Asking Mikey Weinstein: Is America really a "Christian nation"?

The head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation also shares his views about fundamentalist Christianity in the U.S. military and more. Photo: Photo provided by Haley & Associates; photographer's name not provided

FLORIDA, May 30, 2013 — Many people disapprove of the separation between church and state because they believe that America is a “Christian nation”. Very often, this idea is supported by the claim that our Founding Fathers drafted and ratified the Constitution on theological grounds. What can be said about this subject?

Some think that secularizing the military is a bad idea because they perceive it as having strong Christian-based traditions. What about this viewpoint? Is it true that the U.S. military is unduly influenced by fundamentalist Christianity? 

Mikey Weinstein is a retired Air Force prosecutor and former member of the Reagan Administration. He now heads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an organization devoted to securing the religious liberties of our nation’s armed forces personnel. Said devotion has brought much criticism to the MRFF’s doorstep. Today, it might be described as one of the most controversial players in American politics. 

In this first part of our discussion, he answers the questions mentioned above.

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Joseph F. Cotto: Many people disapprove of the separation between church and state because they believe that America is a “Christian nation”. Very often, this idea is supported by the claim that our Founding Fathers drafted and ratified the Constitution on theological grounds. What is your opinion on this subject?

Mikey Weinstein: Our country was never founded to be a Christian nation. Certainly, the principles that were brought forth in our wonderful founding document are based on many aspects of, I think we would say, morality of the time, and clearly Judeo-Christians all played a significant role there. 

You could argue that America was, in fact, founded as a Christian nation. I would agree with you. That was very true, but not the United States of America. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, if you didn’t believe the way they did, you were free to leave. When we formed this country, our Founding Fathers — Constitutional framers — looked at European history, where most of the horrors that had occurred had been when men of the cloth had been men of political power. 

They looked at Cromwell of England, they looked at, they didn’t even have to leave our shores, they looked at the Salem witch trials, and they said “not here”.

So, we have a clear separation of physical, metaphysical, spiritual, temporal, church, and state that allows everybody to comprehensively enjoy or celebrate whatever faith they want to or no faith. No one religion is allowed to engage the machinery of the state, the awesome financial power and the prestige of our federal government, and from my perspective, the most powerful part of that; the technologically most lethal organization ever created by humankind, which is our Department of Defense.

Cotto: Some think that secularizing the military is a bad idea because they perceive it as having strong Christian-based traditions. What do you think about this viewpoint?

Weinstein: I think the term “secularism” is like the new communism. Secularism simply means that everybody is treated equally with respect to their religious faith. Our foundation represents over 33,000 active-duty United States sailors, soldiers, Marines, and airmen, cadets and midshipmen at West Point, the Air Force academy — which is my alma mater and the alma mater of four of my kids and my brother-in-law — and Annapolis, my father-in-law’s alma mater. 

96 percent of our clients are either practicing Protestants or Roman Catholics. As Sandra Day O’Connor said, “In this country we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment”. To the extent that we are a Christian nation, we are also an Islamic nation, a Jewish nation, a Buddhist nation, a Spider Man nation, an atheist and agnostic nation, and that’s what makes America so beautiful; that we don’t judge your values, anyone’s values, through the prism of what particular faith you adhere to. 

Cotto: Judging from your experience, is it true that the U.S. military is unduly influenced by fundamentalist Christianity? 

Weinstein: It is absolutely as true as the sky is blue, as the sun will come up tomorrow morning. We are facing a fundamentalist Christian tsunami of what we call “fundamentalist Christian exceptionalism and supremacy”. There is no question that this has become an alloy with the very essence of the United States military. It’s in the very DNA that we see. It’s like gravity; it’s everywhere. 

I’ll make it very careful to parse this out. As I said, most of our staff, we have over 150 people that work in this foundation, including many full-time volunteers, our advisory board, our board — we have a lot of luminaries who are on our board and advisory board; they are Republicans, Democrats, independents, and Greens — but the vast majority of our own clients, and half of my own family, are Christians.  

If you look at Islam, it is only a small portion of Islam that represents fundamentalist, terroristic Islam; Salafi and Wahhabist Islam. We don’t paint one group of people with one brush because that’s called old-school bigotry and prejudice, and that leads to oceans and oceans of blood.

We are looking here at a subset of evangelical Christianity known as Dominion or fundamentalist Christianity. They are to be separated from evangelicals and all other Christians because their view of the Great Commission, which is one of the last things Jesus is supposed to have said to his disciples, talked about in Mark 16:15 and Matthew 28:19 — “Go and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said — their view is that there is no time, place, and manner in which their zeal to proselytize can be restricted. 

Whether it’s case law, state or federal, or any of the Department of Defense instructions, regulations, or directives, there is no time that they can be restricted from proselytizing. 

That is unpatriotic, it’s un-American, it’s inhuman, it’s a crime, and in the military if it happens, it violates the oath that everyone in the military takes — not to the the New Testament, or the Torah, or to the Koran, but to the United States Constitution. It should be punished vigorously, aggressively, and very visibly.


Far-left? Far-right? Get realRead more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto 


 


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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