Posted by: Harold Knight | 12/10/2010

The Real “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell about Fundamentalist Christians and the U.S. Military

A departure from my norm (whatever my norm is). I simply cannot NOT do this:

If the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” rule is not overturned in the next few days, it will not be because President Obama and Senator Reid didn’t allow enough debate or because it was attached to a military spending bill. It will not be because some top generals and John McCain don’t want it to be overturned.

It will be because Christian Fundamentalists have even more power in the U.S. military than they do in the rest of our government (or than their numbers in the general population warrant). That’s the real “Let’s not tell the American people the truth” that’s going on among the Republicans who are politically dependent on Fundamentalist Christians.

And they have succeeded.

Having never served in the military (I was a student of draft age during the Viet Nam War) and being a gay man, I suppose my understanding of anything having to do with the military does not carry the weight of ἔθος, the ethos of knowledge and understanding, in Aristotle’s description of rhetorical means.  The closest I came to military service was the service of three uncles in WWII—one an MP, one a Navy fighter pilot, and one a Navy Chaplain (who served many years in the reserves after the war and ministered to me when I was trying to figure how to live in this society as a gay man).

The arguments about “unit cohesion” seem to be a cover-up for some other argument.

For example, discharges for homosexuality were approximately ten times greater during the Eisenhower administration than during World War II. (1)

Although such a statistic bears study as to its real context and meaning, Barwaki et al have gathered this and a great deal of other evidence that gays in combat units during WWII were far less a “threat” to cohesion than they were in peace time. (2) In this complicated “debate” article, Elizabeth Kier ends with the statement that

Despite protestations to the contrary, the American armed services understand that homosexuality is compatible with military service, and in particular, that the inclusion of gays and lesbians does not degrade combat performance. How else to explain a simple but widespread finding: discharges of gay and lesbian troops from the U.S. military always decrease during wartime, when cohesion and performance is paramount. American homosexuals always have and always will serve honorably in the U.S. armed services. The time is not only propitious but past due to recognize their contributions as American warriors by abolishing all discriminatory policy on the basis of sexual orientation. (3)

What has changed since the article was written in 1999? Two wars, of course. But much more. A surge of Fundamentalist Christian influence (leadership) over the military. And the Republicans dare not buck that reality.

[NOTE: You will pardon me if I do not try to write an argument. The subject is too vast and too important for my style of personal writing. What follows, then is a “survey of the literature” as academics say. Informal, to be sure. Anyone who is interested in knowing why “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” may well stay in place in spite of the overwhelming support for its demise among both the American civilian population and the military will find resources here to understand.]

Jeff Sharlet, assistant professor of creative nonfiction at Dartmouth College and a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine and Rolling Stone, and author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Harper, 2008) said in a September 2010 interview:

I should say the vast majority of the military personnel understand their oath to the Constitution and understand why they’re there and their duty. But there is a very significant movement within [the military] which sees the military as a Christian institution. They seem themselves as Christian warriors. They see themselves as responsible for protecting and defending America’s tradition as a Christian nation and representing that overseas. For a lot of them personally, it just meshed well with their personal beliefs because they didn’t have to engage in these kind of culture war issues and the military just decided for them. That decision comes down on terms that are very comfortable for religious conservatism.

Sharlet, Jeff. Interview with Terry Gross. “Fresh Air.” September 23, 2010

Michael Lindsay, in his comprehensive article on the influence of Fundamentalist Christians in the military writes of his interview with perhaps the best-known and outspoken of these military leaders, Gen. William Boykin. In June 2003, Boykin was appointed Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence; LTG Boykin retired on August 1, 2007.

However, among my interviews, the individual most convinced of the compatibility between Christianity and his military service was Lieutenant General William “Jerry” Boykin. Boykin similarly framed this same episode to several evangelical church groups,  and in late 2003, NBC News and the Los Angeles Times revealed a series of other comments the three-star general had made in recent years. Often appearing in uniform without a disclaimer that his comments did not represent the U.S. military, Boykin would present the Battle of Mogadishu in explicitly religious terms. He would say, “I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.” In at least one setting, Boykin described an aerial photo that he had taken of Mogadishu during the battle. He noted unusual black marks in the sky that appeared in the photo, suggesting they were evidence of a demonic presence over the city. Boykin framed the Mogadishu battle as reflecting a spiritual battle. . . .

Lindsay, D. Michael. “Evangelical Elites in the U.S. Military.” Journal of Political & Military Sociology 35.2 (2007): 161-176.

In a Harper’s Magazine article last year, Jeff Sharlet wrote of an interview with an Air Force Chaplain.

“Evangelicals looked at the military and said, ‘This is a mission field,’” explains Captain MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran pastor and former missile-launch commander who until 2005 was a staff chaplain at the Air Force Academy and has since studied and written about the chaplaincy. “They wanted to send their missionaries to the military, and for the military itself to become missionaries to the world.”

Sharlet, Jeff. “Jesus killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian military.” Harper’s Magazine, May, 2009.

Dr. Mark Taylor, Professor of Theology and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, in an address on June 14, 2006 said:

It is this restorationist drive, powered by fear and patriotic love of the homeland . . . which has been exploited by various powers after 9/ll. The Christian Right is one of these powers, and they are joined by military planning and corporate elites. . . . An active military given a noble nationalist purpose is often a financial boon for corporate power. In short, Christian nationalism might sit awkwardly alongside cosmopolitan corporate transnationalism, but militarist nationalism under pressure can be good for business – especially in a time of threatening economic disorder.

Taylor, Mark Lewis. “What’s Going on in the USA? Rise of an Imperial Triumvirate.” Network News 26.3 (2006): 10-19.

Below the footnotes for my writing, I have placed a bibliography of more articles documenting the Fundamentalist Christian influence in the U.S. military. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell may be eliminated in the next few days. If it is not, Congressional political wrangling will not be the reason.
(1) RAND, Sexual Orientation and the U.S. Military Personnel Policy, p. 6. 1993 Web. 10 Dec. 2010. Quoted in: Barkawi, Tarak, Dandeker, Christopher, Wells-Petry, Melissa, Kier, Elizabeth. “Rights & Fights: Sexual Orientation and Military Effectiveness.”  International Security 24.1 (Summer99).
(2) They list these sources:  Allan Berube, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two (New York: Free Press, 1990), p. 179; and Randy Shilts, Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military (Armonk, N.Y.: St. Martin’s, 1993), pp. 68-71, 295-296, 384.
(3) Barkawi et all, ibid.)
Cook, Martin L. “Whether (Modern, American) Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved? Christian Loyalty and Service in the American Armed Forces.” Political Theology 5.4 (2004): 431-445.

Ghaziani, Amin. “The reinvention of heterosexuality.” The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 17.3 (2010): 27+.

Isserman, Nancy. “Evangelical-Jewish Relations: Politics, Policy, and Theology.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 44.1 (2009): 1-6.

Lehmiller, Justin J., and Michael T. Schmitt. “Group domination and inequality in context: evidence for the unstable meanings of social dominance and authoritarianism.” European Journal of Social Psychology 37.4 (2007): 704-724.

Leopold, Jason. “Military Evangelism Deeper, Wider Than First Thought.” Truthout. Friday 21 December 2007. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.

Loveland, Anne C.  “Evangelical Proselytizing at the U.S. Air Force Academy: The Civilian-Military Controversy, 2004-2006.” J.E.S. 44 (Winter, 2009): 25.

Southern, Neil.  “September 11: A Christian Fundamentalist Interpretation.” Political Theology 9.2 (2008): 139-160.


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