U.S. Army Chaplain: “We hunt people for Jesus.”
“Special forces guys, they hunt men, basically. We do the same thing as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. Hunt ’em down.”
That’s Lt. Colonel Gary Hensley, who at the time he said those words was the top Army chaplain in Afghanistan, giving a sermon at Bagram Air Base. I wrote about Ltc. Hensley and filmmaker Brian Hughes, who documented Hensley’s sermon, in my May Harper’s feature, “Jesus Killed Mohammed: The Crusade for A Christian Military.” Now, Al Jazeera English allows you to see some of the footage yourself. It’s not just bad metaphors at stake: as Hughes documents, evangelical troops at Bagram are also distributing New Testaments in Pashto and Dari, the two main Afghan languages, in direct defiance of U.S. military regulations designed to prevent soldiers from becoming crusaders.
Here’s more Hensley, from the article:
The most zealous among the new generation of fundamentalist chaplains didn’t join to serve the military; they came to save its soul. One of these zealots is Lieutenant Colonel Gary Hensley, division chaplain for the 101st Airborne and, until recently, the chief Army chaplain for all of Afghanistan. Last year, a filmmaker named Brian Hughes met Hensley when he traveled to Bagram Air Field to make a documentary about chaplains, a tribute of sorts to the chaplain who had counseled him — without regard for religion — when Hughes was a frightened young airman during the Gulf War. (Military personnel forfeit their rights to legal and medical privacy; chaplains are the only people they can turn to with problems too sensitive to take up the chain of command, anything from corruption to a crisis of courage.) When Hughes went to Bagram, he was looking for chaplains like the one who’d helped him get through his war. Instead, he found Hensley.
In the raw footage Hughes shot, Hensley strips down to a white T-shirt beneath his uniform to preach an afternoon service in Bagram’s main chapel. On the T-shirt’s breast is a logo for an evangelical military ministry called Chapel NeXt, the “T” in which is an oversized cross slashing down over a map of Afghanistan. “Got your seat belts on?” Hensley hollers. He’s a lean man with thinning, slicked-back gray hair who carries a small paunch like a package, the size and shape of a turtle’s shell. “The Word will not fail!” he shouts. “Now is the time! In the fullness of time” — Hensley leans forward, two fingers on his glasses, his voice dipping to a growl — “God. Sent. His. Son. Whoo!” Then, as if addressing 33 million Muslim Afghans and their belief that Muhammad was a prophet as Jesus before him, he shouts, “There is no one else to come! There is no new revelation! There is no new religion! Jesus is it!” Amen, says the crowd. “If He ain’t it, let’s all go home!”
Hensley brings it back down. “I’m from the Jesus Movement,” he says, presenting himself as a prophet born of American history: “Haight-Ashbury. Watergate. Woodstock. And out of that mess? Came Hensley, glory to God!” He goes on to quote (without attribution) the British theologian C. H. Dodd: “By virtue of the resurrection,” he says, “Jesus was exalted to the right hand of the Father and is the messianic head of the New Israel.” Dodd was no fundamentalist; his ideas are still used by some liberal Christians to combat the apocalyptic fervor of fundamentalism. Not so with Hensley, who takes Dodd’s uncredited words as a battle cry. “That’s us!” he cries. “We are Israel. We are the New Israel!”
At this point, says Hughes, the Army media liaison sitting next to him put his head in his hands.
“There will come a day when there will be no more Holy Spirit!” Hensley shouts, hopping up and down on the stage, his speech no longer directed toward the pews but as if to some greater audience. “When the church shall be raptured up in the skyyy! And we shall be with Hiiim! And all of us shall be with Him!” He slows to an emphatic whisper like a warning: “Glory to God, that’s our message!” A little bit louder now. “The messianic Jesus is comin’ back!” Louder still. “And I expect him to come back before we go to the mess hall, you know that?” And the soldiers say, Amen.
Jeff Sharlet is a founding editor of Killing the Buddha, coauthor with Peter Manseau of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible (2004) and co-editor of Believer, Beware (2009). Sharlet is also the author of Sweet Heaven When I Die, (2011), C Street, (2010), and the New York Times bestseller The Family (2008).