Faith in DOD

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chaplains four.jpgWhat is to be done with religion in the military?

Those neat Bible verses adorning the cover art on Don Rumsfeld’s Worldwide Intelligence Updates for the president (thanks, GQ) represent one approach. Some may cavil that this sort of thing puts us in the same boat as our enemies (crusade = jihad), but I’m sure Dick Cheney would have gotten around to explaining why it was a great idea if only his hosts at AEI had given him a little more time yesterday.

Then there was that little Bible Study at Bagram that al-Jazeera reported on the other day, the one with all those nice color-coded Bibles to distribute to the natives, blue for Pashto and green for Dari, or was it the other way around? OK, so it’s kind of against the rules for American military to evangelize the people we’re making safe for democracy. And you’ve got those weak sisters over at Christianity Today wringing their hands about the “entanglement of fervent faith and lethal military might.” At least Brody’s got his head screwed on right, distressed as he is that the powers and principalities in charge of the base collected the books and burned them.

Speaking of hearts and minds, how about that National Guard unit that Sharlett reported on for Harper’s, whose idea of a good time was to spend Easter Sunday riding around Samarra with “Jesus Killed Mohammed” emblazoned in Arabic on the side of its five-ton armored pickup? Cool, even though the five-ton ended up a little worse for wear.

And what about the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, a military chaplain-endorsing agency that, according to Chris Rodda’s investigation over on Talk to Action, has placed a couple of hundred men of God in the military? The organization believes that you cannot be both a good Muslim and a good American, and it’s not so sure about Catholics and Mainline Protestants either. Actually, it’s not so sure about the U.S. Government, judging by its leaders’ views on how that organization is infected by satanic forces. The leaders happen to be devotees of a Topeka-based organization called the Prophecy Club, which puts out a magazine called The Crusader. Enough said.

So what is to be done?

Clearly, this is a job for the Obama’s administration’s faith-based initiative. Probably because it was invented prior to 9/11, its Bushian predecessor restricted its activities to the home front. But Obama has extended its reach. As the White House February 5 press release announced:

Finally, beyond American shores this Office will work with the National
Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and
scholars around the world.

So whereas the Bushies did not include the Department of Defense among the agencies having faith-based offices embedded in them, the Obamaites have good reason to bring DOD into the fold.

Actually, I think it might be a good idea. Never in American history has religion been more of a challenge for the U.S. military. The increased influence of evangelicalism within the chaplaincy and in the ranks have put strains on the traditional way of doing religious business that show few signs of abating. And the intensified military engagement with the Muslim world–as allies as well as adversaries–has imposed new demands for dealing with religious difference. The chaplain corps cannot be tasked with this entire mission. Creating, say, a new assistant secretary for religious affairs might be the way to go. What’s needed is a civilian in the Pentagon who’s in charge.

Something, anyway, to think about over Memorial Day Weekend. Have a good one!