History was made last week at the elite U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia, where 2 female soldiers graduated from one of the most arduous training programs within the entire U.S. military. 1st Lt. Shaye Haver and Capt. Kristen Griest will go down in the annals of U.S. military history as the two soldiers who irreversibly shattered one of many heretofore glass ceilings barring full female participation in legendary armed services combat training.
Only a misogynistic fool (of which there are many) would argue that the sui generis and truly remarkable achievements of these two pioneering soldiers represents anything besides a gigantic stride forward for gender equality in the profession of arms. However, I would be terribly remiss in failing to point out how the official Army ceremony of martial pomp and circumstance which greeted these newly minted young Rangers also represented a giant leap backwards over the wall separating church from state, perhaps landing these very same Rangers in the vicinity of Jesus Camp. Rather than a graduation ceremony, Haver and Griest (along with their male colleagues) were greeted with a quite literal and illicit “christening ceremony”.
Thanks to the presiding Army chaplain of the ceremony, apparently Brigade Chaplain (Major) Mark Winton, an event happily thought of by many as a “GI Jane”-style celebration of achievement instead bore the shameful marks of “GI Jesus Tourette’s Syndrome,”. The aforementioned disease being an all-too-common symptom of the evangelical, fundamentalist Christian cancer metastasizing throughout the broad totality of the U.S. Military.
Indeed, the Airborne Ranger Training Brigade chaplain’s opening invocation was distinctly disgraceful, brazenly unconstitutional and unapologetically fundamentalist in both tone and content making references to various exclusivist Christian themes, memes and motifs:
“I invite you to join me in prayer, and I will be praying in Jesus’ name.
Almighty God, it is right for us to thank you this morning, for you have created life in such a way, and demonstrated through the life of your own son that nothing worthwhile in life comes without a price. We know that this is true in our nation’s history and this is true for these Rangers today.
These Rangers have indeed persevered, and overcome obstacles such as scrutiny, illness, deprivation, and even lightning strikes. We praise you for creating these Rangers and sovereignly working in their lives, that you would knit within the very fabric of them, the attributes and competencies necessary to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission. Their mission has just begun: to be ready to lead American soldiers in combat. Keep them ever-dependent upon you and one another, that they might continue to live as more elite soldiers in every aspect of their chosen professions: physically, tactically, and morally.
We thank you for the Ranger cadre who did more than evaluate their performance, but exemplified and instructed what it means to live as a Ranger. We commit those Rangers who are fighting the good fight even now, and those Rangers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, and all of their families, to your powerful and personal care.
I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.”
You can see the video here at the 40 minute & 40 seconds mark. It’s clear that the sectarian, fundamentalist Christian supremacist who delivered this invocation-cum-religious extremist screed belongs to the “Jesus Was an Airborne Ranger” school of chaplaincy.
It is an appalling fact that this very same brand of unrelenting, religious Christian extremism seems to flourish most in our military’s Special Forces; Green Berets, Delta Force, Navy SEALs, USMC Force Recon, USAF PJs, and Army Rangers.
The altogether scandalous, shameful and absolutely deleterious nature of this bigoted invocation was underscored by the fact that the entire globe, from the Arab world to the former Soviet Union, was eagerly watching. Indeed, even the new U.S. Army Chief of Staff (CSA), General Mark Milley, the 39th soldier to hold that titular warrior position in American history, was right there front and center in personal attendance. To those who watched the invocation, the takeaway was as clear as could be. To wit, on the one hand, the U.S. Army can ardently pat itself on the back for its gender-inclusionary policies. However, tragically, with its other hand, the Army was plunging a razor-sharpened cross of Christian triumphalism and exceptionalism through its very own soldiers’ precious First Amendment religious freedom rights, as well as their Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection civil rights and the No Religious Test mandates of Clause 3, Article VI of the body of the United States Constitution. Indeed, the Army made it quite clear to the fervently observing world just how MUCH it craves and adores its unabashed drug addiction to militaristic Christian supremacy. The adverse implications for critical American national security should be obvious to all: this travesty is a propaganda bonanza bounty of unparalleled proportions for our Islamist foes, and a callous spit in the face of our Muslim allies.
But, alas, there is more hurt and danger to report here.
And by “more”, I mean we must also pay heed to the enormously corrosive impact that such “GI Jesus” prayer ceremonies, viewed on an international media scale of Jovian proportions, have on the distinctly tribal, adversarial, communal and ritualistic culture and esprit du corps of the armed services, which are as religiously diverse as American society itself. We at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) have long sounded the alarm bells on the ongoing fundamentalist Christian coup taking place within the armed forces, and if there’s anything that we have learned in our decade of necessarily brutal civil rights activism, it’s the truthfulness of the old proverb: “the fish rots from the head down.” Indeed, we are far MORE than merely troubled by the fact that CSA General Mark Milley was an on-the-spot, eye witness for this utterly disgraceful “Christian witnessing” invocation. One wonders if he had even a semblance of a Constitutional clue? Was he just as furious as we and many others were about the “crusader”-style sectarian nature of the now despoiled graduation event? Does he even remotely understand the critical need for eliminating such rampant, unlawful and unauthorized proselytizing to a captive audience of otherwise helpless military subordinates on Uncle Sam’s time and the taxpayer’s dime? Does he appreciate in any meaningful way the need to swiftly, visibly and aggressively punish that heinous proselytizing chaplain and all others who either directly or indirectly were responsible for this ignoble national security breach and display of disastrous dishonor?
Indeed, leadership on the lofty level of the U.S. Army’s CSA requires an extremely intimate understanding of the Department of Defense’s Number One, compelling governmental interest in ensuring the maximal optimization of military readiness, mission accomplishment, unit cohesion, good order, morale, discipline, health, and safety.
Period. End of sentence.
Now, dear readers, please put yourselves in the boots of the non-evangelical/fundamentalist Christian soldiers in the U.S. Army, in other words what we call “the majority”, who may have heard the chaplain’s invocation, or who have suffered one of the countless similar proselytizing crimes of “passion” committed throughout the four distinct service branches.
“I will be praying in Jesus’ name”? Really, Chaplain Winton? Excuse me, but exactly how’s that morale and unit cohesion thing going for you, General Milley & Company?
CSA General Mark Milley should prove to us all that he understands and embraces the leadership prerogatives required of his impressive command position. This Fort Benning Ranger School invocation was a despicable and asinine act of Constitutional defiance and criminality. Because of those two valiant first-ever female graduates, it was seen, and no-doubt fully internalized, planet-wide as never before. Pathetically, it made an absolute mockery of the countless Department of Defense rules and regulations relating to church-state separation in the U.S. military, not to mention the bedrock values of the United States of America. Let us NEVER forget that such values are recognized by the solemn oath sworn by all service members to sustain, protect and defend the United States Constitution and NOT some derelict chaplain’s personal version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Those essential and pertinent DoD directives, instructions and regulations, coupled with the Constitution and its construing case law, exist for a vast ocean of damn good reasons.
In America, The Great Constitution trumps The Great Commission.
It’s high time that the Army top brass shows the same intestinal fortitude and intrepid courage displayed by Lt. Shaye Haver and Capt. Kristen Griest.
The Army’s senior leadership MUST expeditiously punish those shameless religious zealots and extremists who enabled such a fundamentalist Christian invocation of insuperable dominion and dominance, which deliberately and permanently marred what would have been an otherwise immensely proud moment in the history of the U.S. Armed Forces.
One step forward into the light of equality, two steps back into the darkness of religious prejudice.