One of the regular features in the monthly newsletter of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) is a section containing a “Violation on Video,” in which we show a video clip of a military regulation being violated by a service member or at a military event, and “Captured on Camera,” a photo of a violation being committed. The video and photo that we planned to feature in our August newsletter are typical — a video of a Marine officer appearing on a Christian television show in uniform, and a photo of an Army officer giving a briefing while standing in front of a Christian flag. What’s not typical about this month’s video and photo is how I happened to come across them. So, rather than just presenting this video and photo in our newsletter in the usual format, I decided to write about the bigger story that led me to find them.
About a month ago, as the John Ensign and Mark Sanford sex scandals were introducing America to the Family’s “C Street House,” Jeff Sharlet, who had infiltrated and extensively researched the Family for his 2008 book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, began to be besieged with media requests as the one person who could explain this shadowy religious cult to a suddenly interested audience. Jeff quickly saw that as more was being revealed about C Street, more new questions were arising, some of which involved military connections. Jeff had just spent well over a year researching religious fundamentalism in the military for his May 2009 Harper’s Magazine cover story “Jesus Killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian military,” and during the process had become extremely well acquainted with MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein, myself, and the work of MRFF. So, Jeff called Mikey and asked if he could “borrow” me for a few days to work on the C Street investigation.
Well, those few days have now turned into a month, and it’s become increasingly clear that we’ve still only hit the tip of the iceberg, as Jeff explains:
“Mikey Weinstein, Chris Rodda, and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation have been indispensable allies during the past month as I’ve worked to bring the story behind the ‘C Street House’ at the heart of this summer’s political sex scandals to the public. I knew I’d need help, and I’d need it from people who understand that political fundamentalism — ‘weaponized Christianity,’ in Mikey’s words — is a real threat to everybody’s First Amendment freedoms. Working together, we’ve uncovered a new front in the fight for open democracy: the convergence of the elite fundamentalism behind the C Street House and the populist fundamentalist activism that’s seeking to turn the military into a force for ‘spiritual war.’ MRFF understands this better than anyone. Mikey is the constitutional conscience of the military, and his research director, Chris Rodda, brings investigative brilliance to the battle. Hats off to both of them and all their colleagues in MRFF.”
Making the connections between the Family and the military is, as Jeff put it, “a new front” — a front that is leading MRFF to new revelations about some of our old discoveries. For example, the participants in the Campus Crusade for Christ Christian Embassy Video — a video that led MRFF to demand an investigation by the Department of Defense Inspector General in which seven officers were found guilty of ethics violations — also included, in addition to the military officers, many other government officials and politicians. Four of these other participants were members of Congress, and two of these members of Congress have been confirmed to be members of the Family. MRFF’s focus at the time of the IG investigation was, of course, on the violations committed by the military officers who appeared in the video, not the members of Congress. Similarly, when Jeff was researching the Family for his book, his focus was primarily on the political figures involved, and not the military connections that he came across. Now both of us, in addition to new research, are reviewing our respective prior research through different lenses.
Knowing that the Family’s agenda involves a worldwide strategy, one of the first things I looked at when Jeff brought me in on the C Street investigation was the travel records of the congressmen and senators known to be associated with the group. Members of Congress are required to disclose any travel paid for by private companies or organizations. What I immediately found were eighteen trips to foreign countries, taken by two senators and six congressmen, that had been paid for by the International Foundation, which is just another name for the Family. The senators taking these trips were John Ensign and Tom Coburn; the current congressmen were Robert Aderholt (R-AL), John Carter (R-TX), Mike Doyle (D-PA), Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), Joseph Pitts (R-PA), and Frank Wolf (R-VA).
In addition to his five foreign trips for the Family, Wolf also took a trip to “meet with government officials” in Kona, Hawaii, paid for by the International Foundation and the University of the Nations. What’s the University of the Nations? Well, it’s the Kona, Hawaii headquarters of the worldwide organization Youth With A Mission, the organization listed on the property records as owning the C Street House. Wolf was accompanied on this trip by former Ohio congressman Tony Hall. Neither Wolf nor Hall specified on their disclosure forms the country or countries of the government officials they met with.
Then there was the travel of Sen. James Inhofe, which did not show up in a search of the disclosures of foreign travel funded by the Family. That’s because Inhofe’s numerous trips to Africa were taken at the expense of the taxpayers, although there is no question that Inhofe was on a mission for the Family. Inhofe himself admitted this in a video, clips of which were shown by Rachel Maddow during one of Jeff Sharlet’s recent appearances on her show. In this segment, Jeff explained why the Family has been sending all these senators and congressman to foreign countries.
Appearing in the full video of Inhofe is a man named Mark Powers, an Assemblies of God missionary hired by Inhofe to be on his staff as his part-time African advisor, while continuing to work for his church. Powers has regularly accompanied Inhofe on his trips to Africa, as have Inhofe’s military liaisons, which brings us to a video I found when I was doing a bit of checking into the military personnel who have traveled with Family members.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, MRFF’s monthly newsletter features a “Violation on Video,” which is often a video of service member doing something in uniform that military regulations prohibit them from doing in uniform. This month’s video stars Marine Lt. Col. Sam Mundy, one of the military liaisons who has accompanied Sen. Inhofe on his travels to Africa. In violation of military regulations, Lt. Col. Mundy appeared in full uniform on the Christian television program Total Victory Today.
LTC Mundy’s appearance on this program in uniform isn’t just an example of a violation of military regulations. It’s also an good example of what those of us who research fundamentalist groups frequently run into — the multiple connections between the groups we’re looking at. In this case, it starts with the program’s producer, Total Victory Ministries, Inc., being affiliated with Student Venture, the high school and junior high ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. Campus Crusade, of course, is also the parent organization of Christian Embassy, whose promotional video included two congressmen who are members of the Family.
The Family’s C Street House is owned by Youth With A Mission (YWAM), whose founder, Loren Cunningham, has often told the story of how Campus Crusade’s founder, Bill Bright, was instrumental in the founding of YWAM and its strategy to take over the world — the “7 Mountains” strategy, in which the “mountain of business” must be controlled in order to take over all other “mountains of culture” and achieve dominion around the globe.
Campus Crusade also runs Military Ministry, which is already firmly entrenched at all of our military’s largest basic training installations, the service academies, and ROTC campuses, and whose strategy for “transforming the nation” includes transforming the military, which “excercise[s] … the most intensive and purposeful indoctrination program of citizens,” into a force of “government-paid missionaries for Christ.”
Like the Family, Campus Crusade’s Christian Embassy has been sending members of Congress on missions to foreign countries. Two of these congressmen, Robert Aderholt and John Carter, who are also Family members, talked about these trips in the Christian Embassy promotional video. But, although Adeholt and Carter were clearly talking about traveling to Africa for Christian Embassy, we can find no record of these trips in their privately funded travel disclosures. In fact, the only Christian Embassy funded trip reported by any member of Congress was one trip taken by Aderholt to meet with the president of Paraguay.
In addition to the travel records of Family members, we’ve been looking at the earmarks these members of Congress have requested, and one of the first things to jump out were the earmarks for large chapel complexes on our military bases. Jeff Sharlet got into this subject a bit on Real Time with Bill Maher.
Among the most expensive and extravagant of these mega-church military chapel projects are two of those requested by members of the Family. One, requested by John Carter for Fort Hood, already received $17,500,000 in last year’s Defense Authorization Act, and this year’s House bill adds an $8,500,000 addition to the project, for a total of $26,000,000. The other is a $14,400,000 mega-church for Fort Campbell, already approved in both the House and Senate versions of this year’s bill.
Requesting this earmark for Fort Campbell were the representatives of the two congressional districts in which Fort Campbell lies, which is who would normally be requesting an earmark for the base. But, also requesting this earmark was Family member Zach Wamp (R-TN), whose district is nowhere near Fort Campbell. Why is Wamp involved in this project? Well, a private group, the Citizens for Fort Campbell (CFFC), lobbied for it and Wamp pledged to help them get the funding for it. Wamp is on the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee for Military Construction, as is John Carter. In fact, three of the four republicans on this subcommittee are members of the Family. The third is Ander Crenshaw (R-FL).
Who didn’t get any help from Wamp and his fellow subcommittee Family members? Dover Air Force Base. Dover has a legitimate need to build a new chapel. This is the base where the military’s mortuary is, and where the bodies of fallen service members arrive. One of the base’s two chapels had to be demolished in January 2009. Then, in March, when the military began to allow the press to cover the “dignified transfer” process, as it’s officially called, they also began paying the travel expenses for the families of the fallen service members to be there for the process. Because it only has one chapel, Dover has no chapel to accommodate the influx of grieving families or the facilities for the chaplains to provide counseling for the families. So, Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware requested an earmark for a chapel to be built at Dover.
The $7,500,000 needed for a chapel to accommodate grieving families at Dover AFB did not make it into the House bill, but Carter’s additional $8,500,000 to expand his $17,500,000 Fort Hood mega-church did. There’s something very wrong with this, but there is still an opportunity to correct this demonstration of backwards priorities. The House bill has already passed, but the senators from Delaware also requested the funding for Dover, and the Senate has put the Dover chapel in their version of the bill. We’ll just have to wait for the conference report on the bill to see which base gets the funding.
Looking further into the expansion of Carter’s Fort Hood mega-church project, it appears to be even more unnecessary than it first appeared to be. What we discovered is that the $8,500,000 in additional funding to build what is being called a “Family Life Center” will actually give the base something that it already has. Just last month, Fort Hood opened its new “Spiritual Fitness Center,” a facility created by extensively renovating one of the base’s existing eleven chapels.
While the military insists that this new “Spiritual Fitness Center” is not religious, but spiritual, the renovations of the existing chapel resulted in a building that is indistinguishable from a chapel, and, going beyond its general physical appearance, is set up to hold worship services, and had, as one of its kick-off events, a Christian rock concert. And, this brings us to the “Caught on Camera” photo we had chosen for MRFF’s August newsletter. Giving a briefing last year on this new “not religious” facility was none other than Maj. Gen. Vince Brooks, one of the officers found guilty of ethics violations for his appearance in the Campus Crusade Christian Embassy video. In the photo accompanying an article about the facility, Brooks, the third of the Christian Embassy officers to be promoted rather than punished, is shown giving his briefing on this non-religious facility while standing in front of a Christian flag.
As we’ve been discovering, the web of individuals and organizations connecting the Family and the military, which includes many that I haven’t even mentioned here, is far more extensive than we initially realized, and the joint investigation being undertaken by Jeff Sharlet and MRFF is far from over.
Chris Rodda is the Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and the author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History.
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