About a year ago, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) began an investigation into just how much money the DoD spends on promoting religion to military personnel and their families. What prompted this interest in DoD spending on religion was finding out what the DoD was spending on certain individual events and programs, such as the $125 million spent on the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program and its controversial “Spiritual Fitness” test, a mandatory test that must be taken by all soldiers. The Army insists that this test is not religious, but the countless complaints from soldiers who have failed this “fitness” test tell a different story. The experience of one group of soldiers who weren’t “spiritual” enough for the Army can be read here. But the term “Spiritual Fitness is not limited to this one test. The military began using this term to describe a variety of initiatives and events towards the end of 2006, and this ‘code phrase’ for promoting religion was heavily in use by all branches of the military by 2007.
Although it was clear from the start of MRFF’s investigation that determining the total dollar figure for the DoD’s rampant promotion of religion (which is always evangelical and/or fundamentalist Christianity) would be next to impossible, as this would require FOIA requests to every one of over 700 military installations to find out how much each is spending out of various funds at the installation level, one thing we could look at was DoD contracts, so that’s where we started. What we’ve found so far is astounding.
Even though this is still an ongoing project, and we’ll certainly be finding much more, I thought that given all the current brouhaha over what should be cut from the federal budget, people might be interested to see some of examples of how the DoD is spending countless millions of taxpayer dollars every year to Christianize the military.
As mentioned above, what MRFF is looking at does not include chaplains or chapels — not even the excessive spending on extravagant “chapels” like the $30,000,000 mega-church at Fort Hood, or the “Spiritual Fitness” centers being built on many military bases as part of what are called Resiliency Campuses. The examples below are all strictly from DoD contracts, with the funding coming out of the appropriations for things like “Operations and Maintenance” and, somehow, “Research and Development.” (Summaries of all contracts referenced below are publicly available at usaspending.gov)
Evangelical Christian Concerts Under the Guise of “Spiritual Fitness”
One of the most direct expenditures of money on religious proselytizing, under the guise of “Spiritual Fitness” spending, is the funding of concerts with the top evangelical Christian performers. These concerts are most prevalent on Army posts, although they also occur on installations of other branches of the military. One concert series that stands out, both because soldiers were punished last year for not attending one of the concerts and because of the cost of hiring the musical acts, is the “Commanding Generals’ Spiritual Fitness Concert Series” at Fort Eustis and Fort Lee in Virginia. This is not a chapel concert series, but a command sponsored “Spiritual Fitness” program, paid for with DoD contracts.
All of the performers for these Spiritual Fitness concerts so far (this concert series is ongoing) have been evangelical Christian artists. Not only is the music itself overtly Christian, but during the concerts there are light shows of large crosses beamed all over the stage, and the performers typically give their Christian testimony or read Bible verses between songs. Some of these performers have Blanket Purchase Agreements and Indefinite Delivery Contracts good until 2012 or 2013, indicating that this concert series is planned to continue at least through the next two years. The total amount of money awarded so far for this concert series, including the amount remaining on Blanket Purchase Agreements and Indefinite Delivery Contracts, is $678,470. This figure is only for the performers fees, and does not include all the other expenses associated with putting on concerts on the scale of those being held at these Army posts.
The following are the amounts of the contracts awarded to Christian talent agencies and bands for this “Commanding General’s Spiritual Fitness Concert Series.”
(For these talent agencies and bands where the “amount spent to date” and “amount remaining” on the Blanket Purchase Agreements and Indefinite Delivery Contracts are not equal, it is because these talent agencies have been awarded more than one contract. For example, Titanium Productions, Inc. had contracts totaling $33,470 that were separate from the $100,000 Blanket Purchase Agreement for future concerts in this concert series.)
Evangelical Christian Facilities for Strong Bonds and other “Spiritual Fitness” Retreats
According to an Army spokesperson on the Pentagon Channel, the Army’s Strong Bonds program receives at least $30 million a year in DoD funding. This program of pre- and post-deployment retreats for soldiers and their families are often evangelical Christian retreats, many held at Christian camps and resorts, with evangelical Christian speakers and entertainers.
A search of DoD contracts for the last few years shows that at least 50 of the locations where Strong Bonds and other Spiritual Fitness retreats are regularly held are evangelical Christian camps, resorts, and conference facilities.
The site regularly used by Fort Sill, for example, is Oakridge Camp & Retreat Center, which has received over $500,000 in DoD contracts and has hosted approximately 60 retreats. Oakridge not only requires its employees to be Christians, but even goes as far as requiring on its employment application that the applicant state their views on issues such as abortion and homosexuality. While a private religious organization is free to impose a religious test on its staff, it is quite a different matter for a DoD contractor to do this. And, in the case of Oakridge, it is not only the facility’s staff who must adhere to the its Christian beliefs, but all of its guests as well, including the soldiers attending Fort Sill’s Strong Bonds and Spiritual Fitness retreats.
For example, the first paragraph of Oakridge’s “Policies & Guidelines” for its guests states: “Oakridge is a private Christian retreat center, not a hotel. Therefore, there may be some guidelines and policies that may not seem ‘hotel-like.’ This is our purposeful intent. Oakridge does not serve the ‘general public,’ but only those interested in a Christian camp perspective.” Moreover, guest groups must attend an “Oakridge Orientation,” and it is stated in the “Policies & Guidelines” that “prayer will be offered for all groups at every meal in Jesus’ name.”
While Strong Bonds is specifically an Army program, the rampant promotion of evangelical Christianity under the guise of Spiritual Fitness is going on in all branches of the military. As an example from another branch of the military, over $120,000 in DoD contracts have been awarded to the Williamsburg Christian Retreat Center, one of the facilities used by both the Army and the Navy for retreats. Another popular site in Virginia for the Navy’s Spiritual Fitness and “Personal Growth” retreats is the Peninsula Baptist Association’s Eastover Retreat Center, which has received $75,000 in DoD contracts. For its retreats in Rhode Island, the Navy also uses a Baptist facility, the American Baptist Church’s Canonicus Camping and Conference Center, which has received $53,000 in DoD contracts.
In addition to the constitutional issue of these military retreats being evangelical Christian retreats, any of the Christian facilities used for these retreats that receives over $10,000 in DoD contracts is in violation of the prohibition on federal government contractors discriminating based on religion in their hiring practices. They all hire only Christians, and many require in their employment applications that potential employees subscribe to a “statement of faith” and provide their Christian “testimony,” detailing when and how they were “saved.”
Evangelical Christian Performers for Strong Bonds and Other Events
Even retreats that are not located at religious camps regularly feature evangelical Christian speakers and entertainers. The contract amounts range from a few thousand dollars paid to each of a number of individual “motivational” speakers for single retreats to tens of thousands of dollars for evangelical Christian ministries and performers hired for multiple retreats.
For example, Quail Ministries, a Christian music ministry that provides performances “liberally seasoned with songs, stories, and anecdotal Scripturally-based lessons,” has received over $84,000 in DoD contracts for performances at about a dozen Strong Bonds retreats.
Unlimited Potential, Inc., a ministry “Serving Christ Through Baseball” by sending evangelical Christian major league baseball players to military events, received over $80,000 in DoD contracts for just two retreats, one Strong Bonds retreat and one Spiritual Fitness retreat. Unlimited Potential has been at many other military bases for various other events that do not show up in DoD contracts, presumably because these appearances were paid for with base funds.
DoD Funded Evangelical Christian Youth Programs
Service members are not the only ones targeted by evangelical Christian programs paid for with DoD contracts. Military children are also heavily targeted, both here in the U.S. and on bases overseas. Evangelizing the children of service members is one of the largest areas of spending.
The biggest ministry contracted by the DoD to target children is Military Community Youth Ministries (MCYM), whose mission statement is “Celebrate life with military teens, Introduce them to the Life-Giver, Jesus Christ, And help them become more like Him.” MCYM has received $12,346,333 in DoD contracts since 2000. One of MCYM’s tactics? Stalking “unchurched” military children by following their schools buses.
Ranking second is Cadence International, with over $2,671,603 in contracts since 2003. Cadence describes itself as “an evangelical mission agency dedicated to reaching the military communities of the United States and of the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ.” Cadence not only targets young service members and military children for conversion to evangelical Christianity, but also actively tries to convert members of foreign militaries in the countries where they operate under DoD contracts.
In addition to military youth ministries like MYCM and Cadence, military children are also targeted by military base Religious Education Directors, also hired with DoD contracts. These ministries and Religious Education Directors employ tactics that can only be described as “stalking” children, with some DoD contracts even requiring that the contractors identify and target the “unchurched” children at non-religious events and activities and get them into chapel programs, and to supply reports naming these children by name.
Conversion by Temptation
As I’ve been sitting here writing this post, an email came in to MRFF from a soldier who is currently in Advanced Individual Training (AIT), the stage of training between basic training and and a soldier’s first assignment, where the soldier receives training in the particular job they will be doing. During AIT, soldiers are typically given a few privileges that they didn’t have in basic training, but not many.
This soldier’s email is a a great example of a common strategy that I call “conversion by temptation,” where the military ministries and the military itself tempt young soldiers and military children with fun or exciting things to lure them into participating in programs and events where they can be “saved.” What young soldier would pass up a vacation at a resort with their spouse that they could never afford on their military salary? That’s how the Army’s Strong Bonds program gets many soldiers who would never attend an religious retreat to attend evangelical Christian retreats. What teenage kid would pass up a ski trip or week at the beach with the other kids? That’s how DoD funded military youth ministries like MCYM lure the teenage kids of our service members.
The email that just came in from the soldier in AIT was about the soldiers in training being granted extra privileges if they attend the programs on his post run by Cadence International. These privileges include being allowed to have pizza and soda on Friday nights if they go to the Christian “Coffee House,” even if they haven’t reached the stage of training where this is allowed, and being allowed to wear civilian clothes and engage in all sorts of fun activities if they go to Cadence’s on-post weekend retreats.
To a non-Christian soldier in AIT, getting the extra privileges and having some fun are worth the price of having to sit through the fundamentalist Christian sermons that go along with these activities, so many of them do it. Others go along simply because they don’t want to stand out from the crowd and be singled out as being of the “wrong” religion or not being religious.
Cadence particularly targets soldiers in AIT for a reason — these are the soldiers likely to soon be facing their first deployment. And this ministry, which, as noted above receives DoD contracts for their work, makes no secret of why they’ve chosen AIT as its mission field. One of the reasons given by Cadence for the success of its “Strategic Ministry” is: “Deployment and possibly deadly combat are ever-present possibilities. They are shaken. Shaken people are usually more ready to hear about God than those who are at ease, making them more responsive to the gospel.” Of course, they must first gain access to these “shaken” soldiers, but that’s no problem — the Army helps them out by allowing them to operate on Army posts and granting the soldiers in AIT extra privileges if they attend Cadence’s retreats.
For more details on these and other taxpayer funded schemes to Christianize the U.S. military, see “Against All Enemies, Foreign and Domestic,” the chapter I wrote for the 2010 book Attitudes Aren’t Free: Thinking Deeply about Diversity in the US Armed Forces, published by Air University Press, the publishing arm of the Air Force’s Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base.
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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