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Christian Right Activist Blasts Medal of Honor as 'Feminized,' Sparks Fury

3 years ago
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While a divided nation last Tuesday finally rallied around one bright shining moment of patriotic glory -- President Obama's awarding of the Medal of Honor to Afghan hero Army Sgt. Salvatore Giunta -- a popular right-wing Christian commentator sharply split opinions even within his own camp. He blasted the award as "feminized" because it honors Giunta for saving his comrades rather than killing the enemy.

The Army's official citation details how Giunta "exposed himself to withering enemy fire" during a daring effort to engage the enemy and extract his wounded comrades from an ambush. But Bryan Fischer, a columnist for the American Family Association who has often provoked headlines and consternation with his commentaries, read the narrative as hardly the sort of thing American soldiers were once known for.

President Obama awards Medal of Honor to Army Sgt. Salvatore Giunta"When we think of heroism in battle, we used the think of our boys storming the beaches of Normandy under withering fire, climbing the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc while enemy soldiers fired straight down on them, and tossing grenades into pill boxes to take out gun emplacements," wrote Fischer, director of issue analysis for the AFA, a longtime lobby on the Christian right. "That kind of heroism has apparently become passé when it comes to awarding the Medal of Honor. We now award it only for preventing casualties, not for inflicting them."

"So the question is this: when are we going to start awarding the Medal of Honor once again for soldiers who kill people and break things, so our families can sleep safely at night?" he asked.

Fischer based his claim on a line in a column in The Wall Street Journal by William McGurn, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. In the midst of his high praise for Giunta's heroism, McGurn noted that rather than "Rambos decorated for great damage inflicted on the enemy," every Medal of Honor awarded from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "has been for an effort to save life."

In fact, that's not exactly the case. The official account of the first Medal of Honor given for service in Iraq, to Army Sgt. First Class Paul R. Smith, shows how, among other courageous acts, Smith "braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons," losing his life in the process."

But such details didn't stop Fischer from asserting that "We have feminized the Medal of Honor" -- a claim that sparked a string of fierce criticisms on the blog post that are continuing.

"Your artciles [sic] reek of ignorance and evangelical stupidity," said one of the first commenters.

"What utterly disgusting, false and un-Christian drivel," said one of the most recent.

Fischer is hardly one to slink away under hostile fire, as he told me after a post last month in which he said that the firefighters in South Fulton, Tennessee did "the Christian thing" by letting a family's house burn because they were delinquent on their $75 annual fire protection fee.

That was the column that had generated the most outrage among all of Fischer's writings, until the Medal of Honor article. But in characteristic fashion, Fischer wasn't retreating. In two follow-up posts he pointed out that he believed Giunta did deserve the award, and that the media "so badly twisted and distorted my words that they are accusing me of saying the exact opposite of what I actually said."

My point in all this is that we appear to have reached a point in awarding the MOH that we are squeamish about awarding to those who "take the hill" as well as awarding to those who throw themselves on a grenade to save their comrades.

Fischer reiterated his central criticism that "our culture has become so feminized that we have become squeamish at the thought of the valor that is expressed in killing enemy soldiers through acts of bravery."

Indeed, while Fischer's column irked many of his allies, his views are in keeping with a strain of conservative American Christianity that frets about the "feminization" of the faith as evidenced by the widespread emphasis on God's love and mercy rather than his anger and punishment, for example. And some such Christian conservatives are also concerned about efforts to accept gay clergy and to portray Jesus as a passive, wimpy victim rather than a tough-guy martyr like the Messiah portrayed in Mel Gibson's movie, "Passion of the Christ."

"Jesus' act of self-sacrifice would ultimately have been meaningless -- yes, meaningless -- if he had not inflicted a mortal wound on the enemy while giving up his own life," Fischer wrote in his original column on Giunta's Medal of Honor. "The cross represented a cosmic showdown between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, and our commanding general claimed the ultimate prize by defeating our unseen enemy and liberating an entire planet from his bondage."

With repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy still possible during the lame duck session of Congress after Thanksgiving, it's likely that Fischer -- and others -- will have plenty of other opportunities to make their point, and perhaps with more support from their own troops on the religious right.

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