How bad is it?
Let me put it this way. This was the same institution which, until recently, had been struggling with approximately 150 allegations of sexual harassment. Indeed, the issue began to gain national attention in 2004, when Kristin Leslie, an ordained Methodist minister and assistant professor in pastoral care and counseling at the Yale Divinity School, led a group of six Yale graduate students to Colorado springs to watch basic training at the Academy. Initially intending to investigate the climate which had led to the allegations of sexual harassment, Leslie and the students discovered another problem as they watched some of the Academy's chaplains in action. What they found was revolting to say the least.
Instead of creating an atmosphere of religious tolerance which is necessary for cohesion among the cadets (and for that matter among soldiers in general), the Protestant, evangelical chaplains had crossed the fine line between spiritual counseling and every day ministry and were engaging in outright proselytization, creating division among the cadets and not a required spirit of cohesion.
How bad was it? Consider the following examples.
*Twelve years ago, when James Dobson opened his campus in Colorado Springs, the Wings of Blue parachute team parachuted out of an Air Force airplane onto Dobson's campus: not to protect the country; not to provide an act of national defense; but to present Dobson with the proverbial "Keys to Heaven." Indeed, Focus on the Family's James Dobson, and Ted Haggard's New Life Chruch seem to be exerting an unhealthy and disproportionate amount of influence over the academy as a whole.
*In March 2004 fliers advertising a showing of Mel Gibson's anti-semitic The Passion of Christ were distributed throughout the Academy, even in the mess hall.
*Senior Cadets allegedly harass and harangue their inferiors in matters regarding religion. Jewish cadets were allegedly called "Christ killers" or "------- Jews."
*In at least two cases highly qualified individuals were discouraged from attending the academy after they learned about the climate of bigotry and intolerance that the Radical Christian Right has brought to the institution as a whole.
*Professors have allegedly introduced themselves to their classes with off color lines such as "Welcome, to proselytizing 101. My Name is Major John Doe. We're going to have a great time this semester. I'm a born again Christian and I hope you will be too by the end of the semester."
*Christians who haven't been "born again" are informed that they will be burn and hell.
*Cadets are encouraged to evangelzie (proselytize) their bunk mates.
*During high rope classes Protestant, evangelical cadets frequently encouraged their fellow cadets by telling them that Jesus would get them through it.
*A 90 minute RSPV (Respecting Spiritual Values of all People) video was created to counter the increasing climate of bigotry and intolerance. Part of the video discussed and demonstrated the religious beliefs and practices of non-Christians to introduce the cadets to different religious beliefs and to create an atmosphere of understanding and tolerance. Incredibly the video was cut down to 50 minutes and the non-Christian religious issues were removed and replaced with material from Mel Gibson. To make matters worse, a Protestant evengelical chaplain had the audacity to complain why the original 90 minute version hadn't shown Christians winning.
*In November 2004, the academy football coach, Fisher DeBerry placed a banner in the atheltic department which read: "I am a Christian, first and last. I am a member of team Jesus Christ." Apparently, the Banner comes from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and reads in its entirity: I am a Christian first and last; I am created in the likeness of God Almight to bring him glory; I am a member of team Jesus; I wear the colors of the cross; I am a competitor now and forever; I am made to strive, to strain, to stretch, and to succeed in the arena of competition;I am a Christian competitor and as such, I face my challenger with the face of Jesus Christ.
*The Air Force Academy has its own installation publication, "Academy Spirit." Shortly before the Christmas holiday, the back page of the publication featured a full page ad which read as follows: "We the undersigned are here to state that the only real hope for mankind is Jesus Christ. If you'd like to talk about Jesus, come bu and talk to one of us." This appeared in large letters and below it young cadets found the names of sixteen academic department heads, nine permanent professors, the (then) current dean, the present dean, the (then) current vice dean, the director of the athletic department, the above-mentioned football coach, and 250 other Academy leaders and their spouses. No cadets were listed but the ad did include divissive, New Testament passages, which non-Christians and non-believers found offensive.
*Of equal interest was a now infamous Brown Bag Lunch. In January 2004 the event was advertized through fliers which were posted up at key locations throughout the academy. Included was a message which read "This is an official Air Force Academy Event. Do Not Take Down this flier." The theme of this particular Brown Bag Lunch, was, "WHY WE CANNOT LET YOU HAVE YOUR GOD WHILE WE HAVE OURS."
* Fliers advertizing an official Academy RSVP program (Respecting Spiritual Values of all People) again, included fliers which warned readers not to take down the flier. The theme for this particular program was: "DANGERS AND WARNING SIGNS TO THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS: PLURALITY AND SECULARISM."
*When 48-year-old Captain Melinda Morton (A Lutheran Minister with degrees in Divinity and Law, and herself an Academy Chaplain) spoke out against the abuse which was being inflicted by the Protetsant Evangelicals, she was relieved of her position and informed that she would be transferred to Okinawa in July 2004.
Why is that a problem?
It’s a problem because the mission of a military academy is to create intelligent, dependable, and honorable soldiers who will know how to conduct themselves during a time of war—not to create mindless theocrats to please the religious whims and delusions of the evangelical fanatics in the surrounding community. Moreover, events such as these do not take place in a vacuum. Imbecility like this takes place because there has been a breakdown in authority and leadership. And by leadership I do not mean the Academy chaplains, although they are certainly a part of the problem. No, I mean the chain of command—from the Powers that be at the Academy itself right on up to the Commander and Chief in Washington. At some point someone should have stepped in and put an end to this nonsense before it became a part of the Academy’s culture. Instead, the lunatics were allowed to run the asylum. The Chaplains and the command structure at this academy seem to have lost sight of the fact that their prime directive is to create a cohesive fighting force—not to offend and humiliate cadets of differing religious beliefs because the prevailing culture in Colorado Springs is one of pseudo-Christian intolerance.
Moreover, there seems to be a dangerous blending of religious fervor and official government power here. This may come as a shock and a revelation to the so called Christians in Colorado Springs, but it is not the job of the Federal government, nor of the United States Military to promote Protestant fundamentalism as the official religious faith of the United States Air Force. Contrary to the likes of Dobson and Haggard, the American military has one mission and one mission only—to protect the United States—not to spend tax payer dollars on the conversion of non-Christians and non-believers. That is a blending of religion and federal government which, as we have just seen is too dangerous to go unchecked.
In a sane universe—not the one that exists in Colorado Springs—the Chaplains who crossed the line between pastoral care and every day ministry into proselytizing and harassment would be removed from their positions and Captain Melinda Morton would be returned to her position to restore order and sanity to the Air Force Academy. And if that or something similar doesn’t happen, then I would suggest that the United States government should shut that evangelical pop stand down and move the academy to a better neighborhood--preferably one that is far removed from Dobson, Haggard, and their evangelical street fighters as is humanly possible. .