A little over a year ago, a cadet at the Air Force Academy emailed the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to tell us about an “underground” group of about a hundred Academy cadets who, in order to maintain good standing among their peers and superiors at the Academy, were actually pretending to be fundamentalist Christians. Their charade included leaving Bibles, Christian literature, and Christian music CDs laying around their rooms; attending fundamentalist Christian Bible studies; and feigning devoutness at the Academy’s weekly “Special Programs in Religious Education” (SPIRE) programs. This group of cadets had decided to resort to doing whatever they had to do to play the role of the “right kind” of Christian cadets, all the while living in constant fear of being “outed.”
In the words of the cadet who wrote to MRFF last year, who described himself as “kind of the leader” of this underground group: “If any of us gave even the slightest indication that we weren’t one of their number, our lives would be even more miserable than they already are due to the fact that we are all living lies here. Despite the Cadet Honor Code we all lie about our lives. We have to.”
Who makes up this group of over a hundred cadets who feel that they must pretend to be such devoted fundamentalist Christians? Well, surprisingly, they are mostly Christians — both mainline Protestants and Catholics — who aren’t “Christian enough” or the “right kind” of Christians for the Air Force Academy. The rest of the group is made up of other assorted heathens, which include members of non-Christian religions, agnostics, and atheists.
That cadet who originally told MRFF about this group and identified himself as its leader also identified himself as a first class cadet (or a senior) at the Academy, which means he would have graduated last year. But the group of fundamentalist Christian impersonators that this former cadet was leading not only continues to exist — it is growing. Each time an incident occurs showing that Christian fundamentalism still reigns supreme at the Academy, MRFF hears from more cadets who have joined the group, having made the decision that the best way to survive their four years at the Academy is to lie about their religious beliefs.
The most recent email from one of the cadets in this group recounts that cadet’s experience at a recent weekly “Bible study,” presumably the SPIRE group that they are pretending to be a member of. Since an entire evening each week is set aside for SPIRE — a program where all the parachurch military ministries come to the Academy to run their programs — a cadet not belonging to a SPIRE group is quite noticeable, so joining and regularly attending a SPIRE group is an essential part of the masquerade for these cadets who are pretending to be fundamentalist Christians.
(A few notes are needed here to explain everything this cadet was referring to in the email below. The billboard referred to is one that MRFF put up a few weeks ago at a busy intersection in Colorado Springs, the home of the Air Force Academy, when the Academy’s leadership failed to distribute a watershed edict from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force on “Religious Neutrality” to the Academy’s staff and cadets. The content of the billboard was the full text of the Chief of Staff’s memorandum. See my previous post for the full story of this billboard. The reference in the P.S. to the “surprise escort” is referring to this cadet volunteering to escort MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein and his bodyguard through the tight security at the Air Force Academy football game on September 11. The cadet did not tell Weinstein at the time that they were a member of the group of cadets pretending to be fundamentalist Christians, but merely showed up out of nowhere and volunteered to be their cadet escort.)
Subject: Mikey is “Most Dangerous Threat”
Mikey, my name is [USAF Academy cadet's name and cadet rank withheld]. We have met but you probably would not know that. I am one of the cadets here at the Air Force Academy who has been a MRFF client for [number of years and months withheld], I am also one of the many MRFF cadet clients here who appear to be a “super-stoked Christian” to avoid the direct and indirect shitstorm you get for not being one here. alot of us do this and most are clients of the MRFF. Just wanted to let you know how “special” you are Mikey. At our weekly bible study the other night held in [Bible study's USAF Academy location withheld] our group’s leader spent an amazing half an hour on you and the “obsessed Christian-hating legacy” which you and your Weinstein family and the MRFF have cursed the Academy with. They showed pictures of you and your wife and kids. From the internet I think. Our bible study group leader said that you Mikey were the most dangerous threat to the Word of Jesus Christ in America today. Everone just nodded approval. I wanted to ask why but didn’t. Another cadet in our bible study did though. Our leader mentioned as “evidence’” the billboard you had just put up in C. Springs. What? Then even I could not resist asking naive why that was considered “evidence” of how dangerous to Jesus you were. Another cadet said to me (with the leader’s and everyone else’s approval) “well, did you actually read what the billboard says”? I told them that the newspapers reported that it only said what the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Schwartz said about making sure there is no religious favoritism in the USAF. No shit Mikey you could have heard a pin drop. Then our study leader said “exactly, now do you see why Weinstein is so dangerous?” Seriously? Trying not to have my head explode I just slowly said yes like I had just had this total revelation or something. I’d laugh but it’s not even funny. I live in an alternate universe here, Mikey. So do all the others who fake being a part of it to avoid the religion insanity here which is considered as sanity. Thank you and the MRFF for fighting it for us. (P.S. and say hi to your bodyguard for us all. We saw you guys at the TCU game a month ago. Do you recall your “surprise escort”? Thanks for coming up so we could talk and see you.)
[USAF Academy cadet's name, cadet rank, cadet position title and cadet squadron withheld]