Marching as to War
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Porcelain figurines are perched on the mantelpiece behind Mikey Weinstein. Guests are seated on chintz couches in front of him. It's a nice crowd at a polite fundraising party.
But Mikey -- his friends, his enemies, even complete strangers call him "Mikey" -- has had it with nice.
He's done with polite.
"We've created this foundation to be a weapon. We're going to lay down a withering field of fire and leave sucking chest wounds," he says, glaring through the floor-to-ceiling windows of an Arlington high-rise at a panoramic view of Washington.
Weinstein, 51, was once a White House lawyer who defended the Reagan administration during the Iran-contra investigation. Three generations of his family -- his father, himself, both of his sons and a daughter-in-law -- have gone to U.S. military academies.
Now he's declaring war against what, for him, is an improbable enemy: the defense establishment. He is suing the Air Force in federal court, demanding a permanent injunction against alleged religious favoritism and proselytizing in the service. He has also formed a nonprofit organization, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, to combat what he sees as a concerted effort by evangelical Christian organizations to treat the armed forces as a mission field, ripe for conversions.
Weinstein's head is big and bald, like a cannonball mounted on his short, powerful frame. He keeps a powerful stereo in the garage of his home in Albuquerque and listens to heavy metal at full volume. The incongruity of his sheepish first name is exceeded only by the incongruity of a middle-aged corporate lawyer quoting Meat Loaf, Mudvayne and Marilyn Manson.
Yet one of his favorite lines these days -- right up there with "sucking chest wounds" -- comes from the Officers' Christian Fellowship, a private organization with 14,000 active-duty members on more than 200 U.S. military bases around the world. In its mission statement, the OCF says its goal is "a spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform, empowered by the Holy Spirit."
Ambassadors for Christ in uniform . According to the OCF's executive director, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Fister, it means that "the people around a military leader ought to see the characteristics of Christ in that leader." It is a national tradition reflected in "hundreds of writings and proclamations issued down through the ages by American leaders who claim divine protection for our nation, place our nation's trust in God and claim God as our source of strength."
Ambassadors for Christ in uniform. To Weinstein, who is both a Jew and a member of a military family, it is an abomination. It "evokes the Crusades." He says he can't believe that generals talk like this when the United States is fighting a global war on terror and trying to win hearts and minds in Muslim countries.
He starts to get riled up -- waving his arms, quoting the Constitution, saying "the Christian right wants people to think that separation of church and state is a myth, like Bigfoot." And then he pauses, something he does not do often.
"Let me make it clear. I would shed my last drop of blood to defend their right to hold that biblical worldview. They are absolutely entitled to believe that Anne Frank is burning in hell along with Dr. Seuss, Gandhi and Einstein," he says. "But I will not accept my government telling me who are the children of the greater God and who are the children of the lesser God. That's the difference. I will not defend -- I will fight them tooth and nail, and lay down a withering field of fire and leave sucking chest wounds -- if they engage the machinery of the state, which is what they're doing."