If you look up the word "extremist" in the dictionary, you will find it defined as 'one who goes to extremes or advocates extreme doctrines or practices.' If I were to ask you to name a group of extremists, who would come to mind?
A U.S. Army Reserve Equal Opportunity briefing was held in Pennsylvania recently, titled "Extremism and Extremist Organizations." At first blush, such training makes perfect sense, given the reality that we are a nation at war with Muslim extremists. (I realize that is definitely not politically correct speech –despite the fact that it is true.)
However, a review of the brief used for training quickly reveals how some in the military define extremists in a very odd and controversial way. In the power point presentation used for the Army reserve unit training, a slide titled "Religious Extremism" lists the usual suspects like the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, Hamas and the Ku Klux Klan.
The list starts, however, with evangelical Christianity as the first group identified as being extremists and also includes Orthodox Judaism and Catholicism. As if that insult weren't enough, the brief goes on to say that "extremist organizations' goals are inconsistent with the Army's goals, beliefs, and values with regard to equal opportunity." Does that mean that Christians, Catholics and Jews need not enlist?
The brief also states that those who are extremists hold to beliefs that are "far removed from the ordinary." Is that an accurate statement about evangelical Christianity? Hardly! But it gets worse. The brief further states that "every religion has some followers that believe that their beliefs, customs and traditions are the only 'right way' and that all others practicing their faith the 'wrong way.'" Here is where it gets interesting.
Jesus said that He was "the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) That is, at the same time, the most inclusive yet decidedly exclusive statement ever made. What Christ did for us – He did for all of us (inclusive). But, there is no other way to God but through Jesus Christ (exclusive). Does holding to the Truth of God's word make one an extremist? Does it serve to disqualify someone from military service?
What is particularly troublesome here is this briefing may not be an isolated incident, as some are alleging. The parallel between the identifying of Christians as extremists in military briefings and the Southern Poverty Law Center's self-constructed list of hate groups is also very disturbing, as the military briefing relied heavily on the SPLC's materials.
Standing for the sanctity of life and the traditional definition of marriage can quickly get you identified as a 'hater' by the SPLC or as someone whose views are extremist and not conducive to military service.
What should be done here is a full public apology, made by a senior officer in the military, for the disparaging remarks made against evangelical Christians. But, I am not holding my breath. I am, after all, a grace-filled extremist!