization, but describes his work thusly: "I often will go visit a member of Congress and say, ‘Hey, there’s this going on, could you be involved in that?’ ... Or I will recommend to some of these groups that are issue oriented as to who might be interested in helping them. I am aware of where people are. So we do try to connect the dots. Network people." He agrees that Christian Embassy participants use the Christian Embassy network to political advantage, but considers this a positive outcome since it gives ambitious political, diplomatic, and military figures an incentive to get more involved with Christian Embassy’s evangelical theology.

Christian Embassy is conservative and mostly Republican.
McCullough says Christian Embassy is bi-partisan, but in addition to President Bush and the Republicans featured in the video, he offered as examples of public figures very involved with Christian Embassy’s work three very conservative Republican senators, Sam Brownback of Kansas, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and John Thune of South Dakota; and four Republican representatives, conservatives Robert Alderholt of Alabama and John R. Carter of Texas and moderates Vern Ehlers of Wisconsin and Tim Johnson of Illinois. McCullough could think of only one Democrat, Representative Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, a blue dog Christian conservative with high ratings from the Christian Coalition and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum. He said that McIntyre was living at the time in the Fellowship's special Capitol Hill dorm for congressmen. The video features appearances by former Congressman Tom DeLay of Texas and Representative J.D. Hayworth of Arizona, two more religious conservatives.

Christian Embassy is influential.
McCullough says there are "about 80 members of Congress that are in our rotation." More than half are "mature," by which he means fully in sync with Christian Embassy’s theology. Immature Christians are matched with mature Christians to mentor them in Christian Embassy’s beliefs. Christian Embassy is stronger in the House than in the Senate; their goal is to develop a relationship with politicians and officers at the beginning of their Washington careers—as they did with Brownback—that will allow them access as some of those politicians and officers grow in influence.

Christian Embassy thinks separation of church and state has gone too far.
Christian Embassy’s theology, like that of Campus Crusade, might best be characterized as "ecumenical fundamentalism." They’re not interested in denominational divides. Rather, they’re invested in a critique of culture that sees the United States as in a state of "decay" as a result of inadequate Bible study. They believe the Bible was once part of public life and that it must be restored to its central role in order to achieve "revival." According to McCullough, separation of church and state has gone too far.

Christian Embassy's ambition is international.
An elegant booklet that accompanied the DVD McCullough gave me is filled not just with the testimonies of generals and congressmen, but also with those of foreign diplomats declaring Washington a sort of holy city. "The most important thing since coming to Washington from my communist-dominated society is that I that I have discovered God," writes a "European ambassador," thanking Christian Embassy. Fijian Ambassador Pita Nacuva, reports the booklet, following his "years of spiritual training in Washington, D.C." with Christian Embassy, reconfigured his country’s public schools’ "on the model of Jesus Christ" using an American Christian curriculum designed for developing nations, currently exported to around 40 countries.





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