Bonnie Weinstein is married to Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which brings a special set of challenges to their relationship. The mission of MRFF is “to ensuring that all members of the United States Armed Forces fully receive the Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom to which they and all Americans are entitled by virtue of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” Some people don’t like that.
They don’t like it because ensuring religious freedom in the military means among other things that:
- No religion or religious philosophy may be advanced by the United States Armed Forces over any other religion or religious philosophy.
- No member of the United States Armed Forces may be compelled in any way to conform to a particular religion or religious philosophy.
- No member of the military may be compelled to endure unwanted religious proselytization, evangelization or persuasion of any sort in a military setting and/or by a military superior or civilian employee of the military.
- The full exercise of religious freedom includes the right not to subscribe to any particular religion or religious philosophy. The so-called “unchurched” cede no Constitutional rights by want of their separation from organized faith.
Why MRFF is Needed
Mikey Weinstein founded MRFF in response to rampant violations of these principles by Evangelicals and other “Great Commission” Christians at the United States Air Force Academy, where their two sons (both Jewish) and future daughter-in-law and son-in law (both Christians) were cadets and, like Mikey, later graduates.
Great Commission Christians are those who think it is their responsibility to save souls by converting others to their form of belief. They typically are biblical literalists who believe the Bible is the perfect and complete word of God. Their behavior often stands in contrast to Great Commandment Christians—those who think that the prime directive of the New Testament is not evangelism and right belief, but love. Many of these Christians perceive the Bible as a human document, an imperfect record of God’s relationship to humanity and the ministry of Jesus. Because of U.S. demographics, the vast majority of MRFF’s clients are Christians of this latter type, followed by religious minorities including Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Native American spiritualists, atheists, agnostics and Wiccans. MRFF also represents 861 LGBT armed forces clients.
For years, Great Commission believers have been engaged in more and more bold attempts to convert the U.S. military into an army of Christian soldiers—pressuring subordinates to attend Bible studies; promoting Christian-themed media like Mel Gibson’s torture porn, “The Passion of the Christ;” and converting the chaplaincy into a cadre of missionaries on the public dime. And they had been getting away with it. After Weinstein—a former Air Force JAG officer and member of the Reagan administration—started making waves and then launched MRFF, many were, not surprisingly, displeased.
From the beginning, the Weinsteins and MRFF staff have received a barrage of hate mail filled with curses, imprecatory prayers, graphic descriptions of bodily harm, death threats, gloating promises of eternal torture and more—all in the name of Jesus and often accompanied by Bible quotations, chapter and verse. Some of the ugliest messages hone in on the fact that Bonnie and Mikey are Jewish, stating, for example that the Holocaust didn’t go far enough; that their children should be turned into skin lamps; that “their kind” are not Americans and can’t be; and that Hell will be worse than the gas chambers.
At the suggestion of appalled supporters, Bonnie Weinstein finally compiled a selection of choice missives into a book, To the Far Right Christian Hater: You can be a good speller or a hater, but you can’t be both. I was a conservative Evangelical for many years. Over that time, I imagined saying nasty things to people, and sometimes did. I imagined swearing, and sometimes did. But it never crossed my mind that a believer might combine swearing and denigration with the name of Christ. The kaleidoscope of variations found in Weinstein’s book would have been unfathomable. Even today, if I hadn’t read them myself, I wouldn’t believe it still.
“Christian Built This Country”
One might think that seeing their words in print would shame self-proclaimed guardians of God into silence. Or they might consider that such words make a mockery of their claim to moral and spiritual superiority. Or, if nothing else, they might realize that spewing hate is a poor way to win converts as directed in the Great Commission. But apparently not. Because offended believers responded by sending contents for Volume 2.
One took the time to explain why the work of MRFF is so wrongheaded as to merit the barrage: [Note: I have left all spelling and grammar as received.]
It was Christians on the wagons west and Christians who built this country of and for the Glory of Christ. Christians saved the American indians from going to hell and Christian stopped the nazis and commies from taking over the world. Christians liberated negroes from slavery and gave the jews Israel and are the only ones protecting the unborn and trying to keep marriage pure. It was even Christians whom put men on the moon. And now its Christians who die to stop the moslems from beheading us all. The common theme for you Bonnie is Christians. And do not believe that lie about ‘separation of church and state’. Not even in the constitution. Nowhere there. In America noone have to be Christian but they do have to hear and consider His Word.
What is “His Word?” For those who take the Bible as a literally perfect revelation from God, as do most of MRFF’s detractors, God’s Word is the Good Book, and that’s where things get complicated. The texts assembled in the Bible promote love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance and faith—qualities that one New Testament writer calls the fruit of the spirit. By their fruits you shall know them, says another. Christians are exhorted to be a light shining on a hill, without which the world would fall into (moral) darkness. Regrettably, the Bible also endorses holy war, death to blasphemers and infidels, vengeance, and torture. With these mixed messages bound together as a package, the net effect of thinking that the Bible is God’s perfect Word can be hard to predict.
Piling It On
Here are some excerpts from recent messages to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation from those who see themselves as defenders of God and goodness. The letters arrive with different fonts and tones, and from different email addresses, but the themes are painfully consistent:
- Mr. M Weinstein I am a spirit-filled ordained pastor of The Gospel from the great state of Nebraska. Stop your attack on God Almighty and His only Son our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Stop your attack on His holy Christian wariors in our armed military forces! My congregation includes many military from the nearby air force base. We pray as one for you to die tonight in your sleep leaving a bloody mess for your family to find at daybreak.
- To the enimy of Jesus The Christ – Let’s all watch how Jesus makes you pay for taking Him out of the Army. Your hellbound ‘religious freedom FROM religion” followers too. You all try to fool everybody and hide behind the contitution. Your afraid of the Gospel. Why is it you give a jew a chance to recrusify our Savior and he’ll do it ever time. And your the worse of jews in the world. Blood thrifty for inocent Christians bringing The Word to the Army. damn you and die. And burn for youre sins against Christ Jesus. For all time.
- For god and country and in god we trust. Maybe if the Jews fought in the revolution and wrote the constitution he would have a right too speak. Other wise shut the f up.
- When We see a jew like mikey wienstien we know that Hitler was right. Leave US soldiers alone mickey. Get you a nosejob hebe. And why not swindle someone in business? While eating a bagle and showing off your jew diamonds.
- This country was founded on the belief of God, if you and your people do not believe in the Christian God maybe you should move to Iran or Syria where your shallow thoughts will last but minutes since you will be but an infidel, soon to be stoned for your beliefs.
- Athiest jews are servents of satan. They do not deserve America. Mikey weinsteen does not deserve life any place but espcialy in the USA. He is THE leader of all which is wrong in America and all who fight Jesus Christ which is the only true God in the universe. Weinsteen will destroy our military and the whole country if he is not deported. Send him to Cuba which niger Obummer loves so much. Or send him and all the other athiests to North Korea to rot and starve.
- Eat shit and don’t die. Just keep eating shit Michael Loser Weinstein. Fun to watch you eat shit. For all time. Since you and your little family of mfrr shit eaters are nothing but shit anyway. Your only hope is to surrender to Jesus Christ. Your a stiff necked jew so you will not (Exodus 32 and verse 9). Thus you have no hope. Keep your shitty self out of Christ’s military and Christ’s nation you dirty shit bag.
- Fuck your crybaby slut ass wife and fuck your crybaby spoiled children. Who got their fancy air force academy educations all paid for by the GRACE of Amercan CHRISTIAN taxpayers. And just look what we got for our tax money. The family Whiningsteen jew traitors from HELL. Cry cry cry cause you have it so bad in a CHRISTIAN made country. You know what you all happier in North koria or back in Jewsrael. get OUT of our country! Here Jesus is KING and if you dont like it than fuck you.
- Your day will come when you have to face Our God Almighty and would not want to be in your shoes. You and your ilk think you are so intelligent and stand above the rest but you are sickening and nothing but a joke and a huge one at that. By the way, where is your stand against the muslims? you either are one like your golden idol charlatan closet muslim obama or you are afraid of them.
- Thankfully, judgment is a certainty and Mr. Weinstein’s future – and the rest of your staff – is secure. And eternity is forever.
- Our Spirit-Filled Church prays to Christ Jesus thru Psalm 109 for His Hand to curse Judas Weinstein (Matthew 27: 3-5) down as per Scripture in 2015 for sins against His Church and His armed forces and His America: We Pray Thee Lord Jesus To Lay Thy Avenging Hands (Revelation 19:11-16) on unbaptized (Mark 16:16) Michael Weinstein his evil wife and evil children (john 8:44) and all of the evil doers who work at MFRR (Revelation 21:8);
- Christ will slay Mikey Weinstein with The Sword of Righteousness. Your serpant husband will be cut down by Jesus and mutilated for his evil doings. Then him and they all will be cast wiggling and screaming into the Lake of Fire to burn for all time. See John 3:36 and Revelations 20:14. You still have time Bonnie and so do your kids. This is ‘Truth’ mail from those Christians who love you so much and your kids and grandkids too.
The writer of this last missive wanted to make sure that nobody misunderstand his intent. “This is not ‘hate mail’ Bonnie Weinstein. Do not dare to call it that! This is LOVE mail. We are showing truest Christian love.”
Hate is love. War is peace. Ignorance is strength. The outpourings from self-described Christians sound Orwellian because they are, literally. In his book, 1984, George Orwell coined the term doublethink, which has been defined as not just the ability to say that black is white, but “also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink. Doublethink is basically the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
The people who wrote these letters honestly believe that they serve the God of Love and Truth. I know, because I once shared that belief as an Evangelical biblical literalist. Such conviction can be all-consuming, and blinding.
Religion that is based on authoritarian hierarchies and sacred texts has tremendous power to produce doublethink, to translate love into hate and to redirect the human moral impulse into words and actions that are patently evil. Parents who kick out their queer children think they are doing a good thing. Jihadis who murder cartoonists do so convinced that their actions are righteous, as do ordinary fundamentalist Muslims who throw acid on women, as do ordinary fundamentalist Christians who pray for the death and dismemberment of their enemies.
The Power of Belief
Beliefs are powerful, and the power of absolute belief is absolute.
Far too many well-meaning lovers of peace fail to understand this. In their desire to promote tolerance they insist that harm done in the names of gods isn’t really motivated by religion, that it is motivated by tyranny or desperation or a host of other socio-political factors. Most certainly the relationship between religion and violence is complex.
But consider, if you will, the fact that the writers of these letters are not oppressed minorities, nor the victims of colonialism, nor destitute and hopeless. And consider that the only harm they experience from the work of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is harm not to persons but to religion itself—the kind of religion that mandates evangelism and dominion.
Religion is powerful in part because it takes command of primal moral emotions including moral disgust and outrage. These emotions can get activated in the service of justice, or compassion, or fairness, or ahimsa, or love. But they also can get attached to matters that serve no purpose save that of protecting the religion itself—violations of ritual purity, or blasphemy rules, or god-ordained gender hierarchy and rules about sex—or an army captain’s obligation to preach the gospel to his underlings.
Obligations like these can feel as morally compelling as a father’s responsibility to protect his children, and when they are obstructed, true believers can feel equally crazed. Hundreds of thousands of Chechens took to the streets last month to protest blasphemy against their Prophet, which many perceive as a crime greater than mass murder.
Such passion can be met only by confronting the beliefs that drive the behavior. Organizations that work to constrain specific harmful actions, like MRFF, play a critical role in maintaining secular pluralism and rule of law. But make no mistake—as devout believers seek to follow perceived moral mandates they will push to the limits, and sometimes beyond, while simultaneously working to change whatever rules or laws constrain them. That is the nature of moral certitude.
In the long run, the only solution lies in replacing harmful beliefs with those that actually serve peace and wellbeing. Secularists like me see the path forward as one that increasingly relies on science to help us understand and advance human flourishing within a complex web of life. Progressive people of faith, some of them clients or supporters of Mikey Weinstein, embrace the fabric of wisdom in ancient traditions like Christianity and Islam and believe that the best path forward is reformation from within. Either way, the inbox of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation stands as a stark reminder that this work could not be more urgent.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.