Army Disavows Presentation Supporting Weinstein Ideology

The news of a US Army briefing seemingly supporting a doctrine of Michael Weinstein — and the firm decision by the Army to disavow the presentation — made surprisingly wide press this weekend.

At issue was a briefing given by a US Army Reservist on “Extremism and Extremist Organizations” (PDF, with notes) which listed “evangelical Christians,” “Ultra-Orthodox Judaism,” “Sunni Muslims” and “Catholicism” alongside “al Quaeda [sic]” as “religious extremism.”  (In fact, evangelical Christianity was at the top of the list.)  The briefer was apparently a Military Equal Opportunity officer, ironically enough.

An attendee of the briefing — who describes himself as an evangelical Christian — took issue, obtained a copy of the briefing, and provided it to the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty (CARL) and the military Catholic Archdiocese:

“Men and women of faith who have served the Army faithfully for centuries shouldn’t be likened to those who have regularly threatened the peace and security of the United States,” retired Col. Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, said in a statement that included a link to controversial Power Point presentation…

The Archdiocese for the Military Services, which endorses priests to work in the military and at VA Medical Centers, chastised the Army for the presentation in a statement issued Thursday: “The Archdiocese is astounded that Catholics were listed alongside groups that are, by their very mission and nature, violent and extremist.”

Chaplain Crews reportedly talked to the briefer, and she apparently indicated she got most of her information from the Southern Poverty Law Center — something the SPLC denies:

But Mark Potok, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Fox News they did not provide the military with any list about religious extremism.

“It’s emphatically – 100 percent false,” Potok said.

He said the SPLC has never labeled Evangelical Christianity or Catholicism as extremist groups.

The briefer indicated within her own notes pages that she wasn’t a “SME” (subject matter expert), but had done “hours of research.”  Admittedly, she does cite the SPLC.  If she didn’t get the information about Christians being “extremists” from them, where did she get it?

The prior two slides might give it away.

Two slides prior to the one the media is focusing on, the briefer included a “photo that made the Army Times on February 27, 2012.”  It is of a “scout sniper” unit sitting in front of the American flag and a “scout sniper” flag — symbolized by “SS”, and looking like the Nazi-era SS flag.

That symbology was the subject of a complaint to the “Marine Corp. [sic]” a few weeks before the Army Times citation — by Michael Weinstein.

The next slide talked about Combat Outpost “Aryan,” which was a misspelling of the Afghan ArianCritics made it out to be another reference to “horrendous religious and ethnic connotations” (apparently unaware Afghanistan has an “Ariana Airlines”).  That complaint, too, came solely from Michael Weinstein’s group (which includes his part-time assistant, Chris Rodda).

Taking the prior two cues from Weinstein, it is not unforeseeable the briefer would likewise quote — or even agree with — his self-declared “war” on what he believes are the ‘wrong kind‘ of “true” Christians (a view Rodda’s writings have supported).  After all, Weinstein is the man Foreign Policy introduced by saying

Meet the man who’s trying to purge evangelical Christianity from the Pentagon

Weinstein wrote a book decrying an “evangelical [Christian] coup.”  Weinstein has called Christians a “national security threat…every bit” as bad as “Islamist Taliban and al-Qaeda.”

Can there really be any doubt that Michael Weinstein’s ideology was the source of briefing content calling Christians “religious extremists?”

Fortunately, the US Army formally disavowed what seems to be Michael Weinstein’s characterization of Christians:

Army spokesman George Wright told Fox News that this was an “isolated incident not condoned by the Dept. of the Army.”

“This slide was not produced by the Army and certainly does not reflect our policy or doctrine,” he said. “It was produced by an individual without anyone in the chain of command’s knowledge or permission.”

Some reports, however, are still giving the Army grief over the incident, but, just like incidents claiming the Army is raising a Christian Army, some fairness is due here as well:  The incident reportedly occurred one time more than a year ago, and when the briefer was told of the offense the slide caused, she said she would remove it. (True, a military briefing offensive to Islam generated far more official response — including firing the instructor — but that’s another story.)

It is better to handle such issues in internal channels, though the channels were somewhat complicated in this case by the fact the briefer was instructing MEO — the very channel in which such a grievance would be raised.  Still, while the incident was already corrected, the publicity (not necessarily the admonitions against the military institution) is actually welcome in this case — as it provides a counterpoint to those (like Michael Weinstein) who harp on the US military’s alleged promotion of Christianity.  It seems there are individuals who think a great many things in the US military, including many who agree with him.

Potentially sensing the rising tide of criticism, Chris Rodda presented the MRFF’s position in support of CARL’s criticism — meaning, of course, she is disavowing her own boss’s “war” against the “evangelical coup.”  (Intellectual consistency has never been an MRFF virtue.)

An individual PowerPoint slide or briefing does not make military policy, as has been said here many times before.  Nor is this single event an indicator of an institutional behavior.

What is institutional is the Army’s official response, which was none-too-kind to a characterization of Michael Weinstein’s attacks on religious liberty in the US military.

And that, quite honestly, is reassuring.