But back to the B-2 Stealth Bomber pilot. Here's the background:
Warmly applauding Major Brian "Jethro" Neal's declaration, that many might take as a declaration of intent to commit treason, were the Task Force Patriot's leaders as well as Bobby Welch, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the only major segment of American Christianity to officially support George W. Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, as well as a range of veterans, religious, and atheist groups, has written a letter to Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. General Michael Gould, as well as US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, demanding that McClary's speaking invitation be rescinded, and the controversy has been marked by Air Force Academy statements and subsequent rebuttals from MRFF.
The Gazette editorial was accompanied by a poll asking readers if they support McClary's speaking invitation. Options are 1) Yes, 2) No - because McClary is a "devout Christian" and 3) "Don't care." The poll leaves readers no option to disagree with McClary's invitation for any of the reasons MRFF has given.
A number of MRFF friends and board members have written letters to Wayne Laugesen, Editor at the Colorado Springs Gazette, rebutting Mr. Laugesen's editorial. As a former MRFF reseacher, I have written my own, below.
Dear Mr. Laugesen,
Your Colorado Springs Gazette January 23 editorial ("Censors Want to Silence War Hero") concerning the controversy over Air Force Academy head Lt. Gen. Gould's invitation to former Marine Lt. Clebe McClary, to be the keynote speaker for the Air Force's upcoming February 10th National Prayer Luncheon at the Academy, suggests Mr. McClary's highly sectarian, exclusionary form of born-again evangelicalism is characteristic of Christianity in general.
Your claim, which is squarely debunked in a letter from Mikey Weinstein's Military Religious Freedom Foundation (co-signed by veterans, religious, and atheist groups) to Secretary of Defense Gates calling for McClary's invitation to be rescinded, is, to put it gently, absurd.
But McClary's evangelical beliefs as such aren't the central reason for rescinding his speaking invitation writes Don Byrd, in a January 27th post for the Baptist Joint Committee For Religious Liberty--which upholds traditional Baptist support for separation of church and state,
If there is a problem with inviting McClary, it is not the fact that he is an evangelical Christian, nor his religious views generally, divisive as they may be. What makes him a questionable choice is his apparent insistence on conflating military service with Christian service. Giving such a platform to a speaker who espouses those views runs the risk of sending a message that is it the Academy's view as well, or at least that the Christianization of the military is tolerated.
It is my own view that Clebe McClary's candid disdain for non born-again Christians (probably the majority of American Christians) should indeed alone disqualify him as a speaker at the allegedly ecumenical and inclusive Air Force Prayer Luncheon, and doubly so for his bold claims to be a soldier in the "Lord's army" and that "USMC" stands for "U.S. Marine for Christ" - the latter would deeply offend many Marine veterans who see themselves as part of a proud Marine Corps tradition as a professional fighting force aloof from politics, the very antithesis of an armed horde of religious zealots.
Bobby Muller, also a former Marine lieutenant as well as a 1997 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, founder and former president of Vietnam Veterans of America, and Military Religious Freedom Foundation Advisory Board member weighed in with that very sentiment:
"As a former Marine lieutenant who, like Lt. Clebe McClary, was severely wounded while leading a mission in Vietnam, I am appalled by my fellow Marine's statement that a "complete" Marine is one who likes to think that U.S.M.C. stands for "U.S. Marine for Christ." I am even more appalled that the United States Air Force Academy has invited someone with such a religiously divisive and sectarian message to speak at its upcoming National Prayer Luncheon, an event that should be inclusive of Airmen of all faiths...
Proselytizing and Christian supremacy have no place in the United States military."
If McClary speaks as planned, this will provide yet more rhetorical ammunition to those who want to inflame passions in the Islamic world by branding America's young men and women in the armed forces serving in Afghanistan and Iraq as Christian crusaders, thus placing their lives at further risk.
In addition, Mr. Gould's choice of McClary deeply offends Air Force and USAFA tradition itself. As detailed below, Clebe McClary is listed as a speaker for the evangelical group Task Force Patriot, which appears to sanction acts of treason and violation of the Air Force Academy officer's oath.
In May 2007, on behalf of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, I attended a Memorial Day event at Stone Mt., Georgia, co-hosted by Task Force Patriot, and witnessed McClary's fellow Task Force Patriot speaker Major Brian Neal, then on active duty as a B-2 bomber pilot, give a speech in which Neal stated,
"I'm going to have to separate myself from the service of this nation if it's required in order to propagate the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I'm not going to disregard my responsibilities. But if there ever comes a time when there is a priority to be made, a decision to be made, it must always rest in the work of the Lord and the Lord's army. Because that commission is greater than the one I received from the United States Air Force Academy."
Major Neal's speech, which many might view as a declaration of intent to commit treason and violate his Air Force Academy officer's oath, was warmly applauded by those present, including former Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch and Task Force Patriot's leaders.
Like Major Neal, former Marine Lt. Clebe McClary declares his fealty to the "Lord's Army." Is that metaphorical, an expression of Christian dedication? I think not.
At the Stone Mountain event, co-hosted by Holman Bible Publishers, I received from Task Force Patriot volunteers my free copy (they were distributing thousands of these at the event) of Holman's "Military Bible", sitting atop my desk as I write this.
Holman Bible Publishing is an imprint of the Southern Baptist Convention - the only significant segment of American Christianity to sanction the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq, which was opposed by every other Protestant denomination and by the Catholic Church.
Holman's Military Bible boasts a computer-generated olive-drab cover with an official US Army seal, and it features a tacked-on appendix with writings from evangelical Christians in the military. The last page of the Bible features a recruiting pitch from the Officers Christian Fellowship, an international fundamentalist evangelical ministry which, given that it claims thousands of US military officers as members, as its "ambassadors for Christ", could potentially function as a parallel command structure. The OCF's recruiting letter in the Military Bible asks,
"Are we willing to be identified with Jesus no matter what the cost? This is a time to be bold for Jesus, and to seize the moment afforded to us by the great turmoil in our nation and military, and to proclaim the liberating work of Jesus! Jesus is calling to His warriors, His ambassadors in uniform. Are you answering the call?"
The letter, and the Bible, ends with:
For more information or to join OCF contact:
3784 South Inca
Englewood, Colorado, 80110
The Holman Military Bible also features a forged document known as "Washington's Prayer", a falsified quote incorrectly attributed to George Washington that was created by selectively removing words from, and adding words to, a paragraph extracted from Washington's famous circular letter to governors of the original thirteen colonies, announcing General Washington's historic decision to disband the revolutionary army and return to civilian life.
The Holman Military Bible version of the forgery is even more deceptive than most versions, because it identifies the "prayer" as having been "sent to the governors of the States" without even mentioning Washington's circular letter.
This falsified "prayer" is often cited by those who attribute to George Washington strong Christian piety (Michele Bachmann has wielded the fake quote against Barack Obama), and it is promoted at the highest levels of politicized evangelicalism in America today. For years at least, if not since the event's beginning, The National Prayer Breakfast's printed program has featured the "Washington's Prayer" forgery, and it would be next to impossible for this to be accidental.
George Washington's choice to step down and disband the army was pivotal for the emerging nation, establishing a precedent that the military should stay aloof from politics--a tradition which, many historians would argue, has been crucial to the success of American democracy.
The promotion of falsified history is far from the only unsavory aspect of the National Prayer Breakfast, which USAFA Communications Director David K. Cannon has suggested is a model for the Air Force's upcoming Prayer Luncheon. Cannon states that the National Prayer Breakfast aims to "bring together the leadership of the United States in recognition of the spiritual values upon which our Nation is founded." Beyond the prosaic spiritual value of historical revisionism, other "spiritual values" inherent to the event would seem to include revolutionary patricide and celebration of organized crime.
The National Prayer Breakfast has, since its founding in the early 1950's, been hosted by the Washington, DC based evangelical group known as The Fellowship. Clebe McClary himself has been a speaker at the Fellowship's Idaho Prayer Breakfast event - along with longtime Fellowship head Doug Coe.
Douglas Coe has likened his organization to the "the mafia" and encouraged Christians to follow Jesus with the same level of zeal as young Chinese Red Guard cadres who, during Mao Tse Tung's Cultural Revolution, were willing to chop off the heads of their own mothers and fathers, for the communist cause (here's the footage of Mr. Coe saying that, during a 1989 speech in Colorado Springs.)
America's founding fathers would be aghast, rolling over in their graves, to know that such a man has played the role of friend and counselor to a succession of American presidents. If Christ's message were transparently obvious, history would not have seen the horrific religious wars, Catholics slaughtering Protestants and Protestants slaughtering Catholics (and each other too) which wracked Europe in the wake of Martin Luther's 95 Theses tacked onto the Wittenberg door and the Protestant Reformation that Luther's words helped inspire.
America's founders knew that bloody history, and so they built into our Constitution firewalls to prevent American government from falling under sway of any one sectarian Christian tendency, because they knew that would tear the young nation apart. It is those very firewalls the National Prayer Breakfast and the Air Force's upcoming National Prayer Luncheon appear designed to undermine, erode, and subvert.
Clebe McClary's evangelical tendency seems to envision itself as being in conflict with other Christians who hold the "wrong" sorts of beliefs. Most of the many thousands of US service members that Mikey Weinstein's Military Religious Freedom Foundation represents feel they are being persecuted for being the "wrong" sort of Christians.
And, most Americans are unaware of the sort of combat theater madness that the MRFF fights - compulsory religious indoctrination, forced down the throats of young Americans putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rifle scopes inscribed with Biblical scripture. US armored vehicles painted with slogans such as "Jesus killed Mohammed!" rampaging through Iraqi towns.
The last example, which you can read about in "Jesus Killed Mohammed: The Crusade For a Christian Military" by journalist Jeff Sharlet, in the May 2009 issue of Harpers Magazine, is exactly the signal America does not want to send, and it is precisely why the United States Air Force needs to pull back from its apparent endorsement of born-again evangelical Christian supremacy and rescind its invitation to the scheduled star speaker for its upcoming February 10th National Prayer Luncheon, former Marine Lt. Clebe McClary.
If America is to remain a functional democracy, neither the Air Force or the US military in general can be part of the "Lord's army", all the more so because Christians themselves cannot agree what that would possibly mean other than functioning as rhetorical cover for a sectarian Christian faction's advancement of a politicized ideology and agenda.
But America has its own mundane, pressing problems to solve - growing jobs, rebuilding deteriorating infrastructure, meeting the basic needs of America's citizens, reducing debt. We don't need religious strife, we don't need crusades, and we don't need the Air Force or its Academy to lend a podium, and the implied sanction that confers, to a member of the "Lord's army."
As a postscript, Task Force Patriot's only satellite chapter is located at a Reno, Nevada church attended by 2010 Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle, who during her Senate campaign suggested to her supporters that they might consider "Second Amendment solutions" if the candidates they backed in the election did not win (as described in my October 26th, 2010 Talk To Action story
Sharron Angle & The B-2 Stealth Bomber Pilot, Together in the 'Lord's Army')