I didnt think much when I met one of the evangelical pastors from an Assembly of God church, and he told me he was a former CIA agent. I wondered how he came by his faith. I thought he might have had to reconcile himself with what he had done for the United States government now that he was a pastor for the Lord. But then I met another, and then another. There seems to be a plethora of pastors who once worked as intelligence officers for the worlds largest spying corporation.
Now, Im not a paranoid person, and I dont believe in conspiracy theories, but the thought of ex-CIA agents taking over fundamentalist congregations seems too weird.
Because I remember when pastors were liberal and anti-war. I remember hearing of Catholic CIA agents who blew the whistle on atrocities committed in Vietnam and Central America. In fact, some of the best-known heroes of the left came from a religious background, entered the CIA and were appalled at what they were ordered to do.
Case in point: Daniel Ellsberg. Once a seminary student, then an officer in Vietnam, and finally working for the nations highest intelligence organization, he was ordered to compile all the records of our war in Vietnam into a readable history. Ellsberg got them published by The New York Times, instead of keeping them secret. Otherwise known as the Pentagon Papers, these records showed how America deceived its own citizens and fostered a war in that far Southeast Asian country, of which we are still feeling the effects today.
President Richard Nixon, to try to discredit Daniel Ellsberg, set up the plumbers spies who ransacked Ellsbergs psychiatrist office. Tricky Dick then used these same plumbers to tap the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate office buildings.
Other former CIA agents, like Phillip Agee and John Stockwell, told their stories of intrigue and American meddling in the affairs of other countries. All had a religious background and a penchant for telling the truth at inconvenient times. And in the 80s, it seemed Protestant churches led the forefront of the peace movement. Maybe liberals got religion when Ronald Reagan was elected President, but they opened the church doors to Central and South American refugees fleeing American imperialism. Latin American liberals were being called Communists and were getting killed left and far left. Those that made it to our borders were given sanctuary in some of the churches of the United States.
The FBI hounded most of these pastors and lay people. But it was a time of religious fortitude. The congregations, most of them, stood strong against federal intrigue. And they were proven correct: from Chile to Chiapas, the long arm of the CIA reached into innocent peoples lives.
This may have triggered the CIA encouraging their members to find religion. Im not saying its a program set up by the government. But if I were to write a novel, I would use the premise of evangelical churches getting lots of support from the United States governments right wing.
It was about the 1990s when the growth of these churches reached corporate levels, and television enhanced the conservative Christian political activists. Many of the mega congregations have a conservative bent to their politics, and I would like to know how many of those pastors got their degree from Arlington, Va.
There is talk that in the End Times, an Anti-Christ will show up preaching peace but planning wars. There is little that is more anti-Christ than the Central Intelligence Agency. And some of these churches believe God hates homosexuals and wants us to go to war and kill Muslims. They have little regard for immigrants, and some profess Jesus never asked us to help the poor. If that isnt anti-Christ, I dont know what is.
But it all could be an overworked imagination.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.