U.S. Air Force Academy Drafts God as Their Copilot
John R. Guthrie
It was Weinstein’s younger son Curtis, the sixth member of Weinstein’s family to attend the Air Force Academy who said to his visiting father, “I’m going to beat the shit of the next guy that calls me a ‘fucking Jew’…I’m going to beat the shit out of the next guy that accuses me, or our people, of killing Jesus Christ. ” It wasn’t that the evangelicals among the cadets and in the chain of command for the academy felt the need to target Jews, in particular. Anyone who was different: secularists, Catholics, and others felt their righteous wrath.
Under the auspices of “Christian Leadership Ministries ,” the academy officially sanctioned speakers on topics such as “Progressive Creationism” and “Why We Cannot Let You Have Your God While We Have Ours.” Passes were issued for church services in town to Christian Cadets, but were refused to Jews and 7th Day Adventists.
The cadets’ experiences with evangelicals began during the harrowing six weeks of basic cadet training where there was frequently an evangelical preaching as to why the cadets must giver their hearts to Jesus and reiterating “Christ killing culpability. .” This culminated in the following scene, one evocative of French movie director Louis Malle’s film Au Revoir les Enfants, concerning three Jewish students in a Catholic school in Nazi occupied France. Weinstein’s son Curtis recounted the following:
We were playing flickerball…we were beating some third classmen. One of them got pissed and called me a ‘Christ Killer.’ I told him I have killed anybody, and he said, but the Jews had; they had murdered Jesus, and pretty soon there was a group of cadets around us, laughing and egging the dude on, and what I remember was that no one, not even the cadets on my team were backing me up .
The tradition of military service runs deep in the author and his wife’s families. It includes the author’s father, an Annapolis graduate who served 29 years in the air force, Weinstein is a graduate of the Air Force Academy and his two sons and daughter-in-law are all Air Force Academy Graduates. After graduating from the Academy, Weinstein went to law school, eventually serving as counsel in the Reagan White House. Weinstein’s Jewish identity was as deeply scribed as was his sense of patriotism and his deeply held belief in military service. Following his son’s revelations about the spiritual abuse that was by then a constant at the Air Force Academy, Weinstein said that “I eventually came to the realization that the two most important figures in my life were Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ…Hitler because of the holocaust and Jesus because, in his name, it could happen all over again, like it has through out the history of my people, over and over, oceans of blood and tears…I knew what some Christians said, that Anne Frank and those millions of children – and along with them Albert Einstein and Jack Benny and Dr. Seuss – were all burning eternally in a lake of fire, and that any Jew who didn’t wise up, surrender and bow the knee and confess that Christ was Lord would suffer the same fate.”
The “Gospel according to Gibson,” ,” Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, widely viewed as inciting anti-Semitism, was billed as an official Air Force Academy event, heavily promoted to cadets by the academy chain of command and was seen as exacerbating the evangelical problem.
Weinstein’s older son, Casey, while a cadet in his first year, experienced attempts at conversion by his classmates. “When you’re in the outside world….”[y}ou can tell the person to mind his own business or just walk away. There was no place to walk away from at the academy. ”.
The military experienced an influx of evangelical chaplains in the 80s and 90s. This resulted in such anomalies as service members talking to their chaplains about their sexual orientation, then being to “extemporaneous exorcism to cast out the demon of homosexuality .”
While With God on our Side focuses on the air force, the problem with fundamentalists is said to now being endemic through out the military.
Weinstein launched a personal investigation after his son’s complaint, tapping into contacts within and without the military. He also spoke personally with the Superintendent of the Academy, Lieutenant General John W. Rosa, Jr. As the scandal, became and continues to be increasingly public, the resulting fury and infighting involved in returning the military to its tradition of pluralism is surprising in its intensity and scope. Weinstein tells the story well, a story that involved an intriguing cast of characters including Air Force Chaplain, General Charles Baldwin, a Southern Baptist. The actions and reactions of the principles are at times surprising, and well written enough to be endlessly engaging.
When the whistle was blown by a Weinstein and his cadet son, the Air Force denied it and attempted a cover it up. Eventually, following the Yale University team’s repost, the commander at the academy was removed. The Air Force was forced to acknowledge that there was a problem.
In fact, the Academy had allowed itself to become a proselytizing outpost for evangelical Christian mega-churches in the Colorado Springs area. Chief among them were Ted Haggard's and James Dobson's, both men then in the inner circle of the Bush White House, involved in the sort of faith-based initiatives that marked the Bush administration.
One Chaplain at the academy, Melinda Morton, lost her career for her honesty. Among other things, she was methodical in obtaining input concerning the growing crisis in the form of the “Yale Report,” an investigative effort spearheaded by Yale Divinity School’s Professor Kristen Leslie
The Academy is located in Colorado Spring, a location that has become “…become a magnet for evangelical, charismatic, and fundamentalist churches, colleges, ministries, businesses, and outreaches of every description… (and) in the process, earning the sobriquet the Protestant Vatican .” Dozens of these organizations such as The Navigators, and New Life Church (founded by Ted Haggard and James Dobson's Focus on the Family are located in Colorado Springs. The Christian Officers Association with a Taliban-like certainty advocates, "Christian Officers Exercising Biblical Leadership to Raise up a Godly Military." Haggard and Dobson are both Christian Dominionists. The Pentagon itself also instigated evangelical programs aimed toward Admiral Arthur Radford termed the “spiritual stiffening ” of our military.
Mikey Weinstein, as a result of his investigation, founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The organization attracted “a number of retired high-ranking officers for whom evangelical encroachment had become a clear and present danger to the armed fords they had served with such distinction ” One such officer, Vice Admiral Bernard Marvin Kauderer stated that “Young men and women in the military should be secure in their own beliefs., whatever they might be. They have the right not to be harassed or intimidated, especially when such actions impinge directly on the good order and discipline that is essential for any military organization to carry out its mission. This is simply good policy ”.
Co-author Davin L. Seay is a reformed evangelical and also a veteran.
With God on our side also benefits from an extensive appendix and is well indexed. With God On our Side is a valuable book, fine read especially for those of us who found in the military a stepping stone, a place to be, or perhaps to do some needed growing up and some cash for formal education.
With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military
Authors: Michael L. Weinstein and Davin L. Seay
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press
Dr. John R. Guthrie practiced family medicine in the Smokey Mountain foothills of Appalachia for years. As an adolescent he was a U.S. Marine infantry rifleman and later served as a physician in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He lives in Southern California and is a writer and social activist.
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