Friday, April 27, 2007

Birth of the Christian Soldier: How Evangelicals Infiltrated the American Military

Birth of the Christian Soldier: How Evangelicals Infiltrated the American Military

April 21, 2007
by Michael L. Weinstein and David Seay, Thomas Dunne Books.

It took decades for evangelicals to infiltrate the military, but eventually fundamentalist theology adapted as its entry points the culture of authority, duty, and sacrifice in the armed forces

The following is an excerpt from With God On Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military by Michael L. Weinstein and Davin Seay (Thomas Dunne, 2007).

Despite the church-state scandals that have plagued the US military in recent years, religious practice in the armed forces is hardly a new phenomenon. In the 1846 Mexican War, Roman Catholics were incorporated into the hitherto all-Protestant chaplaincy for the first time, as much to blunt implications of a sectarian war with Catholic Mexico as for any effort to address the actual religious demographics of the fighting force.

In 1862, President Lincoln, at the request of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites, struck the word Christian from all regulations relating to the chaplaincy appointments, and during World War II, Greek Orthodox chaplains were allowed to minister to their flock in uniform for the first time. The Buddhist Churches of America were registered as an official endorsing agency for the first time in 1987, and six years later the Army saw its first Muslim chaplain.

These earnest attempts at pluralism were often contrasted with unsanctioned attempts to bring sanctity to the armed forces, from the revivalist fervor that swept both Union and Confederate camps during the Civil War, to various hectoring attempts to stiffen the moral fiber of troops during and immediately after World War II. GIs were returning from combat, according to a 1946 report from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, "physical, mental, moral and social wrecks, having been infected with venereal disease" and "coddled by a complacent service attitude which encourages promiscuity."

The situation was subsequently exacerbated at the dawn of the Cold War when, in 1945, President Truman proposed a one-year program of universal military training for all males over eighteen, a move vigorously resisted by evangelical churches. "We began to wonder what might happen to our youth removed from home and church influences," fretted the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), "and subjected to the temptations for which military training camps are notorious."

The proliferating paranoia of the Red Scare, however, radically altered such attitudes by the early fifties, when the world, according to literature distributed by the Nazarene Service Men's Commission, was neatly divided between "the Communist dictatorships and the Christian democracies." The Nazarenes concluded, "The stricken nations are looking to the free world ... we are our 'brother's keeper.'"

Aside from being a bulwark against godless communism, the military was perceived as a target-rich environment for missionary outreach. In 1959, the NAE asserted, "Fifty percent of all who pass through the military service have no religious


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