Not long ago, the Wheaton College Thunder were called the Wheaton College Crusaders. If you’ve studied Christian history at all, you know the origin of that name. The Crusades were a long series of mobile wars conducted by Europeans in part to take back control of the Holy Land. For two centuries Crusaders tried to gain control of the Middle Eastern world, only to lose ground in the end to the Ottoman Turks and other Muslim-controlled interests in the region.
But the angry religious energy of the Crusades conveniently found new targets for domination in the New World. It even gained gave itself a new name, in Manifest Destiny, the idea that Europeans were a chosen people of God who deserved to take over North America. And from there, the Christian religion was again used to justify genocide. Why not? The Old Testament was full of it.
Not too surprising
So the violent roots of the Christian faith and its actions around the world are never too surprising. Most recently, five football players from Wheaton College initiated a crusade of their own. The Daily Herald describes one phase of the incident this way: “According to records cited in the Tribune’s report Monday night, the student was in his dorm room when he was tackled by the football players, his legs and wrists wrapped up in duct tape, and a pillow case put over his head. He was placed in the back seat of a teammate’s vehicle, and as they drove, the players made offensive comments about Muslims, the report said.”
The players went on to sexually abuse their captive by attempting to insert an object into his rectum, all while continuing to insult the man and physically abuse him when resistance was offered.
Just like Iraq
That behavior resembles the actions of American military service personnel who tortured, beat and abused Iraqi prisoners during America’s invasion of that country in the early 2000s. The photos that emerged of those abuses rightly enraged the world, especially Muslim people who ascertained from reports about American soldiers specifically targeting Islamic taboos to humiliate Iraqi men and boys.
The American military was quite technically on a crusade of its own in Iraq. There was no real reason to invade that country after the 9/11 attacks. Yet the heated notion that Saddam Hussein was an immediate threat and that Muslim countries in general were a danger to the United States was used to ramp up approval of that war by Congress.
All this took place under the auspices of an openly Christian President in George W. Bush. It was his personal crusade to get back at Saddam for threatening his daddy and having the gall to stand up to America at all.
Yet for all the ugly follies of Iraq, Bush and his henchman Cheney suffered few political consequences for the torture that occurred under their watch. Cheney even doubled down on several occasion about the merits of torture to subdue one’s enemies.
With that kind of attitude trickling down from our nation’s leaders and our own military, perhaps it is no surprise that a band of five Wheaton College football players should capture a young Muslim man from his dorm room to torture, injure and humiliate him. The fact that it happened at an overtly unapologetic Christian college such as Wheaton is quite in line with the behavior of hardline Christian leadership throughout history. Quite recently the college fired one of its own professors for making a pro-Muslim comment. She had posted on Facebook: “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she posted on Facebook. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
She was dismissed for that simple yet loving remark. And yet the five Wheaton College football players who kidnapped a fellow student, tortured and sexually abused him remain at the college. They were “strapped” with only 50 hours of “community service” and having to write an “eight page letter” as punishment for their actions.
Wheaton at fault
Now that the Wheaton College players are facing actual criminal penalties for their actions, it is time to hold Wheaton College publicly accountable for the mercenary brand of doctrine to which it traditionally ascribes. With its feet firmly planted in the evangelical community, Wheaton’s form of highly conservative, often repressive Christian teaching is the ideology fueling ugliness at home and abroad. Evangelicals swayed the vote for Donald Trump, himself a very public abuser, violent character and poor representative for what would normally pass for Christian virtues.
If it is indeed Christianity that men like Trump espouse, it is a Christianity rooted in intolerance and anger toward all other faiths. Witness its dog-whistle implementation as documented on the website God and Country, Military Religious Freedom and Christian Service. In a post titled “The Top Three Military Chaplain Fallacies,” it cheerleads unrelenting conversion as the ultimate expression of “religious freedom.”
The article says: “A military chaplain must have a true affinity for the lost (unconverted), and possess a love that is implacable for the Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen that they serve. A military chaplain must exercise their constitutional right to faithfully and expositionally teach and preach the whole counsel of God’s special and propositional revelation. Why? Military chaplains that never evangelizes (sic), soft-peddles truth, willfully omits the name of Christ in prayer out of fear of offending others instead of God, substitutes Scripture with psycho-therapy, and cares more about their career than Christ are not examples of holiness and Christ-centeredness; they are examples of hypocrisy and childish-conceits.”
Religious liberty, or the opposite?
This is what too much of America claims as “religious liberty.” Would a military chaplain schooled in these methods of unrelenting evangelical fervor truly offer any virtue of service to a Muslim or Jewish soldier?
None whatsoever. Nor did the young men who play football for a Christian college show any respect or tolerance for a fellow student when they kidnapped and tortured him for his religious and possibly racial background.
Sickness at heart
There is a sickness at the heart of a Christian faith that approaches the world with such dismissive force. It bleeds into politics, culture and public civility. It fuels racially driven prejudice based on outdated interpretations of scripture that are used by the likes of the KKK to claim that white people are God’s people. It oppresses the rights of women, of gay people, of every person born into a nation where freedom from religion is guaranteed by the Constitution just as freedom of religion is also provided.
These were not just five football players roughhousing, as the likes of Rush Limbaugh will probably say. There is sickness at heart when such rationalizations are offered. These were five young men indoctrinated to think that somehow their school or their race or their position in life gave them the right to torture and abuse another human being because they attend a Christian college whose unquiet traditions of supremacy and crusades has a long history of justifying such behavior.
That is the form of religious “freedom” to which latter day evangelicalism too often leads. And it has to be challenged. Stopped. Shouted down. And dunned from dominance of the public debate over policy and protections of civil rights.