Pentagon-Funded Evangelism Halted

Last week, The Nation blogger Max Blumenthal reported a Pentagon-funded program that sent “kill or convert” video games to U.S. military troops stationed in Iraq.

Blumenthal writes that the program was organized by Operation Start Up (OSU), an evangelical entertainment troupe that actively proselytizes among active-duty members of the US military," and boasts Hollywood actor Stephen Baldwin, magician/comedian Bunny Martin, world champion kick-boxer Charlton Young, and former NFL superstars Keith Davis, David Rocker and Bruce Collie as some of it's organizers, among others.

With the endorsement of the Defense Department, OSU planned to mail copies of the controversial apocolyptic video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces to soldiers serving in Iraq.

The game was inspired by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' best-selling book series about the battle of Armageddon, in which believers of Jesus Christ fight the Antichrist.

The Left Behind Games website states:

Contrary to misinformation on the web, this game does not include references to any other religion. Also, there is NO killing in the name of God, and NO convert or die missions. All content has been reviewed and approved by Tyndale House Publishers prior to publication.

However, as part of this research, I downloaded the demo of the game in which it does ask the player to convert "non-believers" and to fight/kill "evil-doers".

A video preview of the game can be found here.

The OSU website did not mention the inclusion of the video game but describes the initiative:

We send care packages to soldiers on the front lines of the war in Iraq. We call them “Freedom Packets” because the truth will set you free. Included in each “Freedom Packet” is:

Greeting card
75 Minute Phone Card
White Socks
Baby Wipes (suggested by Col Oliver North)
Gideon’s pocket size New Testament
Extreme Sports “Livin It” DVD
And an assortment of snacks.

We ship them to Iraq free of charge to soldiers. The approximate cost per package is $50. Two items – phone cards and shipping cost – account for approximately half that total amount. Most of the items were donated at no cost to support our troops. Your donation helps us send a clear message that God cares, including their mind, body and soul.

Aside from the inclusion of a Bible and the fact that this is sponsored by government funding, one would think this program to beneficial considering it would send items such as socks and phone cards.

The program was discovered by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and founder Mikey Weinstein told Blumenthal, "Thanks to the influence of extreme Christian fundamentalism, the wall separating church and state is nothing but smoke and debris. And OSU is the IED that exploded the wall separating church and state in the Pentagon and throughout our military."

ABC news reported last night that, "plans by a Christian group to send an evangelical video game to U.S. troops in Iraq were abruptly halted yesterday by the Department of Defense after ABC News inquired about the program" and that the Defense Department's only comment on the record was that the OSU Tour is "currently not planning on sending any care packages to the troops in Iraq."

Blognonymous says it best:

The Good News: US troops in Iraq won't be receiving copies of Left Behind: Eternal Forces in care packages.

The Bad News: The Pentagon giving a group that specializes in proselytizing to soldiers and that refers to their activities in Iraq as a "Crusade" access to our military forces.

Posted by Dana J. Tuszke at August 16, 2007 7:54 PM
Comments
Comment #229675

WOW good article Dana. I am surprised that this came out through the right side of the blog. Kudos to you for not being a right wing nut by supporting this organization.

Posted by: Richard Rhodes at August 16, 2007 8:05 PM
Comment #229678


This is disturbing but not suprising in the least. It makes me wonder how many evangelical Christians have been promoted to general since Bush became president and how long it will be before the coup will occur.

Posted by: jlw at August 16, 2007 8:37 PM
Comment #229679

…”plans by a Christian group to send an evangelical video game to U.S. troops in Iraq were abruptly halted yesterday by the Department of Defense…”

Somehow, I think looney-tunes apocalyptic video games aren’t upsetting God half as much as the real killing going on in Her name. But what do I know.

Posted by: black & red at August 16, 2007 8:41 PM
Comment #229681

I don’t understand. Why does this have to end in bad news? Can’t they just take out the video game and the bibles but still keep sending the care packages off to our troops? Or is it a case where if they don’t get to keep pushing their religion, this organization has no interest in sending our troops these care packages?

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.


—Sermon on the Mount

Good points jlw, and black and red.

Posted by: Adrienne at August 16, 2007 8:49 PM
Comment #229683

Dana, as others here have already said, thank you very very very much for reporting on this. It’s refreshing to see people on the Republican/Conservative side of Watchblog who understand that Dominionism is a growing threat to Americans of all political affiliations, and to our Constitution.

That said, has anyone else looked at this report and just thought: even if it were a secular game like Call of Duty 3, why on earth would anyone spending that much time in a war zone want to spend more time playing a combat simulation during their off-duty hours?

Posted by: Jarandhel at August 16, 2007 9:14 PM
Comment #229686

When I was in the military we didn’t have time to play video games or much less want to. Most soldiers would rather after a combat patrol get some shut eye or grab a cold one. As far as the bibles, they are a non issue, soldiers can either read them or pitch them.

Posted by: KAP at August 16, 2007 9:38 PM
Comment #229688

This is an odd story on many levels.

You can only imagine the outcry that would result if, say, a Muslim organization started sending “care packages” to our soldiers as part of a Defense Department program that included materials that proselytized for Islam.

But I think there’s a pretty simple way of handling this kind of thing which would respect everybody’s rights of freedom of speech and religion AND keep the Defense Department from being in the middle of it, where they don’t belong.

Perhaps there are some soldiers who would like to have this video game in a care package (as there may be soldiers who want Islamic materials as well). I’d rather have Grand Theft Auto IV myself, but to each his own.

Here’s all that needs to happen: tell these organizations that they can’t send care packages directly to soldiers, but allow them to make these care packages available free of charge to the family members of soldiers, who can then send them directly to the soldiers themselves under their own names. Nobody’s going to say that care packages that include religious materials can’t be sent by the family members. Family members know the soldiers better than anyone, and those who don’t want or would be against receiving such materials won’t get them under such a system, and this keeps the Defense Department and US Government out of the middle of it.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at August 16, 2007 9:52 PM
Comment #229689

LO
Very logical approach.

Posted by: KAP at August 16, 2007 10:00 PM
Comment #229690

Richard, I’m Catholic, not a fundamentalist Christian. I don’t support any evangelical organization that promotes a video game that promotes the killing of “non-believers.”

black & red, even though it’s just a game, it’s hate-inspiring. I disagree with it. What kind of example are we setting if we send this game? That it’s okay to kill in the name of God? Doesn’t that make us just as bad as the terrorists?

Adrienne, I agree. They should still send the care packages with the necessities! I don’t understand why the religious agenda has to be included or nothing at all.

Jarandhel, I believe that prayer is important for those who believe in it’s value during a difficult war. But I can’t understand why the DOD would impose a religious agenda on the troops. It’s hard enough out there. Let each embrace their own faith, is what I believe.

Loyal, that’s a very good point!

Posted by: Dana at August 16, 2007 10:07 PM
Comment #229705

good points all around.

adrienne - if they were truly intent upon aiding the troops, you’d think they would ship the packages sans the religious content.

loyal - a common sense approach if ever i heard one.

personally, i would submit that it does far more good than harm for our soldiers to receive these packages, as is… and thereby both receive much needed aid *and* be introduced (perhaps for the first time) to some form of spirituality (…and this from a non-christian).

as kap says, those who don’t wish to view this material may simply throw it out. no harm done, so long as it isn’t required or officially and openly endorsed by the military or dod.

still, while many soldiers find God on the battlefield and are far the better for it, i understand your hesitation and agree… may each come to God on his own terms, and in his own way. a person’s spirituality is between a person and the Lord, and no one else.

in any case, this post makes me proud to have you representing the red column, dana. thanks for the excellent post.

Posted by: diogenes at August 17, 2007 12:23 AM
Comment #229706

Dana: oops what I meant to say was: WOW good article Dana. I am surprised that this came out through the right side of the blog. Kudos to you for not being a right wing nut by (not)supporting this organization.

I just made a mistake and left out the “not” at the end sorry. I was really amazed that this article came out from the right side of the column. And my initial comment was meant to give you credit.

Loyal Opposition: You and me never agree usually. And I mean never. But when you said this: “Here’s all that needs to happen: tell these organizations that they can’t send care packages directly to soldiers, but allow them to make these care packages available free of charge to the family members of soldiers, who can then send them directly to the soldiers themselves under their own names. Nobody’s going to say that care packages that include religious materials can’t be sent by the family members. Family members know the soldiers better than anyone, and those who don’t want or would be against receiving such materials won’t get them under such a system, and this keeps the Defense Department and US Government out of the middle of it.”

Well quite frankly I agree and that is one hell of an idea.

Posted by: Richard Rhodes at August 17, 2007 12:26 AM
Comment #229708

Having read the novels that the video game was based on, the thing that has struck me about them was the low value they placed on non-Christian human life, and the sense of snarky satisfaction they took in the nasty fates of those who didn’t join up. I can understand how people could think that way, but there’s an underlying corrosive element to that sensibility, one which the central figure of Christian religion, in his wisdom, foresaw: It’s easy as hell to do good for the people who do good for you, but the necessity of receiving God’s grace and passing it on to others is that you go beyond that, as far as you possibly can.

Plainly put, neither the books nor the video games teach the right lessons. They teach alienation from those who aren’t among the faithful. They teach that it’s alright to take pleasure in awful things that happen to such people, to wish bad things upon those who wish bad things upon you.

I don’t believe God meant Christians to set themselves above others. Quite the opposite. He wants them to realize that they are no less imperfect. I don’t believe God meant Christians to isolate themselves, to resent and battle those who aren’t Christian, or who don’t approach their religion with the same ardor.

The big problem is, people are confusing the strength of hardline interpretations with the strength of faith, and they are not the same. A Muslim who feels he has to ram planes into buildings to serve God’s purpose lacks a certain faith, in both God’s ability to bring about events properly on his own, but also in the quality of his messages about peace and not taking violence to the innocent.

Similarly, those who, on account of their religion, seek to take political power, also are lacking in faith to some degree. God (or whatever supreme being or force) is in charge of the cosmos. Believing that to further God’s cause, you have to take over the majority in Congress or something of that nature, is to believe that God doesn’t already have things well in hand, one way or another.

If you are going to bring religion into your politics, it helps to bring it in to encourage your own behavior to be above reproach, and to discourage yourself from taking evil actions.

The wall between Church and State is not a wall between God and the government. No such wall can possibly exist! It is a wall between the ambitions of those who would seek power over the moral consciences of others, and those who seek power over the laws that govern people’s lives. There are folks who do one or both in each part of human life. To break down the wall there is to let the foxes in the henhouses, and the wolves to hunt among the sheep.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at August 17, 2007 1:06 AM
Comment #229709

This seems like a good opportunity to plug a terrific and totally nonpartisan organization called Anysoldier.com, for those who don’t know about it.

If you look here, you’ll see specific requests made by real-life soldiers for things like socks, soaps, feminine hygiene products, beef jerkey, sports drinks, snacks and the like that aren’t supplied by the military and which the soldiers want.

You’re not required to send anything you’re not comfortable with for whatever reason, political or otherwise, but it’s a way of directly interacting with and helping them out for those who choose to use it. No matter what your political beliefs are, it’s a good way to help them out. More people of all political stripes should do do it.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at August 17, 2007 1:09 AM
Comment #229713

LO: great link never heard of it but sounds like a great organization. it definitely deserves support from those that can

Posted by: Richard Rhodes at August 17, 2007 2:28 AM
Comment #229724

How was the Pentagon funding the program?

Posted by: kctim at August 17, 2007 9:53 AM
Comment #229782

I have said it before, but, its worth repeating. The only and best check and balance on this President regarding foreign affairs and our military is the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their minions. One should not trust the military to run the country (warning by Republican General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower), but, one should never distrust that our military takes its oath to the Constitution and rule of law foundations VERY seriously, regardless of what the CIC thinks.

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 17, 2007 7:54 PM
Comment #229793
The only and best check and balance on this President regarding foreign affairs and our military is the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their minions.

I don’t get it. How can the Joint Chiefs of Staff be “a check and balance” on a President? The military derives ALL of its authority from the civilian government and it’s downright scary to suggest that it should ever be any other way. Any of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who EVER directly disobey a president, no matter who that president is, can and should be tried for treason.

If a president gives orders to a general which the general cannot in good conscience follow, that general has the right to resign—nothing more. If a president is involved in illegal or unconstitutional behaviors, then generals SHOULD resign, but it’s the duty of other branches of government to address that by confronting the president themselves. The military must NEVER take it upon themselves to independently and directly overrule the civilian authorities, be that the president or other branches of the government.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at August 17, 2007 11:02 PM
Comment #229820

How is it that the Pentagon can ban Bibles from going to soldiers in Iraq from those groups who wish to send them. Is not the purpose of the military being there to present a counter-culture.
It would seem to me that if the children of the Islamic world were to see the video games and play them, perhaps we could use these things as a tool against their own radical beliefs. How could they be offended by a video which teaches of an Armageddon in which it is attempted that Christians and Jews be slaughtered off the face of the Earth by an opposing force, when that is exactly what the radical Muslim clerics propose.
It would seem that the American military playing these games could easily confront those offended by such a game by “quoting” the rhetoric of the clerics who preach exactly that which the game depicts. Perhaps by showing the moderate Muslims where their radical clerics’ message is leading the Arab and Western worlds, some could come to an understanding of why their rhetoric is so dangerous. I have no problem with people sending whatever they wish to the men and women in uniform. But, I have a big problem with the U.S. Government banning Bibles!

JD

Posted by: JD at August 18, 2007 11:50 AM
Comment #229825

Here is a review of the video game by the Anti-Defamation League, not exactly a pro-Christian group by any stretch of the imagination!

“The popular Left Behind books and movies – WHICH PROMOTES AN EXCLUSIONARY CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY that believes Jews and others must convert or be killed at the End of Days – has a new addition to its growing franchise: Left Behind: Eternal Forces, the video game.”

Is it’s message exclusionary in terms of one must convert to Christianity or be killed, or is it exclusionary in terms that if one converts to Christianity or perhaps, is a Jew, they will be killed for their beliefs? Let’s read on and see what the Anti-Defamation League says!


“The game, released in November 2006 on CD-ROM, is based on the SAME INTOLERANT THEOLOGY embedded in the adult and children Left Behind book series, which features gory depictions of the annihilation of Jews and other non-Christians who refuse to convert at Armageddon.”

Who refuse to convert to what? This is intentionally misleading or poorly written. It leads one to believe that those who do not convert to Christianity are killed. Actually, it is Christians and others who are being killed by intolerant groups. Let’s keep reading shall we?


“The Eternal Forces game pits the good guys, a Christian religious militia, battling the bad guys, called the GLOBAL COMMUNITY PEACEKEEPERS- a United Nations-like world army led by the anti-Christ. LaHaye argues that the video game is designed to be a classic battle between good and evil, adding that since there is no gratuitous blood and gore, its tale of the hellish demise of non-believers, will actually perpetuate positive values.”

Positive values, perhaps, like remembering the Holocaust!!!

“While the Left Behind books portrays a world beset with violence, and the final installment of the series is full of gruesome scenes of destruction and the killing of Jews and others, the video game avoids such stark portrayals. If the game had stayed true to the level of violence in the books, it would probably not have been able to keep the TEEN RATING it garnered.”

So, it is not gory and violent, but has a teen rating.


“THE GAME IS DESIGNED TO MAKE FORCE AN OPTION ONLY USED BY PLAYERS IF NECESSARY WHEN THEIR FORCES ARE ATTACKED BY THOSE HUNTING THEM, AND ANY CHARACTERS THAT KILL OTHERS IN THE GAME ARE PENALIZED. CONVERSION TO CHRISTIANITY IN THE GAME IS NOT DEPICTED AS FORCIBLE IN NATURE, AND VIOLENCE IS NOT REWARDED IN THE GAME.”

That is kind of the attitude of the people of the United States, is it not? We will defend ourselves when we are forced to do so, otherwise we are a peaceful and loving people!!!


“THE NEUTRAL CHARACTERS populating the game are often MEMBERS OF RELIGIONS OTHER THAN CHRISTIAN, or lapsed/not faithful Christians from various denominations. However, the particular religious and social backgrounds of characters in the game DOES NOT MAKE THEM ANY MORE OR LESS OR LESS SUSCEPTIBLE TO CONVERSION, NOR IS THERE ANY SPECIAL BENEFIT ATTRIBUTED TO CONVERTING SOMEONE OF A PARTICULAR BACKGROUND (i.e. no “extra points” or “increased difficulties” when trying to convert a person from a specific group/belief).”


So, Muslims are generally depicted as neutral, and there is no reference that Armageddon is a war against Muslims, but rather against those who simply choose to hate Christians and Jews!!


“ANOTHER INSIDIOUS ASPECT OF THE GAME being used as a way to promote a particular fundamentalist view of Christianity occurs at the end of each level, where there are optional “clues” that serve as informational pieces designed to promote the evangelical beliefs of the makers of the game. These pages have Christian music playing in the background, and include a link out to purchase the particular tune playing.”

Oh my Gosh!!! It actually encourages people to purchase Christian music! That is kind of like buying pornography, I guess, to the Anti-Defamation League!!!


“Topics of these pages include themes such as questioning evolution or giving descriptions of historic Christian sites in Israel (and links out to further materials online about the topics). Players are not required to read them to continue with the game.”
(Excerpts of The Anti-Defamation League- review of the video game)

jd

Posted by: JD at August 18, 2007 1:20 PM
Comment #229946

kctim - The Department of Defense was funding the OSU organization via taxpayer dollars.

As far as Bibles go, I really have no problem with that. Those who wish to read them, can read them, those that don’t, don’t.


Posted by: Dana J. Tuszke at August 19, 2007 6:19 PM
Comment #229977

Similarly, those who, on account of their religion, seek to take political power, also are lacking in faith to some degree. God (or whatever supreme being or force) is in charge of the cosmos. Believing that to further God’s cause, you have to take over the majority in Congress or something of that nature, is to believe that God doesn’t already have things well in hand, one way or another.
If you are going to bring religion into your politics, it helps to bring it in to encourage your own behavior to be above reproach, and to discourage yourself from taking evil actions.
Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at August 17, 2007 01:06 AM

If you are going to bring religion into your politics why not encourage YOUR OWN BEHAVIOR AND THE BEHAVIOR OF OTHERS to be above reproach, and to discourage others as well as yourself from taking evil actions?
Why is it the responsibility of a Christian to only monitor the actions of himself, and refrain from criticizing the actions of others when they find it deplorable and evil?
That is the whole concept of political correctness; setting up a double standard in which one group is judged by their Christianity, (not OK for them), while another group can do evil, (OK for them since they don’t profess to be Christians.) This is exactly what is practiced on a regular basis and justified so wholeheartedly by the left.

As for a Christian wanting to be involved in politics and government, you say this shows a lack of faith in God.
Boy, do you have that screwed up.
Christ himself said that Christians are the light of the world. He also called us the salt of the earth. He went on to say that salt is only good when it continues to display its saltiness. Once it loses its purpose of flavoring, it loses its worth and is only good to be cast out to be trodden under the feet of men.
How is being politically active in the world, and wanting to make a difference showing a lack of faith. I think it is one of the most faithful and obedient things one can do for God. Why should a Christian not be allowed to take part in the political and social discussions which are of importance in the world. Is it because others just don’t want to hear their views from a Christian perspective?

JD

Posted by: JD at August 20, 2007 10:10 AM
Comment #229987

well put JD

Posted by: KAP at August 20, 2007 12:30 PM
Comment #230006
How is being politically active in the world, and wanting to make a difference showing a lack of faith.

There is a difference in SHOWING your righteousness and FORCING others through the law to be righteous as well.

For example, in Indiana it is illegal to buy alcohol or enter into contracts on Sunday. Why is that other than for Christians to tell the rest of the community what they can and can’t do on Sunday? That’s just a small example, we aren’t even getting into the idiotic attempt to limit rights to people just because of the sexual persuasion or non-christian beliefs.

Posted by: Rhinehold at August 20, 2007 4:17 PM
Comment #230018

Rhinehold we used to have that same law in Ohio, but that was 50 years ago. I think it’s time for Indiana to come out of the DARK AGES. I being a Christian have no problem with those who choose to drink or enter into contracts on Sunday.

Posted by: KAP at August 20, 2007 5:42 PM
Comment #230049

Every law is intended to tell people what they can and can not do, Rhinehold. Just how many of those laws, that tell people what they can and can not do, do you wish to throw out? Just the ones that may have a Christian ideology, or all of them?
It is the majority of the people who decide the laws they want and the laws they do not want. But far be it from the founder’s intent that laws based upon Christian beliefs should be discarded just on the premise that they have a religious ideology.

JD

Posted by: JD at August 20, 2007 10:14 PM
Comment #230075

the laws enacted in indiana, one would presume, are the laws best suited for indiana. if they are not, they will be changed. such is the nature and beauty of the federalist nation in which we were intended by the founding fathers to live. if you do not like the laws, act to change them… or failing that, vote with your feet.

otherwise, when in indiana…
do as the indians do. ;)

Posted by: diogenes at August 21, 2007 12:43 AM
Comment #230103
But far be it from the founder’s intent that laws based upon Christian beliefs should be discarded just on the premise that they have a religious ideology.

No, they should be thrown out because they infringe on a person’s right to live their lives as they choose as long as they don’t violate that same right of others. It just so happens that those based only on a christian philosophy fall into that category.

“The clergy, by getting themselves established by law, and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.” —Thomas Jefferson to Jeremiah Moor, 1800.
“Having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.” —Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural Address, 1801
“Our civil rights have no dependence upon our religious opinions more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” —Thomas Jefferson: Statute of Religious Freedom, 1779
Posted by: Rhinehold at August 21, 2007 10:14 AM
Comment #230105

Gee, Diogenes, so much for Individual Liberties and protection of the minority over the power of the majority. That is ‘mob rule’ and is not what this country was founded upon…

Posted by: Rhinehold at August 21, 2007 10:15 AM
Comment #230190

Rhinehold,

The minority was never intended to overthrow the majority in our system of government. The only time this can occur is when a law is deemed unconstitutional by its intent. If you wished to throw out all laws based on any religious background we would have to make murder legal, as it would be very easy for a murderor to argue that laws against murder are unconstitutional because they are based on the Jewish law of “thou shalt not kill”. That is why I asked above, just how many of those laws which tell people what they can and can not do, do you wish to throw out? Because the vast majority of our laws are based upon a moral and some could easily argue religiously moral ideology of good and evil works. And just who do you propose should judge whether a law is passed on religious grounds. I suspect very few in the United States have the religious background or learned understanding to even know when a law correlates with a particular religious teaching. So, who is going to be the Anti-Religious Czar that will tell us what laws are too closely correlating to religion in their nature and intent to be constitutional. Perhaps you would like to set up the Supreme Court as such an Anti- Religious Czar, not allowing the Freedom of Religion that promotes diverse and numerous philosophies and ideology upon which this country was so wisely founded. Creating an anti-religious Supreme Court, simply mirrors the old Church-run system of the Medievel Age when anyone who disagreed with the religion of the Supreme hierarchy of the Church were heretics worthy of death. Taking religious freedom away from America whether by an Anti-Religious hierarchy, or by a One World Religious Sect, the result is the same. The answer then is freedom, and let the people decide for themselves those laws which will be encouraged and expected of their representatives.

Posted by: JD at August 21, 2007 8:30 PM
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