Much has already been written about Senator Ted Cruz’s selection of the Christian fundamentalist Liberty University, the largest Christian school in the world, as the site to launch his presidential campaign. It’s not just any Christian institution. The school’s founder, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, weaponized Southern Protestantism to become perhaps the nation’s leading theocrat and helped construct a conservative ideological complex which founds, to some degree, all policy matters, both domestic and foreign, on divine authority. Sen. Cruz attempted to make an early pursuit of the sizable evangelical bloc of the GOP Falwell was instrumental in creating with his unequivocal nod to Falwell’s brand of theocracy.
But while Liberty University has been training “Christian warriors,” in the old figurative sense, since Falwell founded the college in 1971, the school has lately embarked on training actual Christian warriors with its new drone program. Though the program only began in earnest in 2013, says the associate dean, retired Air Force Col. John Marselus, Liberty has been lucky to be recently chosen as one of only six test sites in the U.S. for drone training, and the program is proud that just last month one of its true believers became a Predator drone pilot, despite the program’s infancy.
Liberty boasts that it is “one of America’s top military-friendly schools,” and the university’s School of Aeronautics is headed by what appear to be accomplished retired military officers who share Falwell’s fundamentalist vision. Speaking in densely Christian rhetoric, Col. Marselus celebrates the selection of Liberty as a test and training site. “Despite this lump of clay that is talking right now, God has blessed us immensely,” he said. “All the glory and honor goes to him,” which reads a bit like the Christianist rendering of “Allahu Akbar.”
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Dave Young, dean of the aeronautics school, asserts the necessary religious component of the training. “Our mission is to produce graduates who are not only skilled,“ he says, “but who are going to go out in the world as strong Christians.”
“We want to have graduates serving the Lord in this area of aviation,” says Marselus.
So which Lord are they serving when they steer invisible killers in the skies over the Muslim world? Falwell and his university are part of the dominionist wing of American Christianity, which preaches that believers must gain control of the centers of political and cultural power. Theocracy, in short.
Falwell was not a preacher of the Beatitudes; he was a preacher of power. Falwell was able to locate the authority for white, straight, American, male power in a fundamentalist reading of scripture, thus rendering progressive positions on virtually every domestic political issue of the last six decades not merely disagreements, but sinful transgressions against God. Falwell opposed Brown vs Board of Education on religious grounds, called LGBT Americans “brute beasts” to be annihilated by God, and urged his flock to support the South African Apartheid government during the 1980s, again on religious grounds. While still chancellor of Liberty in 2001, he infamously blamed the 9/11 attacks on "the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America." He continued, "I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.’"
But that power granted by Falwell’s God to control the domestic sphere according to Christian fundamentalism is exceeded by the necessity of making war on enemies and infidels. Falwell--again, while chancellor of Liberty--wrote a column in support of President Bush’s Iraq invasion, titled “God is Pro-War.” These are the moments when Falwell sounded roughly identical to the Muslim clerics he opposed. “It is joy to the just to do judgment,” he wrote about war in the Middle East, quoting Proverbs. The United States president, Falwell preached earlier in his career, “as a minister of God, is a revenger to execute the wrath upon those who do evil.”
Drone strikes across the Middle East and Africa have enraged citizens of Muslim countries, with a 2013 Pew study finding staggering disapproval of the military tactic in places like Pakistan, Egypt and even Jordan, considered a friend of Washington in the region. The intensely unpopular method of killing has made America widely unpopular in the region, despite the promise of reconciliation that many thought would mend our perception with the election of President Obama. Glenn Greenwald writes that “Obama has presided over an America that, in many respects, is now even more unpopular in the Muslim world than it was under George Bush and Dick Cheney.”
How might that animosity explode if it were known that fundamentalist Christians were lining up to pilot the loathsome aerial killers? President Bush had to walk back his use of “crusade” to describe the U.S. military effort in the days after 9/11, but not before bin Laden and others latched onto the perceived allusion to Christian invasion of the Muslim lands. The word already had currency in anti-American Islamic radicalism before Bush’s unfortunate usage of the word, though. While that rallying rhetoric might have been inaccurate in those cases (oil, Israel, and geostrategy were motivators, not Christianity), it would be difficult to blame Muslims for perceiving dedicated Christian dominioninst Predator drone pilots as anything other than a Crusade-like attack.
This is where Senator Cruz chose to launch his campaign; not just any Christian institution, but Liberty. It’s not hard to vet a university; most everything you need to know can be learned in an afternoon on the Internet. And Cruz chose Liberty, the most military-minded Christian institution in the world. That’s how you kick off the Republican Party primaries.