Larry Wilkerson: Evangelical Christianity is spreading with official support throughout the US armed forces, including the persecution of “non-believers”
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. And welcome to this week’s edition of The Wilkerson Report with Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson.
Larry was the former chief of staff for Colin Powell for many years. He teaches at the William & Mary College, often appears on The Real News.
Thanks for joining us.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks for having me, Paul.
JAY: So you recently joined the board of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Why?
WILKERSON: I didn’t know the problem was as rampant as it is. And when Mikey Weinstein, who is the head of the foundation, identified to me that his board member Doherty, Glen Doherty, had just been killed in Benghazi and he needed a replacement, I was a little reluctant, because I understand that sometimes Christ is necessary in the foxhole, or Buddha, or whomever. And so I wasn’t really interested in it. And then Mikey showed me the depth and profundity of the violations of the Constitution going on in the Armed Forces of the United States, and I changed my mind immediately.
JAY: Okay. So I said the name very quickly when I said Military Religious Freedom Foundation, so we better dig into what all that means. And, in fact, we did a story with Mikey Weinstein a few years ago, and he’s–primarily has been focused on the sort of collaboration between some of the military leadership and outside evangelical churches to proselytize in the army, in the military forces. So where is that at? ‘Cause in terms of Real News coverage, we’re a few years later now.
WILKERSON: Right. Well, one group in particular–and you can just Google them and you can see what they’re about, called the Dominionist. This is a group that believes that its mission is to take over the Armed Forces of the United States and then use them in a crusade against all those who don’t believe in Christ in the world. Mikey’s clientele now is over 32,000, some 90 percent of whom are Protestant or Catholic. So you’ve got mostly Christians who were looking to Mikey’s organization to protect them against the chain of command in their own military unit.
JAY: So when you say clients, these are people that have complaints.
JAY: Which are what?
WILKERSON: They’re everything from I’ve been ordered to go to a prayer breakfast to I’m being proselytized by my commanding officer or by my platoon leader or by my NCOs to be a Christian; or worse, if you will, on the other side of that coin, people being derided and even kept from promotion and from advancement, education, and training, and so forth because they’re not the kind of Christian they should be, this sort of Dominionist Christian.
So it’s a scary proposition when you start thinking about the ability of leadership in the Armed Forces to coerce people, and to get away with it, and religion. It’s not quite as bad in one respect as sexual assault, which is also rampant in the Armed Forces right now and is because leadership won’t crack down on it, but ultimately it is a violation of the Constitution and it is something clearly that bothers people if Mikey’s got over 30,000 clients.
JAY: Now, when you were in the military and coming up through the ranks and when you become an officer, how much of this was already going on?
WILKERSON: There was very little of it. My first, perhaps, run in with it was with a chaplain that I had in a squadron in which I was the executive officer. And this chaplain actually was an evangelical chaplain and did some things that I had to caution him about. And he immediately corrected what he was doing.
I had no idea that it had spread the way it has spread now with certain of the more fundamentalist religions in this country actually combating the more mainline religions. So you have Baptists and Presbyterians and Methodists and Lutherans who are more or less on our side in the MRFF because they’re being derided and denigrated by the Dominionists within the ranks. If you’re a Baptist, you’re no good. If you’re a Presbyterian, you’re no good. If you’re Lutheran, you’re no good. If you’re Catholic, you’re anathema. And if you’re Jewish, you’re truly anathema. If you’re Muslim, you’re the enemy.
Let me give you an example. West Point class. West Point class. One of Mikey’s recent clients sends him an email and says, in my class on the day of the Boston bombings, the instructor, the military officer instructing that class said to the class, I know it’s the Muslims, it’s the Muslims, I know it’s the Muslims; I don’t know why we don’t do something about these Muslims. This young man in that class writing Mikey was a Muslim. This is dangerous stuff.
JAY: Now, it would seem to me–and I know this is going to seem a little naive, but it would seem to me if you have an army, the last thing you want is people believing in the message of Jesus–love your enemy, turn the other cheek. I mean, this does not make for a good fighting force.
WILKERSON: Well, you’ve just pointed out the great irony of Christ in America, if you will. Christ would not recognize most Americans.
But if you look at it from the perspective that the military should be looking at it from–and I think they are now–that is, good order and discipline in the military, you want good order and discipline in the military. It’s a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the legal system for the Armed Forces, if you disturb that good order and discipline. And that’s what these Dominionists are doing, that’s what Christians like this are doing.
We’re not, at the MRFF, against Christianity. We’re not in any way against Christianity. We’re against all forms of misuse of the leadership to proselytize, to force, to cajole people into doing things because you believe they should based on your religion, not based on good order and discipline in the Armed Forces.
JAY: And isn’t it illegal?
WILKERSON: It is illegal. It’s unconstitutional on the one hand, and it’s illegal on the other.
JAY: And is the military leadership doing anything about it?
WILKERSON: Well, that’s one reason why we went to the Pentagon a couple of weeks ago to talk to the leadership of the Air Force. And I think they were listening, so far, as with sexual assault. The military has not brought the hammer down, and it’s going to take bringing the hammer down, punishing some of these leaders, punishing some of these people who are violating the law and the Constitution before the message gets out to the rest of the military that this won’t be condoned. And, frankly, it’s just not happening the way it should be happening.
JAY: Is there any suggestion the new secretary of defense, Hagel, will do anything about it?
WILKERSON: Well, I hope so. He’s certainly got a clean sheet here. He needs to write on that sheet, and he needs to write on it with I will not tolerate sexual assault and I will not tolerate abuse of religion.
And here’s the problem, Paul. The problem is you need the bond between soldiers in order to have an effective fighting force. It’s not Mom and apple pie and patriotism. When the rubber hits the road, when the bombs start dropping, when the artillery fire starts, it’s not that that keeps soldiers together; it’s the bond between them, it’s the bond forged in training, the bond forged in combat. S. L. A. Marshall wrote a brilliant piece about this post World War II. This is what keeps soldiers together.
Imagine what you do to that bond when you sexually assault your comrade, or when you proselytize them about Jesus Christ when they’re Jewish or they’re Muslim, or you tell them, as has happened on many occasions, that they’re a lower form of life because they don’t believe in Jesus Christ. This is unconscionable, and it’s very damaging to the bond between soldiers.
JAY: And this is a Christianity which essentially is the Christianity of medievalism. It’s the Christianity of the Crusades.
WILKERSON: Of the Inquisition. It’s the Christianity of the Inquisition. That’s what these people are, inquisitors.
JAY: Thanks for joining us, Larry.
WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul, and especially in Baltimore.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.