How the Fundamentalist Mind Compels Conservative Christians to Force Their Beliefs on You
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Weinstein assumed at first that the harassment was an anomaly and would be addressed quickly. Alas. The more pressure he applied using his own standing as an Academy graduate and former Reagan administration attorney, the more he uncovered an entrenched network of fundamentalist Christians that ranged from cadets to chaplaincy to brass, and that pressured all others to convert: Clubbish Bible-believing cadets bullied Catholics, Muslims, Jews, nontheists and even mainline Protestants (who, after all, weren’t real Christians to them). Evangelical chaplains brazenly told supporters they were missionaries on the public dime and the armed services was their mission field. Righteous officers pulled rank and pressured subordinates to participate in Bible studies and prayer meetings –and covered up abuses. Middle Easterners complained that America’s troops were Christian crusaders, and outside organizations fanned the flames by providing tracts and Bibles so that combat soldiers could work on converting Iraqi and Afghan civilians.
Livid about violations against the U.S. Constitution and livid about the personal violations and added dangers being endured by America’s soldiers because of the crusade mentality, Weinstein formed the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). Since then, thousands of phone calls, letters and emails have poured in from all arms of the services--not only from the academies but from men and women whose lives are on the line in war zones. The MRFF has fought like a cornered lion on their behalf—fierce, muscular and unpredictable—leaving fundamentalist perpetrators convinced that Weinstein and his colleagues are agents of Satan.
As exposure after exposure has demonstrated, the evangelizers are legally in the wrong. They also are in violation of well-established moral and ethical principles including, often, humanity’s most central moral principle, the Golden Rule. They would be outraged if adherents of other religions solicited their children or exploited their collegial relationships in the quest for converts. So why don’t they give it up? They can’t. Their beliefs require that they push as hard as they can to implement their understanding of God’s will.
In recent years, evangelicals have expanded their outreach in the military, public grade schools, "faith-based” community services and international aid programs, leveraging existing structures and secular funding streams when possible to support their work. To qualify for grants or gain access to public facilities, they argue that they are social service providers, not missionaries. From a personnel standpoint they argue that they are churches, exempt from civil rights laws. America’s Supreme Court has been remarkably willing to let them speak out of both sides of their mouths, which means this trend will continue. Evangelical organizations like Officers Christian Fellowship, Child Evangelism Fellowship, Prison Fellowship Ministries and World Vision will proselytize as much as they are allowed to, diverting as many public dollars as they can, because that is what their reading of the Bible demands.
Inside and outside of Christianity, vigorous debate is challenging the pillars of fundamentalist belief, like the idea that the Bible is literally perfect or that Jesus was the ultimate human sacrifice. But the evangelical quest for converts will be constrained only by whatever moral limits the rest of us set.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons . She is the author of "Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light" and "Deas and Other Imaginings." Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.