October 30, 2010

Retired chaplains warn against 'don't ask' repeal

A Seattle News report shows me two things. In it, military chaplains, active or retired, argue against the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell on two grounds.

If a chaplain preaches against homosexuality, he could conceivably be disciplined as a bigot under the military's nondiscrimination policy, the retired chaplains say.
My response: Just because a belief has a religious basis doesn't mean it isn't bigoted.
Clergy would be ineligible to serve as chaplains if their churches withdraw their endorsements, as some have threatened to do if "don't ask, don't tell" ends.
Many religious groups have teachings that exclude certain classes of people from salvation, or preach against the activities in which they participate. If a chaplain is not able to minister to those of other faith traditions — or none — then he or she should likely take up a traditional mono-religious institutional calling — as perhaps some of the retired chaplains already have. Active chaplains have to deal with all sorts and conditions of people, many of whom will have beliefs inimical to their own. There is not enough to support a chaplain for each and every denomination or cult. So if a sponsoring church withdraws its endorsement, that church should find a suitable position for the former chaplain, perhaps in the parish of St Coals to Newcastle, where he or she will be able to preach to the choir until final retirement.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t Episcopal Café

19 comments:

motheramelia said...

I am likely naive, but I thougt that although the military does have Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Protestant chaplains to provide services for adherents, they are supposed to be able to provide counsel and support to anyone.

In years past, a good proportion of the Protestant chaplains were from mainstream churches. I have no figures, but I think that has changed with the end of the draft and there are more chaplains with conservative bent. That is no excuse to use the pulpit to promote hate and injustice.

PseudoPiskie said...

Are retired chaplains out of touch with today's military? My UCC chaplain friend - still active - wants to get rid of DADT. Says it is irrelevant now. Gets rid of some of the best people who are badly needed. Only people who care are older officers and religiously prejudiced.

Andrewdb said...

Father forgive me....

These kind of reports are absolutely infuriating. Chaplains serve in a pluralistic environment (by definition) - they are there to provide religious support to the troops - all of them. If a chaplain is unable to provide that support to an individual troop, they are obligated to try to find someone else who can do so. For example, if an RC soldier needs to say mass, a protestant minister can't do that, but can find a way to bring in an RC priest. Now expand that to non-christian troops. That is the current reality.

Look at this article on Why Episcopalians Make Good Chaplains in the Pacific Church News (Dio. of Cal) - page 14 (the article on page 10 is good too) http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/f572ca78#/f572ca78/14

Further, what do you do about denominations that don't disapprove of gays? What about the UUs, the UCCs, TEC, the ELCA? The chaplains who are opposing this are NOT interested in freedom of religion - they want THEIR religion imposed on all.

I'll stop now. As you can tell, I am running out of patience on this subject.

Ormonde Plater said...

Has anyone ever challenged military chaplaincies on the grounds of the First Amendment?

Andrewdb said...

These folks say it better than I:

http://www.sldn.org/news/archives/statement-sldn-issues-response-to-chaplains-opposed-to-repeal-of-dont-ask-d/

bls said...

"Retired" is good.

Paul Powers said...

Deacon Ormonde:

Yes, but so far not successfully. The basic rationale is that Congress has determined that chaplains are necessary for the national defense, and the courts have traditionally been unwilling to second guess Congress on military matters (the recent federal district court ruling on DADT is a notable exception). There's also an argument that not having chaplains can infringe on the free exercise rights of service members (at least in areas where civilian clergy are not available).

James said...

Mother is correct: In the past 20 years or so, there has been a huge increase in the number of fundamentalists who are entering the chaplaincy in the US Military. We watched them take over the Air Force Academy in the blink of an eye. It's part of that right wing plan of ultimate control of the nation.

Rev Kit said...

To "qualify" for endorsement as an Episcopal Chaplain, I had to state that I would minister to and support all persons of any and all faiths without proselitizing. This was seven years ago, but as far as I know still stands. I adamantly favor repealing DADT, but were it otherwise, it should in no way affect my ministry. As far as I know, this applies to all chaplains.

del said...

Most of you just don't get it. A military chaplain "provides or performs" religious support: a military chaplain "provides" religious support for any and all because of the "free exercise" rights of troops. If s/he cannot help the person due to a different religious faith or s/he recognizers the person needs more help, the chaplain quickly and cheerfully finds it. But, a chaplain "performs" when preaching, teaching, counseling...and must do so in accord with his/her faith-group. The "non-establishent" clause in the First Amendment requires that there be a clergy cross-section available to troops. So, there must be conservative and liberal chaplains from all faiths available. Any policy that would limit the faith-group tenets of any group would be in violation of the First Amendment.

David |Dah • veed| said...

I am not sure that religious freedom guarantees that you will also be necessarily employable by the US military. There are perhaps a number of ideologies which one is free to embrace and espouse that would make one unfit for service.

I cannot imagine that having the padre telling folks all of the time that their GLB comrades are aberrant, disordered and depraved individuals, and are bound for an eternity in the fires of hell, would do a lot to foster unit cohesion!

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

del, I'm not sure what you think some don't "get" but your explanation is clear, and my understanding of the situation. The oddity here is that the complaints are coming from chaplains claiming they will not be able to "provide or perform" if DADT is removed. That is what appears not to make any sense. Catholic chaplains will still be able to "provide" counseling to soldiers across the board (which ought not be religiously biased, as they may be counseling folks of other or no religion) and "perform" RC ceremonies such as the Mass.

The extent to which the military is required to provide chaplains of all sorts is regularly fudged. I believe there was a case a while back about the need for Wiccan chaplains, as a number of military personnel are Wiccan. I don't recall how that was handled, but can only wonder what a Christian or Muslim chaplain might think about "providing" counsel to a Wiccan. That, it seems to me, is far, far more a contradiction than, as is the case in point, counseling a Christian gay soldier about a breakup in a relationship, or some other personal problem.

Marshall Scott said...

It is indeed true that the case for chaplains in the military, as well as in government-supported hospitals, is "free exercise:" service persons under orders are not free to exercise their rights, and to the services provide chaplains to assist. There is some effort made to provide chaplains proportionally according to the religious preferences of those in service. There is some truth that without the draft the religious complexion of those in service has become more evangelical. However, it's also true that the shortage of Roman priests, and fewer applications from "mainstream" churches, including the Episcopal Church, have reduced the number of those chaplains in the ranks. (Rev. Kit may correct me, but that's what I recall from conversations with military chaplains.) And there certainly are bodies that won't certify clergy for military chaplaincy, although not many (and I believe they did find a Wiccan chaplain).

However, there are standards set for military chaplains, and a standard education program for each of the three services that provide chaplains (the Navy also provides for the Marines and the Coast Guard). Indeed, the three Chaplains Schools are all now in shared facilities, allowing more interaction among the services. While they certainly reflect to some extent their individual religious backgrounds, it isn't just "anything goes." Like all others in military service, they give up some of their individuality for the good of the service and of the mission. The problems at the Air Force Academy were addressed, and individuals punished (if perhaps not as fast as some might have hoped).

Geoff said...

It's funny how in these cases (and I'm thinking also of echoes in the debate on SSM in civil society) "religious freedom" is "my religious freedom." The limitations that DADT places on the religious freedoms of Episcopal, Presbyterian, United, UU etc. chaplains apparently don't "count."

I cannot imagine that, under a DADT repeal, any American court would agree that a chaplain could be "ineligible" by virtue of their support for their denomination's doctrine (however incoherent!). If, however, their consciences are so tender that they can only serve in a military context so long as any gay or lesbian servicemembers they might find in their care are closeted, then they are indeed unqualified to do so, and should withdraw regardless of whether DADT is repealed.

Having said that, Her Majesty's Canadian Forces began to allow gays and lesbians to serve almost 20 years ago, and Roman Catholic chaplains have not gone anywhere, so it's probably best to take the hyperbolic tone of this letter with a grain of salt.

George Clifford said...

As a retired Navy chaplain, the newspaper article represents an exercise in fearmongering. The Constitutional barrier against establishing religion gives clergy in the military the freedom to preach and to perform other ministries in a religious context according to the dictates of the chaplain's faith group. Enough is a enough. Don't ask, don't tell promotes hypocrisy in an organization that prides itself on integrity. DADT, as you emphasize, also discriminates against GLBT people for no reason - they too are citizens who deserve the privilege and responsibility of serving. It's long past the time when that doubly immoral policy should have changed.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Marshall, Geoff and George. Two of you have, like Kit, real feet on the ground (or the deck!) experience and understand the nature of chaplaincy -- all the more embarrassing that these retired chaplains should so misrepresent the situation.

Geoff, thanks for the reference to the Canadian Forces. I assume the same is true of Great Britain, Israel, and the other nations who permit gay and lesbian persons to serve without denial.

It struck me this morning how troublesome is the role that falsehood plays (even if it is a "believed" falsehood) in our current political discourse.

David |Dah • veed| said...

It struck me this morning how troublesome is the role that falsehood plays (even if it is a "believed" falsehood) in our current political discourse.

Which brings up another phenomenon that always leaves me cold; the con-evo willingness to allow the end to justify the means. They know that they are lying. And they continue to do so to achieve their desired end.

But it is as if they also do not believe their own theology, as if there is nothing that they should have to pay one day as the consequence of their own deceits.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Amen, Dahveed. I find that deeply troubling, especially recalling the ire of Jesus against hypocrisy.

Tim said...

If a Christian chaplain can't minister to those who are in need and ask for help because their sectarian dogma prohibits it, perhaps they should reconsider their dogma...

else reconsider calling themselves a Christian.