Saturday, December 4, 2010

Military chaplains and DADT

From the WaPo, describing the Pentagon's Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) report.
[N]o group had such strong - or sharply divergent - views as the military's 3,000 chaplains, who provide spiritual guidance to the men and women in uniform.

The debate highlights the delicate position of the chaplains, who must balance the demands of their faiths with the reality of a diverse military. ...

The authors of the report noted that only three out of the 145 chaplains who participated in focus groups suggested that they would quit or retire if the law were changed. Many chaplains expressed opposition to a repeal, while many others said they would not object, according to the report.

"In the course of our review, we heard some chaplains condemn in the strongest possible terms homosexuality as a sin and an abomination, and inform us that they would refuse to in any way support, comfort, or assist someone they knew to be homosexual," the report stated. "In equally strong terms, other chaplains, including those who also believe homosexuality is a sin, informed us that 'we are all sinners,' and that it is a chaplain's duty to care for all Service members."

Read that again: chaplains stated they would refuse to support or assist a gay person, simply because they are gay. Putative men of God. I find that disgusting.
...The report's authors wrote that the opposition was not insurmountable, arguing that "the reality is that in today's U.S. military, people of sharply different moral values and religious convictions - including those who believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and those who do not - and those who have no religious convictions at all, already co-exist, work, live and fight together on a daily basis."

The assertion drew a sharp rebuke from Christian groups....
How could they rebuke it? It's TRUE. At this point, it's worth reminding readers that there is a real problem with right-wing Christianity in the military, especially in the Air Force.

The WaPo article concludes,
Those who advocate in favor of repeal say that the ranks of chaplains are much more conservative than the rank and file and that their opinions should not prevent a change in policy.

"The U.S. military is not a religious institution. It is a civilian government organization," said the Rev. John Gundlach, a retired captain and Navy chaplain. "My position on this is, if they can't handle this change, they're in the wrong ministry setting."
Too bad this degree of rationality isn't on display in Washington.

The hearings concluded with a divergent set of views from the military brass, a clear preference for legislative over judicial action, and one statement that they were unanimous on: if the law changes, they'll enforce it.


Erp said...

One wonders how they treat members of other religions or none (e.g., Muslims, Hindus or atheists). Or divorced or divorced and remarried servicemen and women.

I note that the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces explicitly allows proselytizing the non-religious in theircode of ethics.

"I will not proselytize from other religious bodies, but I retain the right to evangelize those who are not affiliated."

(Note this is not an official government rule [the military regs seem to be silent on the matter])

So no sheep stealing from others but you can hunt free range sheep. Apparently some military chaplains were upset with this so set up their own organization whose code of ethics does allow sheep stealing.

The major hospital chaplain code of ethics does not permit hunting sheep free-range or not which I think is the correct policy for government chaplains.

libhom said...

Military Chaplains should not exist. They are unconstitutional violations fo the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

JCF said...

In theory, I agree w/ you, libhom.

The problem is, the U.S. military controls where its personnel are (particularly "on the battlefield").

If you didn't have military chaplains, you'd have to have civilian chaplains on the battlefield (submarine, etc). And the military doesn't want to have people there who AREN'T under their command (hence, the whole rigid "embedding" process for journalists).

So, it's a trade-off: religious personnel get "established" via the military (they better include EVERY religion, though, or the courts will get involved!). And the military gets to keep free-agent religious people from mucking about their front lines.

[Perhaps you think there shouldn't be any kind of religious professionals on the front line? Um, if you want soldiers to DIE for the cause, then meeting this need (classically, the Final Confession) has been seen as the price to be paid!]

Paul Powers said...

Having civilian chaplains wouldn't solve the establishment clause issue, at least not if they were being paid by the government.

On the other hand, not providing chaplains (whether military or civilian) could be considered an infringement of the free exercise clause of the first amendment.

Chaplains are free to have an opinion on DADT, but if DADT is abolished, they have a choice of living with it or leaving the chaplaincy. They don't get to set military policy.

What will be interesting to see how the rights of gay and lesbian service members will be balanced against the rights of chaplains (and others) who believe that sexual activity between persons of the same sex is contrary to God's word.

Would it be a violation for them to express an opinion, if asked? Would it be a violation for them to preach a sermon condemning homosexual behavior (leaving aside the moral inconsistency of giving a pass to heterosexual behavior outside marriage)?

On the other hand, would a gay or lesbian service member have some protection against a chaplain trying to actively "convert" him or her to heterosexuality?

Jim Pratt said...

I have come to know several Canadian Forces chaplains, and have colleagues in parish ministry who are also chaplains to reserve units. I don't know what the requirements are for US chaplains, but CF chaplains are required to minister to all faith groups -- especially important in overseas postings where there is not a chaplain for every group represented -- but also to work collaboratively with other chaplains to meet particular needs. So Anglican chaplains are required to assist gay and lesbian servicepeople seeking to get married and to refer them to a United Church chaplain to perform the ceremony, if the couple desire a religious ceremony.

BTW, at least one of the senior Anglican chaplains is openly gay and partnered.

Malcolm+ said...

As a Canadian Naval Reservist, I was once asked by some American service folk: "What does Canada do about 'don't ask, don't tell'?"

I described our policy as: "Tell me if you want. I don't give a rat's ass."

If any CF chaplain were caught trying to pull the shite some of the US chaplains pull, s/he would find their military career seriously foreshortened.