While Strong Bonds is specifically an Army program, the rampant promotion of evangelical Christianity under the guise of Spiritual Fitness is going on in all branches of the military. As an example from another branch of the military, over $120,000 in DoD contracts have been awarded to the Williamsburg Christian Retreat Center, one of the facilities used by both the Army and the Navy for retreats. Another popular site in Virginia for the Navy's Spiritual Fitness and "Personal Growth" retreats is the Peninsula Baptist Association's Eastover Retreat Center, which has received $75,000 in DoD contracts. For its retreats in Rhode Island, the Navy also uses a Baptist facility, the American Baptist Church's Canonicus Camping and Conference Center, which has received $53,000 in DoD contracts.
In addition to the constitutional issue of these military retreats being evangelical Christian retreats, any of the Christian facilities used for these retreats that receives over $10,000 in DoD contracts is in violation of the prohibition on federal government contractors discriminating based on religion in their hiring practices. They all hire only Christians, and many require in their employment applications that potential employees subscribe to a "statement of faith" and provide their Christian "testimony," detailing when and how they were "saved."
Evangelical Christian Performers for Strong Bonds and Other Events
Even retreats that are not located at religious camps regularly feature evangelical Christian speakers and entertainers. The contract amounts range from a few thousand dollars paid to each of a number of individual "motivational" speakers for single retreats to tens of thousands of dollars for evangelical Christian ministries and performers hired for multiple retreats.
For example, Quail Ministries, a Christian music ministry that provides performances "liberally seasoned with songs, stories, and anecdotal Scripturally-based lessons," has received over $84,000 in DoD contracts for performances at about a dozen Strong Bonds retreats.
Unlimited Potential, Inc., a ministry "Serving Christ Through Baseball" by sending evangelical Christian major league baseball players to military events, received over $80,000 in DoD contracts for just two retreats, one Strong Bonds retreat and one Spiritual Fitness retreat. Unlimited Potential has been at many other military bases for various other events that do not show up in DoD contracts, presumably because these appearances were paid for with base funds.
DoD Funded Evangelical Christian Youth Programs
Service members are not the only ones targeted by evangelical Christian programs paid for with DoD contracts. Military children are also heavily targeted, both here in the U.S. and on bases overseas. Evangelizing the children of service members is one of the largest areas of spending.
The biggest ministry contracted by the DoD to target children is Military Community Youth Ministries (MCYM), whose mission statement is "Celebrate life with military teens, Introduce them to the Life-Giver, Jesus Christ, And help them become more like Him." MCYM has received $12,346,333 in DoD contracts since 2000. One of MCYM's tactics? Stalking "unchurched" military children by following their schools buses.
Ranking second is Cadence International, with over $2,671,603 in contracts since 2003. Cadence describes itself as "an evangelical mission agency dedicated to reaching the military communities of the United States and of the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ." Cadence not only targets young service members and military children for conversion to evangelical Christianity, but also actively tries to convert members of foreign militaries in the countries where they operate under DoD contracts.
In addition to military youth ministries like MYCM and Cadence, military children are also targeted by military base Religious Education Directors, also hired with DoD contracts. These ministries and Religious Education Directors employ tactics that can only be described as "stalking" children, with some DoD contracts even requiring that the contractors identify and target the "unchurched" children at non-religious events and activities and get them into chapel programs, and to supply reports naming these children by name.
Conversion by Temptation
As I've been sitting here writing this post, an email came in to MRFF from a soldier who is currently in Advanced Individual Training (AIT), the stage of training between basic training and and a soldier's first assignment, where the soldier receives training in the particular job they will be doing. During AIT, soldiers are typically given a few privileges that they didn't have in basic training, but not many.
This soldier's email is a a great example of a common strategy that I call "conversion by temptation," where the military ministries and the military itself tempt young soldiers and military children with fun or exciting things to lure them into participating in programs and events where they can be "saved." What young soldier would pass up a vacation at a resort with their spouse that they could never afford on their military salary? That's how the Army's Strong Bonds program gets many soldiers who would never attend an religious retreat to attend evangelical Christian retreats. What teenage kid would pass up a ski trip or week at the beach with the other kids? That's how DoD funded military youth ministries like MCYM lure the teenage kids of our service members.
The email that just came in from the soldier in AIT was about the soldiers in training being granted extra privileges if they attend the programs on his post run by Cadence International. These privileges include being allowed to have pizza and soda on Friday nights if they go to the Christian "Coffee House," even if they haven't reached the stage of training where this is allowed, and being allowed to wear civilian clothes and engage in all sorts of fun activities if they go to Cadence's on-post weekend retreats.
To a non-Christian soldier in AIT, getting the extra privileges and having some fun are worth the price of having to sit through the fundamentalist Christian sermons that go along with these activities, so many of them do it. Others go along simply because they don't want to stand out from the crowd and be singled out as being of the "wrong" religion or not being religious.