Soldiers Forced to See Chaplain After Failing Army's Spiritual Fitness Test
Chris Rodda printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Jan 19, 2011 at 11:49:40 AM EST
After failing a recently implemented mandatory Army-wide "Spiritual Fitness" test, soldiers are given the following message on their computer screens:

"Spiritual fitness is an area of possible difficulty for you. You may lack a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. At times, it is hard for you to make sense of what is happening to you and others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles, and values. Nevertheless, who you are and what you do matter. There are things to do to provide more meaning and purpose in your life. Improving your spiritual fitness should be an important goal. Change is possible, and the relevant self-development training modules will be helpful. If you need further help, please do not hesitate to seek out help from the people you care about and trust -- strong people always do. Be patient in your development as it will take time to improve in this area. Still, persistence is key and you will improve here if you make this area a priority."

This mandatory online test, called the Global Assessment Tool (GAT), is part of the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program, a program that puts spiritual fitness on par with physical and mental fitness.

Upon flunking the "Spiritual Fitness" section of the GAT, and receiving the above message telling them that "Change is possible" and that "you will improve here if you make this area a priority," the spiritually deficient soldiers are directed to training modules to correct this problem with their "fitness."

Nothing at this point in the CSF program tells the soldiers that the online training modules that follow the GAT test are not mandatory, so the soldiers naturally assume that the training modules they're immediately directed to upon failing the test are also mandatory.

Ever since complaints about the GAT, which can only be described as an unconstitutional "religious test," began to surface a few weeks ago, the Army has been bending over backward insisting that that spirituality doesn't mean religion; that nothing in the CSF's "Spiritual Fitness" training is mandatory; and that no soldier is being forced to do anything whatsoever if they flunk the test. But these claims from the Army are far from what the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) is hearing from soldiers who have failed the Spiritual Fitness section of the test.

Just read the following account from one soldier about what happened to the GAT-identified spiritually unfit solders in his unit.

Subject: I Am A "Spiritual Fitness Failure" ......Before I tell you, Mr. Weinstein and the MRFF of my total outrage at the U.S. Army for grading me as a "Spiritual Fitness failure", I will tell you a few things about myself. My name is (name withheld) and I am an enlisted soldier with the rank of (rank withheld) in the United States Army stationed at Ft. (military installation withheld). I am in my early-to-mid twenties. I have been deployed downrange into Iraq and Afghanistan 6 times. I will deploy again for my 7th time very soon; to Afghanistan and more combat. All of my deployments have been very heavy combat assignments. I have been wounded 4 times including traumatic brain injury. I have earned the Combat Action Badge, the Bronze Star and multiple Purple Hearts. I have fought in hand-to hand- combat and killed and wounded more than a few "enemy combatants." M religion? I was born a Methodist and guess I still am one. I'm not very religious but consider myself to be a Christian. I don't go to chapel services that often although I go every now and then. I can't stand the chaplains as most of them are trying to always get me and my friends to "commit to Christ" and be far more religious as well as they try to get more and more soldiers to get more and more soldiers to be the same type of "committed Christian". I cannot count the number of times that these chaplains and my own chain of command has described this war we fight as a religious one against the Muslims and their "false, evil and violent" religion. I am a Christian and therefore neither an agnostic nor an atheist though many of my fellow soldiers are such. Now to the point. I, and everyone else who is enlisted in my company, was ORDERED by my Battalion Commander to take the GAT's Spiritual Fitness Test not very long ago. Let me make this CLEAR, we were all ORDERD to take it. After we did, our unit's First Sgt. individually asked us all how we did on the test. There was NO "anonymity" at all. None of us were ever told that we did NOT have to take this Spiritual Fitness Test nor that we did NOT have to tell our FIrst Sgt. what our results were. A bunch of us "failed" the SFT and when we told that to our First Sgt., per his disclosure order, he further ordered us to make immediate appointments with the chaplains so that we would not "kill ourselves on his watch". None of us wanted to do it but we were scared. None of us wanted to get in the shits with our First Sgt. who can and will make life miserable for anyone who might have said no to him. They keep saying that this is all to stop us soldiers from killing ourselves but THIS degrading SFT "failure" only makes it worse. Two of my battle buddies who I KNOW are thinking of ending it all were a million times worse off after failing this SFT and being called a "spiritual failure" and then ordered to go see the chaplains. I felt like a total coward for not standing up to my First Sgt. but I did what he told me to do. I was scared to tell him no. So I went to see the chaplain. When this chaplain told me that I failed the SFT because it was "Jesus' way of personally knocking on my door as an invitation for me to come to Him as a born again 'REAL' Christian" so that I could be saved and not burn forever in Hell for rejecting him, I thought of 3 things. First, I thought of the fact that I was already born a Christian and did not need to be born again. Second, I thought of my battle buddy (name and rank withheld) who took a bullet for me in his face during the Battle of (name of Iraqi battle withheld) and that he was the same kind of Christian as me and this chaplain is telling me that my battle buddy (name and rank withheld) is burning in hell for all time. Third, I thought how I wanted to blow that fucking chaplain's head right off. Thank you, Mr. Weinstein and MRFF for listening and standing up. A bunch of us saw you on MSNBC. We also read about the enlisted guy at Ft. Bragg. Please tell Sgt. Griffith at Fort Bragg that he speaks for many of us who can't handle the consequences if we spoke out. We have all read the letter you sent to tell the Army to stop this Spiritual Fitness Test. It cheered us up alot because that making us take that test is WRONG and using it to send us to the chaplains against our will is also WRONG. Please tell your lawyers at that big law firm company not to forget about those of us who want to speak up and thank them all but cannot. (Name, rank, combat MOS, military unit, military installation withheld)

Is there any action that we who are outraged by this can take? To whom in the chain of command do we write? As a Christian I am furious and appalled at this twisted misuse of the Gospel, and violation of our soldiers' constitutional rights, not to mention the assault on their moral being. Thanks!

by MLouise on Wed Jan 19, 2011 at 01:39:49 PM EST

Read the following paper by Lt. Col. Ron Huggler who states that he was part of the process of rewriting the Army Field Manual 22-100, Army Leadership.  The paper is an argument for religion as the basis for military fitness.  In the paper Lt.Col. Huggler states, "What is there besides human reason and experience that can assist us in deciding what is ultimately right and wrong? I submit that religion, (in the US military we call it spiritual fitness), is the critical missing element."

He adds, "That is why the military has turned away from a values system based on reason and experience alone. We are instead pursuing a values system that's ultimate source of right and wrong is defined by religious, primarily Christian, principles. This method enables our military to have moral absolutes."

On the linked webpage, scroll down to Lt. Col. Ron Huggler's paper titled "Teaching Character and Developing Character in the Armed Forces."  These are papers presented to the Association for Christian Conferences Teaching and Service, an international military ministry based in Denver, Colorado which provides support to the Association of Military Christian Fellowships.

by Rachel Tabachnick on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 09:00:15 AM EST

I have just read the paper (it takes a strong stomach to do so) and am so aghast that I am almost speechless. This is so wrong on so many levels. Perhaps the most vicious irony is that soldiers who do indeed apply rigorous ethical considerations to decision making and then take difficult action on their highest values (often, but not necessarily, derived from religious considerations) are severely punished if their conclusion (e.g., that they must refuse deployment to Iraq because the conflict there does not meet the criteria for a Just War) goes against what the armed forces expects them to believe. I would direct readers to the website of the Truth Commission on Conscience in War:

by MLouise on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 11:53:51 AM EST

...that anyone who visits this site is surprised by this story. Thank you Chris for you excellent information, as always.

Question: what can we do to get the mainstream media to pay attention to this sort of story?

by rahilliard on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 02:10:41 PM EST

This is a last ditch effort to gain the reigns of US political institutions and force us to abandon the Secular Elected Government of wethepeople our framers gave us. Spread the word on the Domionist movement far and wide online, in line at the supermarket, at the doctors office, an automobile bumper sticker to be read on our highways. Most libraries and some supermarkets have bulletin boards, we can use our computers to print out notes to post! Write, gasp, letters to the Editor. You have to sign your name it worth it to show we; will not be intimidated, attenuated or dismissed.

by sovereignjohn on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 02:22:48 PM EST

Chris Hedges has written on the subject of religion in the military. And it's impossible for me to view the incidents described in this story as isolated incidents nor can I view them as an innocent attempts to address the problem of psychological trauma related to military service. In Hedges' Jesus Killed Mohammed: A Crusade for a Christian Military, there's a number of passages that are pertinent here:
"there has evolved more and more an anti-Christian bias in this country." In Under Orders, McCoy seeks to counter that alleged bias by making the case for the necessity of religion--preferably Christian--for a properly functioning military unit. Lack of belief or the wrong beliefs, he writes, will "bring havoc to what needs cohesion and team confidence."
What concerns me is not just the discrimination against those who don't hold fundamentalist beliefs but the nature of those beliefs. Many of those who I've loosely described as fundamentalists now subscribe to beliefs that (quite literally) demonize anyone disagrees with them and advocate for violence in order to fulfill their eschatological beliefs.
"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." - Sinclair Lewis
by colinski on Fri Jan 21, 2011 at 02:56:16 AM EST
... "Jesus Killed Mohammed: The Crusade for A Christian Military" was written by Jeff Sharlet.

by Rachel Tabachnick on Fri Jan 21, 2011 at 10:34:49 AM EST
Correct. I'm sorry, I had both Hedges and Sharlet up in tabs (I have habit of keeping numerous tabs open). I conflated them during the process of writing.
"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." - Sinclair Lewis
by colinski on Sat Jan 22, 2011 at 02:55:19 PM EST

These guys and gals and their associated websites (from whom Bruce Wilson and dogemperor have quoted from) are very,very conservative evangelicals/fundamentalists who blatantly call dominionism the next Christian fascism, and see it as a heresy. They are also very, very much against the New Apostolic Reformation. Almost every person talk2action has mentioned deceptioninthechurch talks about them in their website (plus they link to Talk2action multiple times!) I think dissemination of their materials to dominionists or linking up with them may help stop the domionionist strain. Evangelicals as a whole are not the problem in the military, its the dominionist strain that seeks to impose it by force and make it compulsory for people. Dominionists are the Wahhabis/Jihadis of the conservative Christian world. I was in the Army and I met many Evangelicals who did not wish to force their religion on people, even if they outranked their soldiers. Lumping all Evangelicals and Fundamentalists in the same group is wrong.

by zowie on Fri Jan 21, 2011 at 10:17:17 AM EST
I've helped people who walked away from Evangelical churches who opposed dominionism.  The damage was the same - EXACTLY the same.  The fear of God, the confusion, the pain; the language used is sometimes even the same.

The more fundamentalist (Biblical literalism, obedience to authority, control of people's lives, people being in their 'place'), the more likely a church will have walkaways and cause major spiritual damage.

One in particular that I'm thinking about was a member of a church who would never force itself on others and was very much focused on withdrawing from society.  The woman was for all purposes insane, and driven that way by the church.

Even her psychiatrist said so.

Maybe they aren't trying to force their ways on others (thank God for small miracles), but IMO they're just about as bad - just not as much of a threat to the rest of us.

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Jan 21, 2011 at 11:30:36 AM EST

Native groups have many stories of the atrocities done by missionaries, and Evangelism is at the core of missions.    I have a knee-jerk reaction to Evangelistic churches because of the things I've heard (and seen in the last two decades - since I learned about my own heritage and connected with my people).  This is on top of the people I've talked with (a big way to help walkaways [and people in general] is to listen to their stories and talk with them - and accept them as they are).  

Yes, there are decent people in those churches, but the focus of the churches have led to some really horrible atrocities (which are in many instances documented).   It's only a small step from feeling the need to evangelize to using pressure and nasty tricks to try to get people to accept Jesus.

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Jan 21, 2011 at 11:50:45 AM EST

I should have said "Lumping them together is not quite wrong".

I recognize that they aren't dominionists.  They aren't a threat like the dominionists.  But at the same time, they aren't necessarily the "Good Guys" either.  (Some aren't bad, but others...)

We may have common ground in our stance against dominionism, I grant you that.  I also agree that they are more likely to have decent folks involved with them.

(However, this blog isn't about Evangelicals.  It's about Dominionists and I shouldn't go that far off topic.  Sorry about that!)

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Jan 21, 2011 at 01:18:54 PM EST

The answer is not elimination of anyone or any belief system.  The answer is separation of church and state.  As our Founding Fathers understood, separation allows each individual to worship as they please or not at all.  

The issue is certainly not conservative Christianity! Why should they have any less rights than anyone else to worship as they please?  The problem is the breakdown of the wall of separation of church and state which is why this government-sponsored aggressive proselytizing and harassment can take place in our military.  The wall of separation allows Americans to peacefully coexist and reinforcing that wall provides protection for all, regardless of beliefs.  Calling for the elimination of any group is no different than the words of the religious extremists that we report on regularly at this website who believe they must purge the nation of those of whom they disapprove.

by Rachel Tabachnick on Fri Jan 21, 2011 at 10:31:58 AM EST

let's not be like the Ustashe in Croatia, whose Calling for the elimination of a certain group means that we are no different than the Ustashe, extremist dominionist interpretation of Catholicism led to the murders of so many Orthodox Serbs, Gypsies and Jews. Even the Germans and Italians were horrified at what the Ustashe did. Their policy- kill 1/3, convert 1/3 to Catholicism by force, and banish 1/3. If the dominionists gain control of the government we will have a Religious Right Dominionist version of the Ustashe- doing ethnic cleansing like the game "Left Behind" but for real. By saying such things calling for the elimination of conservative Christians we are being like Josef Stalin and Enver Hoxha, former dictator of Albania, who sought to purge anyone practicing any form of religion and anybody not agreeing with Communism. The reason why the wall between separation of church and state exists is that no theocracy will take control of America, and that we will have liberty and justice for all.

by zowie on Fri Jan 21, 2011 at 01:16:46 PM EST
Because of a comment that called for the elimination of conservative Christians. We take no such view at Talk to Action and condemn any such thinking and do not tolerate such calls on this site. Any future such statements on the part of anyone will be grounds for immediate banning.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Jan 21, 2011 at 04:06:22 PM EST
Thank you for deleting the comment. I found it very disturbing. In retrospect, I should have made a much stronger statement in opposing that kind of thinking than I did.

by MLouise on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 09:37:08 AM EST

My mistake. I was reading too much into your post.


by rahilliard on Fri Jan 21, 2011 at 11:30:45 AM EST

I would think that it would be useful to know the contents of said "test" (not to mention the name). I can see the use of questionnaires to help newly enlisted soldiers plan re family needs and own needs for psychological and spiritual support, and provide several types of resources, both military and community-run. I see no reason that anyone other than the questionnaire-taker should see the results unless the questionnaire-taker shows them.

by NancyP on Tue Jan 25, 2011 at 12:55:04 PM EST

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