MEMBERS ONLY: How Close Are We to a Religious Military Coup?

by Justin Rosario

Half a century ago, conservative Christian Republicans were aghast at the idea of a Catholic, John F. Kennedy, being elected president because they were worried that he would put his religion before the Constitution. But that was before the American right wing made its deal with the devil and embraced religious extremism as a political ideology.

These days, the right is less worried about the separation of Church and State than they are about how quickly they can erode it. From Muslim bans to monuments to the Ten Commandments to so-called “Freedom of Religion” laws that codify religious bigotry, the right wing has gone all in what is, for all intents and purposes, Christian Sharia in a country explicitly founded on tolerance to all religions and none.

But nowhere is this move towards extremism more dangerous, and less spoken about, than it is in the military. Here are a few of the conclusions Lt. Col. Jim Parco of the Air Force (retired) came to in his decade-long study of how religious extremism has infected the military:

  • Senior fundamentalist evangelical Christian officers have used their rank and authority to undermine subordinate’s efforts (such as the Air Force Academy’s RSVP program) to maintain institutional neutrality toward religion and religious sects, and foment a culture of tolerance and professionalism.
  •  Officers who raise concerns about fundamentalist Christian proselytizing, such as Air Force chaplain Captain MeLinda Morton—when not ignored completely—have faced reassignment and other punitive actions.
  •  Since rule changes by the Reagan administration, the military’s chaplain corps has seen a severely disproportionate over-representation of Christianity. Whereas only 68.6% of military members identify as some manner of Christian, fully 98% of chaplains do. Within that percentage, chaplains of fundamentalist and evangelical Christian denominations are dominant.
  • Fundamentalist evangelical Christian organizations are given preferential access to numerous military installations, including the Pentagon and the various service academies, and have had their activities sanctioned and even promoted—in uniform and on duty—by religiously aligned military leadership. 

The abuse of power here is astonishing and troublesome to say the least. By concentrating power in the hands of the “faithful” or those unwilling to stand up to them, religious extremists have deeply corrupted the function of the Air Force from an expression of American foreign policy to one of religious indoctrination and intolerance.

When retired Air Force Col. David Antoon describes how cadets are now trained to be “warriors” for Christ instead of officers of the United States military, it sounds like a creepy cult instead of the deadliest and most professional combat force in the world:

In what would have been my son’s academy summer encampment, chaplain Watties “suggested” that cadets return to their tents and tell their tent mates they would “burn in hell” if they did not receive Jesus as their savior. At the same time, the academy commandant, Weida, made a habit of including biblical passages in official e-mails and correspondence to subordinates and cadets. He had developed a secret “chant and response” with the cadets: When he yelled “Airpower,” the evangelical cadets in the know would respond “Rock, sir” in reference to the Bible story that Jesus built his house upon a rock.

In the years since, little to nothing has been done about this pervasive fundamentalist rot eating away at the fabric of our military. That would be bad even with a run of the mill president in charge, but with a mentally unstable monster at the helm, part of Lt. Col. Parco’s report becomes especially worrisome: 

  • Air Force training programs for Nuclear Missile Launch Officers featured Christian ethical justifications for the use of nuclear weapons and quotes from historical figures lauding morality guided specifically by the Bible.

The idea of someone eager to bring about Armageddon holding the key should freeze the marrow in your bones. Whereas a rational person might not follow Trump’s order to nuke North Korea because Kim Jong-un made fun of his hair, an end of times extremist will consign millions to death with a smile on his face and a song in his heart because Jesus loves him and the Rapture’s a’comin’.

I’m not saying we need a religious test for the people who turn the keys but if you answer “Yes” to the question “Do you look forward to the end of all life on Earth?”, have a nice day, you don’t get the job.

For whatever reason, the rot seems to be strongest in the Air Force which, just last week, saw an article published by Dr. Sonny Hernandez, one of their chaplains who literally swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, in which he explains, “appealing to anything except the Bible as an ultimate authority would not only be anti-Christian, it would also nullify their previous argument of professing to be a Christian—since an ultimate authority does not appeal to anything except itself. It is impossible to submit to both the Bible and the Constitution as an ultimate authority.

In other words, Hernandez, who, again, literally swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, wrote an entire article exhorting servicemen and women to put Christianity, specifically his version of Christianity, ahead of the Constitution. He also insisted that supporting the rights of people to practice religion in any other way is to be in service of Satan. As of this writing, Hernandez has not been fired for flagrantly violating his oath but transgender service members might be just for being born with the wrong set of genitals. That should tell you how far down the slippery slope we are.

We’re so used to conservatives thumping their bibles that it may not be immediately apparent how dangerous this is so let em repeat it: A member of the American military openly and explicitly called for treason by openly and explicitly placing their religion above the Constitution and their oath to uphold it and they were not immediately removed from their position. It’s not even clear that Hernandez will be reprimanded much less fired.

A military that does not respect the Constitution can choose who to obey and that’s how coups happen. Sooner or later, there will be enough of Hernandez and his ilk to decide that maybe they don’t feel like listening to a civilian government filled with blasphemous baby-killing liberals. After all, they’re warriors for Christ and as Hernandez makes it very clear, tolerance is the path to Satan.

The only silver lining here is that the majority of this insanity seems to stem from the Air Force, with very few reports of similar extremism from the other branches. That’s not to say it’s not there, Christian fundamentalism is a cancer in America, but it’s not nearly as prevalent. 

Yet.