Do you love Jesus enough to be a General in the U.S. Army?
In my work in Professional Military Education (PME), the issue of religion can be a touchy one, not least because I lecture about Islam quite a bit. This year the Department of Defense has gotten in a fair amount of hot water over the shoddy and sometimes downright stupid ways some of our PME institutions have dealt with Islam – and, as I’ve explained elsewhere, DoD’s current efforts to clean up this mess are proper, if overdue.
Religion is a touchy, and hot, topic across DoD and the U.S. military these days, also because a fair number of our men and women in uniform embrace evangelical Christianity. Some of them can be a tad dogmatic about it – it’s hard to avoid Bible study sessions at Army and Air Force bases especially – and some of the dogmatic ones can be pretty high-ranking. A few years back, Army Lieutenant General Jerry Boykin made waves with some rather pointed comments about Islam, generally of the “my God is bigger than their God” variety which are commonly heard in the military – just not usually near an open mic. Now in retirement, LTG Boykin is active in right-wing circles and has continued his controversial comments about Islam, and a lot of other things. Now that he’s out of uniform he’s free to say whatever he likes and, to be fair to Jerry, he was a legendary snake-eater and an icon in the Special Operations community, who never pretended to be anything but the Jesus-lovin’ good-ol’-boy he is.
The “my God is bigger than their God” thing has unfortunately crept into the PME world too, notably at the Air Force Academy. The issue has gotten a lot of press attention, little of it positive, and as my colleague Tom Nichols has pointed out, it raises some basic, and potentially disturbing, questions about separation of church and state, and what role overt religiosity has to play in U.S. public life, the military included.
To get my biases out front, I’m not the kind of person who lies awake at night worrying that co-workers have a too-big poster of Jesus with a rainbow on their cubicle walls. I’m of the view that, while we need to keep church and state separate, the Constitution enshrined freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. I’m a church-going guy, though I don’t advertise that fact at work too loudly; I’m not going to witness to a colleague or student on the job.
Which makes the current scandal about overt Christianity in the U.S. military all the more painful. Back in 2000, an Army lieutenant colonel did a research paper at the Army War College, that service’s premier graduate-level institution, entitled “Jesus as a Strategic Leader.” Issues of religion aside, the paper is poorly done – I would have failed it; more importantly I would never have allowed a student to submit such a biased and unscholarly thing in the first place. In terms of research, it’s derived largely from the Gospel of Mark and the writing is … well, calling it boilerplate would be kind (or, in this case, a blessing). Not to mention the fact that the Jesus my priests taught me about wasn’t someone I can really see as a “strategic leader” in the sense the Army War College teaches about; I didn’t pay a lot of attention to sermons growing up, but I do recall a fair amount of “turn the other cheek” stuff coming from the tongue of J-Boss.
The paper’s content would make anyone who’s not a hardline evangelical Christian wince, as well as make the heads of the more secular among us simply explode. In terms of academic quality, this is crap, pure and simple. You can get a sense of what it says, without torturing yourself by reading the whole thing, in the conclusion:
Jesus was a phenomenal strategic leader. He set a wonderful example to follow – especially for those who want to lead, or are charged with leading others.
As I study leadership and reflect back on all the good and bad leaders I have seen and worked with over the years, it is remarkably apparent that truly good and great leaders have followed and applied many of the principles that Jesus practiced, whether they knew it or not. On the other hand, the bad leaders I have known violated many of the leadership principles of Jesus.
This study was an incredible journey and revelation for me. I strongly recommend that any leader or aspiring leader look to Jesus as a role model of selfless, inspiring, transformational leadership. In my view, there is no better example of strategic leadership to follow and emulate than Jesus.
If a Muslim student tried to write something about “Muhammad as a Strategic Leader” and laid the fundie stuff on thick like that, he’d be written off as a loon and possible subversive. But apparently it was fine for the author, LTC Gregg Martin, and he clearly didn’t suffer any negative career consequences, since he’s now General Martin.
It gets better. Now-Major General Martin in July was appointed President of the National Defense University, after having served as President of his alma mater, the Army War College. That’s right, he’s now heading the “big dog” in our PME system, in Washington, DC.
MG Martin could be a great guy and a stellar officer, I’ve never met him. Additionally, I wouldn’t want his current gig for all the whiskey in Ireland, since NDU is in a world of trouble which has been covered painfully in the press. Its future appears less than bright. Nevertheless, I have a few questions about what made him so eminently qualified to head two PME institutions in succession, particularly given his faith-based position on the very politically sensitive issue of religion in DoD.
P.S. The opinions expressed here are my own and (obviously) not those of the Naval War College or the Department of Defense.