In the spring of 2009, a cohort of evangelical Southern Baptists under the nom du groupe “The Singing Men of Oklahoma” traveled to the small Caucasian republic of Armenia to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ through their soaring choral music, and inserted themselves into the middle of an ancient but very urgent domestic crisis. The Okie missionaries were not warmly received by the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the central office of the Armenian Apostolic Church, to which 93 percent of the country’s population is an adherent.
The Mother See, as its foreign press secretary explained to the American ambassador, “directed its ire not at the choir per se, but at those who misinformed it prior to its trip by characterizing Armenia as anti-Semitic and ineffective in delivering the gospel…”
The inside story of the Armenian evangelical crisis brought on by The Singing Men of Oklahoma is but one of thousands of diplomatic secrets exposed in August, when WikiLeaks released its entire cache of more than a quarter million communiqués sent between American diplomatic posts around the globe. The cables are mere snapshots—incomplete and unverified utterances of diplomats trying to do the knotty work of diplomacy. Nonetheless, rummaging through the newly leaked dispatches reveals that Oklahomans, in the great tradition of a state founded largely by dispossessed Indians and criminals, have been stirring up trouble all over the world.
When the revolution comes, it may be Okiefied. Oklahoma, as one cable revealed, is one of a handful of states playing host to a Bolivarian Circle, an activist cell the government of Venezuela operates as it “spreads the gospel of Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution.” Chavez’s interest in Oklahoma may stem from when the Venezuela-owned oil company CITGO called Tulsa home. The oil giant left for greener pastures south of the Red River in 2004, but Governor Brad Henry fought to keep the company in state, in what appears to have been a losing battle. Cables reveal allegations that CITGO’s former president and CEO, Luís Marín, bought his “future Houston offices and then leased the space back to the company at an inflated rate.” The company’s vice president at the time was a major proponent of moving the company to Houston simply because he liked it better than Tulsa.
The Sooner State was not treated so rudely by all foreign dignitaries—in fact, Oklahoma may someday be the summer getaway of our future Chinese overlords. Li Keqiang, a man widely speculated to succeed Wen Jiabao as the premier of China’s Politburo—that is, head honcho of the world’s most populous country—has traveled widely in the United States, exploring both coasts and making daring forays into the wilds of the Middle West. But of all the corners of God’s country he visited, “Li said he particularly liked Oklahoma.” Portending a future crisis, diplomats noted that Li is an avid walker. The denizens of Oklahoma might consider making their two major cities more walkable, if it pleases his Eminence.
The Okies’ cantankerous spirit, we find, is contagious. A citrus farmer in Najran, a remote town in southwestern Saudi Arabia along the Yemeni border, lost 1,000 trees in his orchard due to a water shortage and increasing salinity in the soil. The man, a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, called the Najran Chamber of Commerce “a lot of rich people with no idea about how to invest or spend their money.” He then promptly disappeared.
Things could get interesting where the wind comes right behind the rain if Oklahoma passes a truly permissive Open Carry law. Oklahoma is one of several states where knock-off Kalashnikov
‘s are manufactured, much to the consternation of Moscow, which is worried about Okies running guns to Russia’s enemies, namely the Georgians. On the other hand, an AK-47 stamped “Made in Oklahoma” could come in handy for those Bolivarian Circles. Hasta la Victoria siempre!
It has been said that the art of diplomacy involves fucking someone over and then having them thank you for it. To be a diplomat is no easy task. Real and troubling deception on the part of the American government has been exposed in the leaked dispatches, but the image that reveals itself, like a pointillist painting, when one takes a step back and considers the picture in all of its parts, is one of men and women in the State Department working hard and faithfully to promote American interests in a complex and sometimes dangerous world.
One can understand, if not sympathize with, how The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzn might have felt The Singing Men of Oklahoma were plowing a little close to the cotton. The Armenian church was, legend has it, founded by no less than two of Jesus’ 12 disciples and, early in fourth century Anno Domini, was the first Christian sect to become an official state religion. After a spate of arguments spanning several centuries over whether or not, or to what degree, or in what way Jesus Christ is, or was, divine, the Armenians took their proverbial marbles and told Rome to shove it—beating Protestants to the punch by about one thousand years.
When The Singing Men arrived, state-sponsored media went apeshit, declaring that the singers were “out to steal souls.” Over half the group’s appearances were canceled and the national security services issued threats to the tiny evangelical minority in the country, as well as to venues that hosted the traveling Okies. But the mess The Singing Men stepped into, cables released by WikiLeaks reveal, was entirely personal.
Annoyed by the missionaries from “cults and sects”—by which they “meant Jehova’s Witnesses, Mormons, Adventists, etc.”—Armenia criminalized proselytizing. Over the radio, the leader of the country’s small evangelical community called The Mother See “an historical relic,” and the comment enraged the Armenian Church. Once- cordial relations between the Evangelicals and Apostolics deteriorated—just in time for the arrival of a band of singing missionaries from Oklahoma. Not unlike the American diplomats, whose secret and mostly above-the-board dealings have been revealed to the world, when The Singing Men of Oklahoma entered a hotbed of ancient sectarian conflict, the crisis they seemed to have brought with them was, the cables reveal, waiting there for them when they arrived.