U.S. military involvement in entertainment productions is nothing new. This has been going on since the earliest days of film, with a collaboration between Hollywood and the government's Committee on Public Relations to produce a series of World War I films using footage shot in Europe by the army's Signal Corps. Back in 1918, the reason the government agreed to get involved in these civilian productions was their benefit in boosting civilian morale and maintaining support for the war. Today, legitimate reasons to justify the military's participation or assistance in entertainment productions range from making the military look cool to aid in recruitment and retention efforts to simply helping film and television producers to accurately depict military characters or activities.
According to Department of Defense (DoD) policies and regulations, the rigorous approval process for the use of military personnel and assets in an entertainment production typically starts with the approval of the production's script by the appropriate branch's Entertainment Liaison's Office. The project then has to make it through several levels of approval in the DoD's Public Affairs Office, including a screening of the final product before it is released or aired on television. But, despite the DoD's many policies and regulations, which all look good on paper, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) continues to uncover case after case of military involvement in religious entertainment productions that not only violate DoD Public Affairs regulations, but a host of other military regulations, as well as the Constitution.
Travel the Road
Travel the Road, a popular Christian reality TV series produced by the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), follows the travels of Will Decker and Tim Scott, two "extreme" missionaries. As these missionary adventurers circle the world, they get chased by lions, attacked by leeches, and eat stuff as disgusting as anything on Survivor -- all while fulfilling their mission: "Preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth and encourage the church to be active in the Great Commission."
Season 2 of this series ended with three episodes filmed in Afghanistan: "Journey to the Line: Afghanistan: Part 1," "Terrors of the Night: Afghanistan: Part 2," and "Fog of War: Afghanistan: Part 3." For these episodes, the TV star missionaries were actually permitted to be embedded with U.S. troops. They stayed on U.S. military bases, traveled with a public affairs unit, and accompany and film troops on patrols -- all for the purposes of evangelizing Afghans and producing a television show promoting the Christian religion.
The Department of Defense Public Affairs regulations violated by the military in its participation and assistance in producing this religious program alone are staggering, not to mention other military violations documented in the content of the program, which include the outrageous violation of the United States Central Command's General Order 1-A, which absolutely prohibits any proselytization whatsoever in the Middle Eastern theater of operations. In complete disregard of this bedrock standing order, the U.S. Army facilitated the evangelizing of Afghans by these Christian missionaries, which included the distribution of New Testaments in the Dari language, one of the two official languages of Afghanistan.
The clips in the video above are all from the program's third Afghanistan episode, with the exception of the second clip, which is from the first episode. The chaplain in that clip, who expresses his delight about being able to talk to the local Afghans about Christianity and the possibility of a "revival" in their country, is Capt. Brad Hanna of the Oklahoma National Guard. After returning from Afghanistan, Capt. Hanna was made a full-time support chaplain for the Oklahoma National Guard.
Also facilitating the numerous constitutional, regulation, and general order violations perpetrated in the making of these episodes was SSgt. Sheldon Hoyt, who was in Afghanistan at the time with Oklahoma National Guard's 45th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment. SSgt. Hoyt, who is frequently mentioned by the Christian missionaries throughout the Travel the Road episodes, appears to have been more involved with their crusade than just being assigned by the Army to assist them, being a regular participant on the Travel the Road internet message board that they hosted for several years.
A longer segment of the third Travel the Road Afghanistan episode can be viewed on YouTube.
On September 10, 2008, the Discovery Channel's Military Channel aired a two-hour program titled God's Soldier. Filmed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) McHenry in Hawijah, Iraq, the program's credits say it was "Produced with the full co-operation of the 2-27 Infantry Battalion 'Wolfhounds.'"
The co-producer of God's Soldier was Jerusalem Productions, a British production company whose "primary aim is to increase understanding and knowledge of the Christian religion and to promote Christian values, via the broadcast media, to as wide an audience as possible." To fulfill its goal of getting non-Christians to watch Christian programming, the company "focuses on those programmes which are broadcast outside designated religious slots and which appeal to an audience which does not necessarily have an active Christian commitment."
The Military Channel's description of the program was highly deceptive and inaccurate:
"Follow a group of U.S. Army Chaplains from different faiths on a tour of duty in Iraq as they comfort wounded and dying soldiers, reassure panicked and depressed soldiers, as well debriefing those soldiers that return from their tours of duty."
There was no "group" of Chaplains or representation of different faiths. The entire two-hour program was about one evangelical Christian chaplain, Capt. Charles Popov. This was Christian programming marketed to a mainstream audience with the help of the U.S. military.
Bible verse text captions appearing between segments of the program included "I did not come to bring peace, but the sword" and "Put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may stand your ground."
As the narrator of God's Soldier introduces Chaplain Popov at the beginning of the program, Popov is standing on on top of what appears to be a building or vehicle, yelling out to the base:
"Hey this is God. Come to Bible study tonight at 1900. Purpose Driven Life. You only have 25,000 days in your life, and probably half of it's gone."
The next shot of Popov shows him looking out over the base towards the chapel, which, in violation of regulations for Army chapels, has a permanent cross on its door. Later scenes reveal that this cross is actually a large cross shaped window, covering at least a third of the height of the door. Regulations prohibit the display of permanent symbols of any particular faith at chapel buildings, which are used for services of all faiths as well as non-religious events, allowing these symbols to be displayed only when a service of a particular faith is in progress.
This was one of Popov's prayers, from a scene in which he was blessing a group of soldiers about to go out on a patrol:
"I pray that you would give them the ability to exterminate the enemy and to accomplish the task that they're been sent forth by God and country to do. In Christ's name I pray. Amen."
That prayer is followed by a scene with Popov saying to more soldiers:
"Every soldier should know Romans 13, that the government is set up by God, and the magistrate, or the one who wields the sword -- you have not swords but 50 cals and [unintelligible] like that -- does not yield it in vain because the magistrate has been called, as you, to execute wrath upon those who do evil."
If this "execute wrath upon those who do evil" mantra sounds familiar to those who have read other reports about the promotion of fundamentalist Christianity in the military, it should. This is the same ideology pushed by Campus Crusade for Christ's Military Ministry. It is also promoted by Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren, who stated in a recent interview with Sean Hannity:
"...the Bible says that evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped. ... In fact, that is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers. Not good-doers. Evildoers."
The Purpose Driven Life, as noted in MRFF's recent exposure of the use of creationism as a means of preventing military suicides, is second only to the Bible itself as the most widely promoted religious book to, and by, our military. Clearly, as the first quote above shows, Capt. Popov is one of the many chaplains using and promoting this book.
The scene that tops them all, however, is one in which Chaplain Popov is setting up a nativity pageant for Christmas -- using the unit's Iraqi interpreters to play some of the roles! Popov describes this as some sort of cultural exchange, with U.S. troops recognizing Ramadan, and Muslim interpreters, in turn, celebrating Christmas. The stupidity of this is astounding. U.S. soldiers participating in a Muslim religious observance are not risking death by doing so, while Muslims, in a country where many consider converting to Christianity a death penalty offense, are. Broadcasting to the world via the Discovery Channel U.S. Army personnel putting Muslims in a Christmas pageant is absolute insanity, and couldn't be a better recruitment tool for the insurgents.
As MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein puts it, "The actions of Army chaplain Popov are abominable beyond measure even when slightly judged by constitutional standards. Look, damn it, let's call it what it is. [Popov] and his approving Army superiors are the quintessential poster-child for the treason; yes treason, of aiding and abetting our enemies. Indeed, they are creating the most prolific recruiting weapon ever imagined for the fundamentalist Islamic terrorists comprising al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the insurrectionists and the Jihadists. Chaplain Popov and his lickspittle Army lapdogs have tragically painted the wretched perception that this conflict is between the righteous armies of Jesus against the evildoers of all Islam. This conflict of religious extermination has happened before. They called it the Crusades."
According to the God's Soldier program, "Chaplain (CPT) Charles Popov is currently studying at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina's US Army Chaplain School in the Army C-4 class, which is preparing him for a Brigade Chaplain supervisory position and the rank of Major."