Mr. Weinstein and MRFF, I refuse to be part of the problem anymore.
I am an active duty soldier, with a combat tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I don’t feel especially entitled to a hero’s welcome or any special recognition at all. However, I feel like I do deserve some basic respect as a soldier, as a person, and as citizen of the United States. I’m not a religious man, though I have the same respect for other’s beliefs as I do for my own (religious) parents. Unfortunately, this respect does not flow in both directions.
There have been countless times during my military career that I have been forced to endure the proselytizing of my evangelical Christian peers, and more often, my evangelical Christian superiors. Early in my career, I tested the waters with standing up for myself, and my nonbelief. Every single time, I was met with either indirect retaliation, or direct punishment. As a young, junior enlisted soldier, husband, and father-to-be, I am financially strapped. This factor alone intimidates me enough to bite my tongue nearly every single time. Which makes me part of the problem. If nobody speaks out, nothing gets fixed. I didn’t even realize there was a foundation that will speak out on my behalf until I read about the MRFF in a recent news story.
I could expound upon countless examples of instances where I shamefully caved to this intimidation, but I’ll just touch on a few briefly for the sake of brevity. Across the board, all soldiers in Basic Training are given the option to attend religious worship services, with many denominations needing to be bused across post for their special needs to be met. These services serve as a 2-3 hour roundtrip of a break from the hectic and stressful training environment. Soldiers who were not religious are not forced to go to these services. However, I only fell for this trick once. If you choose to stay behind, you are not allowed to just rest or even sit down. You have to clean up the entire barracks for the entire time that everyone else is off at worship services. Due to a line of duty injury, I was forced to endure the basic training environment for over 30 weeks (instead of 9 weeks). That was 30 weeks of fire and brimstone speeches that seemed to be more and more offensive every sermon. From what I can tell, this form of discrimination and punishment is still the SOP.
In the recent past, I was approached by a Chaplain who saw me reading a book about biology. He left a note inside the book that denounced the book as ‘full of the lies of evolution’ and ‘do you really believe this stuff? I hope not’. Please keep in mind, Mr. Weinstein, that this guy was an OFFICER and, thus, he greatly outranked me. He signed his name and rank, and offered to ‘counsel me’ on these matters. I was shocked at this, but I couldn’t help but try to handle the problem tactfully myself, and I explained to him that I was extremely open minded and that I wanted to talk to him about this, but only if he would approach the conversation with an open mind as well. We talked about evolution only briefly, and of course it was full of the typical creationist shtick I half-expected from him. But it quickly got… weird. He asked me things like “Are you happy with your life the way that you live it?” I responded “Yes. I love my life. I mean I have a little trouble sleeping, but that’s why I love science and medicine!” He abruptly changed his tone, and said “You know that the medicine doesn’t help you at all. I am very worried about your spiritual well being now… You see, I am from Haiti, and I used to practice voodoo before I found the Lord, Jesus Christ. I can tell that you have demons inside you that might be from a curse, or from witchcraft. THAT’S what is keeping you up late.”
I was floored. It didn’t stop there, though. He continued to say bizarre things and use obscure biblical passages to ‘prove that he was right’ about the bizarre thing he just said. Three hours went by, and I was given two books to learn from, both from Bob Jones University Press. One was called “The 8 signs that you are possessed by demons” or something very similar, which he assured me would save my life. Next he offerred to take me out to lunch, and even coaxed me into ‘giving him an open minded chance at his church service’. That was a huge mistake. Halfway through the sermon he asked the audience to “Raise your hand if you are struggling through a tough spot” A few hands went up. “Raise your hand if you have trouble sleeping at night.” I raised my hand. “Now I want all of the people who have their hands raised to come up to the front.” I obliged. “Now kneel and repeat after me… I accept you, Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Savior…” Can you believe that? He tricked me. I was mortified. I told people in my chain of command about the incident. Nobody recommended any course of action at all. Nobody helped me. I was completely alone and abandoned. I was just forced to let it go. And I did so, with great shame and humiliation, a feeling I will never, ever be able to forget.
Had I only known about the existence of the MRFF, I would have had someone with the raw power, courage and resources to back me up. The U.S. Army chain of command and their ‘EO policies’ or Inspector General complaint channels completely fail to counter the pervasive proselytizing of the overwhelmingly evangelical fundamentalist Christian chaplaincy and officer/NCO corps. It is regretful that to investigate this so many years after the fact would be a logistical impossibillity. However, I am proud to say that if the same thing happened again today, I know full well that I would have the wonderful support of the MRFF. MRFF is the only true friend a soldier has when confronted with this overwhelming proselytizing madness. They will defend the United States constitution, the Treaty of Tripoli, and the many other legal documents set in place by our forefathers. These are the things that I swore an oath to fight to protect. Only the MRFF seems to fight for me.
(Out of fear of retribution, please redact my personal information for any external purposes)
(name, rank, MOS, military combat assignment, military installation withheld)