Harvard Study – Evangelism in the Profession of Arms: An Evaluation of Evangelical Christian Proselytizing in the Professional Journal of the United States Air Force

“The primary implication of this research is to document the possibility of favoritism towards evangelical themes in the professional journal of the USAF, so as to ensure that future editorial boards will present a tolerant and non-sectarian view of legitimate Air Force issues.”

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Selected Excerpts:

This thesis will address the following questions: what were the contributing factors that created an environment of evangelical Christian influence throughout the history of the USAF? Have these contributing factors been adequately researched? What forums or publications were used by Air Force personnel of an evangelical Christian background to promote their ideological beliefs? What level of influence did any presence of evangelical Christian references in these publications have on the Air Force? (page 3, para. 3)

…One factor that may have also contributed to the current climate in the USAF, but has not been evaluated in previous studies and texts, is the promulgation of evangelical Christian themes through the professional journal of the USAF. I hypothesize that the professional journal of the USAF included many messages, both deliberate and unintentional, that advocated evangelical Christian beliefs and helped contribute to an environment of evangelical Christian influence consistent throughout the history of the USAF. I also hypothesize that references to evangelical Christian beliefs in the professional journal of the USAF are attempts to inculcate readers with certain Christian beliefs, which serve a wide range of functions, and to bring about a uniformity of beliefs within the USAF. (page 4, para. 2)

The primary implication of this research is to document the possibility of favoritism towards evangelical themes in the professional journal of the USAF, so as to ensure that future editorial boards will present a tolerant and non-sectarian view of legitimate Air Force issues. Another implication of this research is to highlight the promulgation of a philosophy that could obstruct religious freedom as practiced in a federal institution. Evidence of proselytizing and increased Christian influence in the professional journal of the USAF could prove true any accusations of religious intolerance and of the existence of an environment that caters to a specific worldview over others. This, in turn, could lead to an environment where Air Force personnel fear to practice their religion of choice, or to not practice at all, in fear of retribution because they do not follow the predominant worldview espoused by other Air Force personnel. Another implication of this research is the possible impact on military assessments by the increase of conservative religious and political ideologies in the Air Force. Lieutenant Colonel William Millonig approached this topic in a Strategy Research Project report written for the Army War College. He described the multiple effects of an increase in solitary worldviews amongst military leaders who are shaped by conservative Christian ideologies. He proposed that “the Christian ideological impact to the strategic leader is the resulting groupthink which limits creative thinking and divergent points of view.” He continued his analysis by warning the reader of certain results of groupthink by military leaders, namely the decreasing likelihood that military leaders will analyze all relevant consequences of a particular decision. While his argument for having diverse viewpoints for the best decision-making is not original, he adamantly warns against the trend of increased influence of religious ideologies in the military. When read by the majority of high-ranking Air Force officers, statements with a heavy evangelical Christian influence can have a dramatic impact on the culture of the Air Force. While the majority of journal articles presented relevant Air Force topics, there was clear evidence of religious references, many of an evangelical Christian character, in articles submitted by active duty and retired military members and civilian personnel with a close association with the military. Consequently, any type of evangelical Christian influence can validate or promote the use of religiously oriented methods into the training and leadership of Air Force personnel. (page 5, para. 3)

[Mikey] Weinstein, who is the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has investigated over 18,000 complaints of religious intolerance or proselytizing from members since 2005. One area of concern he highlights is the transmittal of evangelical messages through electronic mail. Weinstein described the dissemination of a presentation titled “Purpose Driven Airmen,” which incorporated the teachings of mega church leader Rick Warren as a means of suicide prevention to 5,000 servicemen and women at Royal Air Force Station Lakenheath, the largest airbase in England. Another example of a recent mass e-mail distribution at a USAF installation involved the distribution of an essay by retired Air Force Lieutenant General Bruce L. Fister, the executive director of the Officers‘ Christian Fellowship. The essay began by posing the question, “Why do you serve in our military?” and answered it with, “we serve our Lord by serving our nation, our family or prospective future family, and so that we have something that we can share with God‘s people in need.” (page 13, para. 3)

Whether the research focuses specifically on the origins of the increase of evangelical Christian influence in the military or is a general discussion on the influencing factors of the modern military culture, it is evident that there has been a significant amount of research done on the subject. Evangelism in the Air Force has been supported by the individual evangelical denominations, the leadership of the Air Force, and by airmen who felt it was necessary to witness to non-Christian airmen. While evangelicals have proselytized the Air Force through denominational booklets, electronic messages, commander call presentations, and individual sermons on bases, a full analysis of these techniques has not been completed. No research has been uncovered regarding the use of professional military journals to spread the Gospel and witness to fellow members of the Air Force. I will evaluate this particular method of evangelism in this thesis in order to come closer to completing the research of factors involved with creating an environment of evangelical Christian influence in the USAF. (page 16, para. 2)

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1 Comment

  1. Hypatia

    Delighted to see a scholarly study documenting this infamous phenomenon.

    Would like to see more background on who wrote it, why they wrote it, and where else it has been published.

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