January 16, 2009 – The government-funded targeting of the children of our servicemen and servicewomen by Christian religious organizations is an issue that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has been gathering information on for some time now. The countless complaints and reports from members of our armed services that we receive about this completely unconstitutional practice include everything from Christian “public service announcements” being snuck into non-religious programming on the Armed Forces Network to the complete lack of youth programs that are not Christianity-based, leaving our non-Christian military parents with the dilemma of either turning their kids over to Christian evangelists or having to explain to them why they can’t participate in all the fun and exciting activities, events, and trips with the other kids.
These youth programs, many funded by Department of Defense (DoD) contracts, are designed to target and evangelize the “unchurched” among our military youth. No comparable non-Christian youth programs exist for the children of our servicemen and servicewomen who are of other religions or non-religious.
The tactics employed by the Christian military youth ministries range from luring teenagers with irresistible events and activities to infiltrating the public middle and high schools in the communities surrounding military bases, where most children of military personnel attend school. And, with this month being the fifth annual observance of National Stalking Awareness Month, it seems quite timely to note that one of these organizations, Youth For Christ Military Youth Ministry (YFCMYM), actually goes as far as stalking military children, following their school buses to find out where they live and what schools they go to. Even the job descriptions for DoD contracts make it clear that stalking kids is expected. One recently posted Army base position requires that the contractor target “locations and activities where youth live and spend time, such as neighborhood community centers, school and sports and recreational activities, etc.” to draw in “youth that are not regularly affiliated with established chapel congregational youth programs.”
Another thing that many DoD contract descriptions make clear is that military base Religious Education Director and similar positions are for Christians only, in complete violation of the Constitution’s “no religious test” clause, including requirements such as the “Contractor shall ensure all programs and activities are inclusive of all Christian traditions” and will “use a variety of communications medium that shall appeal to a diverse group of youth, such as music, skits, games, humor, and a clear, concise, relevant presentation of the Gospel.”
Recently, one of MRFF’s Research Associates came across a video interview of Fort Riley’s Religious Education Director talking about one of these exclusively Christian youth programs, Fort Riley’s Spiritual Rangers. This video, which was aired on the base’s local cable access channel, Fort Riley TV KFRL, describes a program where teenage boys get to do things like use the base’s Close Combat Tactical Trainer, Engagement Skills Trainer, and Helicopter Flight Simulator. In other words, the coolest video games EVER! And all a kid on Fort Riley has to do to play them is hang out with the “godly” men and memorize some scripture.
While Spiritual Rangers is a program specific to Fort Riley, the base also offers the military-wide Military Community Youth Ministries (MCYM) program, Club Beyond. MCYM, which “seeks to celebrate life with military kids and introduce them to the Life-giver, Jesus Christ,” has received millions of dollars in DoD contracts, and operates on dozens of U.S. military bases, both overseas and in the United States. Unlike the Spiritual Rangers, whose mission is “to train young men to be Godly leaders by instilling in them biblical character, values and principles and thus giving them a sense of what it truly means to be a man,” and is open only to boys, MCYM’s programs are co-ed.
MCYM’s “Contracting Officer’s Performance Evaluation,” to be filled out each year by a “person duly appointed with the authority to enter into and to administer contracts on behalf of the government” at the installations where the organization is contracted, also shows not only that MCYM’s mission is to target unchurched children but that the contracting officer actually rates MCYM on its success in this constitutional violation. These are two of the questions on the evaluation:
“MCYM staff are expected to conduct outreach ministry to teens who have no relationship with the chapel or established churches. What is your assessment of this ministry objective?”
“MCYM staff are expected to present the Gospel to teens with due respect to their spiritual traditions, i.e. to engage in evangelism but not proselytization. This means that they are not to endorse a particular theology or denomination or creed excepting that which is generally accepted as representing the principle tenents of the Christian faith with a focus on introducing teens to Jesus Christ and to help teens develop in their faith in God. What is your assessment of this ministry objective?”
Saying that they “engage in evangelism but not proselytization” is a joke. The only difference between these often confused words is that proselytization is evangelism specifically intended to convert someone from one faith to another, while evangelism is attempting to convert someone to Christianity, whether or not they already have a religion. MCYM, however, narrowly defines refraining from proselytization only in terms of not trying to convert someone from one Christian denomination to another, and places no restriction on evangelizing those teenagers who need some “introducing” to Jesus Christ.
MCYM has two partner organizations — YoungLife and Youth For Christ Military Youth Ministry. On its website, MCYM describes these organizations as their “partners,” but Youth For Christ (YFC) and MCYM appear to be one and the same. Both have the same address and phone number, and YFC’s mission statement states only one mission — to partner with MCYM.
“The Mission of Youth For Christ Military Youth Ministry is to partner with Military Community Youth Ministries (MCYM) in assisting and equipping Commanders, Chaplains, Parents, Volunteers and local Youth for Christ (YFC) chapters on behalf of reaching military teens with the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
Few military installations have their own middle schools and high schools on base. Most children of military personnel attend public schools in the surrounding communities, so YFC, which “primarily ministers in public schools,” offers military chaplains a “school focused outreach ministry.” To convince chaplains that their base needs this service, YFC provides a fill-in-the-blank template for a “Chapel youth ministry steering committee” to write up an assessment to present to the Installation Chaplain.
The first step in completing this assessment is for the “steering committee” to try to get a meeting with the local high school principal. This is done by saying, according to the script provided, that they are assisting the base chaplains — a bit deceptive considering that this phone call appears to made prior to approaching the chaplains.
Example when you call the principle [sic] of the local high school: Hello my name is and I am assisting the chaplains of Fort ___________ by putting together several facts concerning adolescent culture and youth serving organizations in our community. Could I drop by and ask a few questions?”
Here are a few more sections of YFC’s assessment template, including the instruction to follow public school buses around for three days:
3. Fort ______________ Schools (ensure you include comments on any other significant para church outreach taking place in the schools by YL, YFC, FCA, FCS, First Priority etc…)
a. _____________ High School. The principle [sic] is _________________. I spoke with _____________ and he indicated that he would be willing/unwilling to allow me campus access. He did indicate that he would be glad to allow me to support students by attending practices, games, rehearsals and school activities on an “as invited” basis. My general impression is that ___________________ and will continue to develop my relationships at the High School.
b. _____________ Middle School. The principle [sic] is ______________.
a. High School: This is a completely unscientific measurement but I followed the buses around for three days. Each morning four buses leave the installation in [sic] route to the high school. There are approximately ______ students on these buses. Students are primarily picked up in the ________, ________ and ________ neighborhoods. Students appeared to be equally spread over the four different grade levels with slightly more/less 9th and 10th graders.
b. Middle School: See a above.
8. Climate and opportunities for youth ministry at Fort ______________
My general impression is that there is a real openness and invitation to the ministry overall here at Fort ________. It would be premature to put forth a complete plan at this time. However, as mutually agreed, I will use the following values for the next six weeks (date) until I present a more detailed youth ministry plan.
The goal of YFC, of course, is the same as that of MCYM and all of the other youth ministries — to find, lure, and evangelize all the kids who aren’t already Christians. According to the YFC Youth Ministry Manual template (a 69-page instruction and activity manual provided as a PDF file that can be personalized with the specific installation’s name, contact list, event calendars, etc.):
“An important part of any Youth Ministry is when the leader has the opportunity to speak of Jesus Christ to young people who do not know Him.”
Malachi Youth Ministries, which is listed on the YFC website’s “Resources” page, is the youth division of Cadence International. Like MCYM, Cadence International’s youth programs are funded by DoD contracts. The vision of Cadence’s military ministry is that by 2020 they will “Equip a fresh wave of Christ’s ambassadors in the military who will proclaim Christ around the world,” because “God is calling Cadence to reach deeper into the American military and to impact the militaries of the world.”
Cadence, in addition to its youth programs, targets young service members, many of whom are not much older than the kids in its Malachi Ministries. Cadence sees young service members who are likely to be deployed to war zones as low hanging fruit because they are “shaken.” One of the reasons given by Cadence for the success of its “Strategic Ministry” is:
“Deployment and possibly deadly combat are ever-present possibilities. They are shaken. Shaken people are usually more ready to hear about God than those who are at ease, making them more responsive to the gospel.”
Those who are saved by Cadence can then “spread the gospel as they move from assignment to assignment,” and, since the goal is to use the U.S. military to evangelize the world, these Christian ambassadors in uniform will spread Christianity as they “learn about other cultures and become burdened to reach them for God” and become “willing to go out into the world with the life-giving message of the gospel.”
Cadence also targets the youngest children of military personnel, getting the elementary school age kids into Good News Clubs on their bases and in their schools, partnering with Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) “to anchor children in the hope of Jesus and lead them to living fully devoted to Him.” According to the Deputy Installation Chaplain at Fort Hood, Texas, in a video on the CEF website, “The harvest is ready, and I mean it’s out there in more abundance than we have ability to harvest.” Cadence and CEF have the “mutual goal of reaching every child of the US military around the world.”
To sum up the obvious constitutional violations being perpetrated by these evangelical Christian organizations, the chaplains and commanders who allow them on their bases, and the DoD officials and contracting officers who approve their funding:
1. Millions of dollars are being awarded in DoD contracts for the explicitly stated purpose of evangelizing military youth, in violation of the establishment clause;
2. No comparable non-Christian youth programs exist for the children of service members who are of other religions or non-religious, and the appeal of the activities and events that the Christian youth programs are able to offer aids these groups in luring the children of non-Christian service members into situations in which they can be evangelized, in violation of the establishment clause;
3. The requirement to provide exclusively Christian programs and services restricts the positions of military base Religious Education Directors to Christians, in violation of the Constitution’s “no religious test” clause;
4. The targeting and use of public schools as recruiting grounds for U.S. military chaplain sponsored religious programs goes far beyond the constitutionally permissible activities of student initiated and led religious clubs, in violation of the establishment clause.