Cross-posted with illustrations on Talk to Action
Providing entertainment for the U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq is one thing; the Pentagon’s promotion of a Trojan horse tour that preaches eliminationist theology and crusades for Christ in Islamic nations is another. It is a small wonder that the Department of Defense lends its imprimatur to a conservative Christian organization that invites current as well as former military commanders to help proselytize on military bases. And given the Pentagon's policy of discrimination against gays in the military, it is ironic that the Christian missionary group that they promote sells T-shirts that display what can only be described as homoerotic art. In short, the Pentagon seems to have adopted a new missionary position for the Operation Straight Up Tour and its "Tough-Men Meetings." Basically, the OSU Tour is promoting a holy war against the alleged enemies of Christ -- not unlike, say, a jihad. But there's a difference: jihad does not come with a homoerotic T-shirt.
Writing for The Nation, Max Blumenthal describes the Operation Straight Up Tour, promoted by the Pentagon, as "an evangelical entertainment troupe that actively proselytizes among active-duty members of the US military." He writes:
As an official arm of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, OSU plans to mail copies of the controversial apocalyptic video game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces to soldiers serving in Iraq. OSU is also scheduled to embark on a "military crusade in Iraq" in the near future.
"We feel the forces of heaven have encouraged us to perform multiple crusades that will sweep through this war torn region," OSU declares on its website about its planned trip to Iraq. "We'll hold the only religious crusade of its size in the dangerous land of Iraq."
The Defense Department's Chaplain's Office, which oversees OSU's activities, has not responded to calls seeking comment.
Although the chaplains at the Pentagon have no comment on the OSU tour or its apocalyptic brand of theology, they do have a close connection with the troupe. In fact, OSU’s "Tough-Man Meetings" that take place on military bases, and feature current military commanders as speakers, are aimed at military chaplains along with soldiers. The OSU site states:
These scheduled events take place one week after our live entertainment shows on military bases inside the United States. We use a personal touch approach at our shows to invite military personnel to attend these events. They are held in auditoriums on base and last approximately 3 hours. It’s a boot camp for the soul. We stress the fact that soldiers need proper training to be successful in war, right? So how can they fight the enemy that destroys their homes and children unless they are properly trained. These meetings are all about training to live life to the fullest, God’s way. Some would call it discipleship. We have many of our OSU Tour performers, NFL athletes, and former and current military commanders speak at these events. It’s also another place that we can empower and encourage chaplains to fulfill their roles. We feel these meetings will keep the fires burning long after we’re gone.
And what fires will be burning after the OSU Tour rolls through? OSU states that, among other items, its care packages for the troops include copies of the eliminationist video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces.
In our "Freedom Packets" we have included a PC game that is still exciting enough for the hard core gamer, but while he plays it, he finds himself without a soul or strength to be very successful in life unless he lives life properly. Life and death is in the hands of the gamer. Left Behind Games by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins reports that many lives are being transformed, from a life of hell to the freedom of heaven, just from playing this game. It’s just one more way OSU Tour can be a conduit in changing a soul forever.
But the OSU Tour merchandise is not only about providing videogames for bored troops. They also provide T-shirts that suggest that U.S. soldiers should fight not only the enemies of our nation, but also the alleged enemies of Christ. The message seems to be that people who believe and act differently from conservative Christians are people who are asking for an ass-whuppin’.
Tough Men in Tight Tees
This Christian soldier is a bare-chested, bald bear of a man with buff biceps and impeccable pecs, whose dog tags sparkle against his rippling six pack. Clad only in black bicycle shorts and loosely laced combat boots, he is kneeling, holding his automatic rifle upright and burnishing the barrel with a tight grip. Too good to be real, he’s pure fantasy: a pair of cherubic wings sprouts from his brawny back. He conjures the homoerotic drawings of Tom of Finland, who liked to portray muscular military men. Ironically, he’s featured on the official staff T-shirt of the (ahem) Operation Straight Up Tour, a conservative Christian entertainment troupe promoted by the Pentagon that evangelizes "tough men" in uniform.
But much of the merchandise promoted by OSU (and, by extension, the Pentagon), features tough men out of uniform.
For example, another T-shirt on sale through the OSU web site features two men in a sweaty brawl. The bare-chested one with the buzz cut is on top, straddling his opponent. The bottom man raises his arms in a defensive posture, while the dominant male rains down bare-fisted blows on his fellow man. The T-shirt proclaims: "UFC – Ultimate Fighting Character. Bet you can’t whip me. Because J.C. [Jesus Christ] lives in me." Below the in-your-bloody-face message is the tagline, "Until every soldier hears the truth: OSU Tour."
But what truth is being proclaimed? What does one man whipping another have to do with the gospel of Jesus, who preached not aggression in the name of religion, not beating another man’s face into hamburger for the sake of piety, but rather, "whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also"? (Gospel According to Matthew, 5:39)
And then there’s another OSU T-shirt that portrays a kickboxer in fighting stance, delivering some high impact footwork to the face of his opponent. It’s aggressive, it’s violent, and it’s a manly man kicking ass (and face) for Christ: Who Would Jesus Do?
In contrast with the OSU Tour's pugnacious proselytizing, Jesus taught that his kingdom is not of this world, and therefore, his disciples do not fight to promote an earthly kingdom. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight ... But now my kingdom is from another place." (Gospel According to John, 18:36)
Yet the words of Jesus do not seem to sway Hollywood actor Stephen Baldwin, a favorite speaker on the OSU Tour. As Frederick Clarkson reports in Talk to Action, Baldwin takes a more muscular approach to converting or conquering the alleged enemies of Christ.
Here is what Clarkson wrote last year:
Stephen Baldwin, of the Baldwin acting clan and a protege of mega evangelist Luis Palau, is a rising star. Baldwin is doing outreach to young people, and unfortunately, like many before him, his version of Christianity is laced with a pugnacious variety of rightist politics.
He is also a cultural advisor to President Bush and his book is reportedly doing very well. In it, he writes:
"God has called me to go and make disciples of the youth of America. That is what I am going to try to do, and if you try to stop me I am going to break your face."
Baldwin does not make clear whether his preferred method of faith-based face-breaking involves brandishing a military rifle, a gritty grapple on the ground, or a roundhouse kick to the head. But, having seen the official OSU Tour T-shirts -- which feature all of the above -- we’re pretty sure his manly witness involves getting bare-chested and sweaty.