This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is an ongoing source of concern for those interested in religious liberty: the intersection of evangelism and the U.S. military.

A U.S. church raised money to send Bibles, printed in the Pashtu and Dari languages, to American soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, a report on Al Jazeera documented Sunday night.

It is against military rules to proselytize — a regulation one of the soldiers filmed by the network readily acknowledged. “You cannot proselytize, but you can give gifts,” says the soldier. It is a crime in Afghanistan to attempt to convert anyone from Islam to any other religion. “I also want to praise God because my church collected some money to get Bibles for Afghanistan. They came and sent the money out.” The footage is said to be roughly a year old.

The Al Jazeera report also shows a military preacher urging army parishioners to “hunt people for Jesus.”

“The Special Forces guys, they hunt men. Basically, we do the same things as Christians. We hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down. Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the Kingdom. That’s what we do, that’s our business,” he says.

The Al Jazeera report is part of the larger phenomenon of blurring the proselytizing line in the military, as Jeff Sharlet’s subscription-only cover story from the May issue of Harper’s documented very well. The piece was filled with jarring examples, but I was especially struck with this: “In a lecture for [Officers’ Christian Fellowship] titled ‘Fighting the War on Spiritual Terrorism,’ Army Lieutenant Colonel Greg E. Metzgar explained that Christian soldiers must always consider themselves behind enemy lines, even within the ranks, because every unsaved member of the military is a potential agent of ‘spiritual terrorism.’ Even secularists with the best intentions may be part of this fifth column, Air Force Brigadier General Donald C. Wurster told a 2007 assembly of chaplains, noting that ‘the unsaved have no realization of their unfortunate alliance with evil.'”

Military officials have said there have been some isolated problems that have been properly addressed, but “the leadership of the U.S. military has a problem, whether they acknowledge it or not. An influx of aggressive fundamentalists has entered the military chaplaincy and is creating havoc.”

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The younger generation is increasingly following a more secular path: “New research shows young Americans are dramatically less likely to go to church — or to participate in any form of organized religion — than their parents and grandparents. ‘It’s a huge change,’ says Harvard University professor Robert Putnam, who conducted the research.”

* TV preacher Pat Robertson responded to Maine’s new law on marriage equality by telling a national television audience that gay marriage will lead to legalization of polygamy, bestiality, child molestation, and pedophilia. “You mark my words, this is just the beginning in a long downward slide in relation to all the things that we consider to be abhorrent,” said Robertson.

* And in Findlay, Ohio, 17-year-old Tyler Frost is facing suspension from high school if he takes his girlfriend to her school prom. What’s the problem? Frost attends a fundamentalist Baptist school that forbids dancing, hand-holding, and other forms of affection. It’s not enough that his school doesn’t host dances, school officials say students can’t attend other schools’ dances, either. Sounds a bit like Footloose, doesn’t it?