For Youth, for Christ and for Liberty: America's Bonkers Christian Soldiers Save a Borderline-Dull Documentary
Billen, Andrew, New Statesman (1996)
God's Next Army
Monday 5 June, 9pm, Channel 4
New readers start here: when you peruse Andrew Stephen's next despatches from Washington for this journal, you may hear the distant sound of a seal barking. I think I know what it is trying to say. It is asking our distinguished correspondent a question. "Andrew," it barks, "are you saying that America is as barking as I am?"
The makers of God's Next Army never actually asked the question either but, let's be honest, their documentary hinted that the answer was yes. Look no further, it suggested, than Patrick Henry College, an hour's ride from Washington, DC. It was founded six years ago by Michael Farris, a lawyer and political activist, and its purpose is to groom for high office the most brilliant sons and daughters from America's Christian heartland. The ivy has not yet grown around the Corinthian columns of PHC, but the aim, as Farris told his interviewer, is to create a Christian Ivy League college from where the nation's next leaders will be selected (rather than from Harvard, Yale, Sodom or Gomorrah). One day, he hoped, an Oscar-winner's speech would be interrupted by a phone call from his old PHC room-mate, the US president. The feminists got it wrong when they said the personal was political. It's the personnel.
A belief in God may be dumb, and yet, we must concede, it would be unfair to make it a bar to high office. But PHC is no C of E primary school. Fundamentalism, rather than Christmas carols, permeates everything. Ethics lessons are predicated on the notion that morality is set down by the Bible, international relations classes on the belief that God has chosen America to lead the world. At seminars on creationism Jennifer Gruenke, an assistant biology professor, explains away the fossil evidence--to others an indication the planet is somewhat more than 6,000 years old--by reference to Noah's flood. It is hard, in fact, to know whether PHC students receive an education at all. That they mop up in debating competitions is no surprise: the ability to argue that black is white is the essence of the art.
And the essence of politics, too. At PHC you don't just believe in God: you believe in a right-wing Republicanism; that estate tax is wrong because the Bible says "the earth is the Lord's"; that the right to bear arms is the citizen's protection against federal tyranny; that same-sex marriages are degenerate; and that abortion is an abomination. If you are willing to canvass in elections to this effect, your tutors even let you off class.
And that is the most fun you're likely to have as a PHC student. In the first week, you sign, in solemn silence, a "covenant" and "honour code" that abjure drink, drugs and tobacco (I Corinthians 6:19-20); shun obscenity, pornography and sexually explicit material (Matthew 5:27-28); and acquiesce to sex only within the sanctity of marriage (I Corinthians 6:18). …