Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t cover

At this point, it appears that Democrats who are fighting to survive in red zip codes are going to make it to Election Day without a clear resolution of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” standoff. That’s the last thing they needed — a final wave of ads talking about a hot-button cultural issue.

Meanwhile, supporters of repeal are not happy, for obvious reasons. Yet many Democrats who understand the politics of the situation in the tightly contested states probably realize that they have dodged a bullet.

To say that military people are tense — on both sides of the issue — is an understatement. In particular, no one knows how many officers from more culturally and religious conservative parts of America will choose to leave the armed forces, rather than live with the policies that will flow out of DADT (whatever the precise nature of those policies). No one knows how this would affect recruiting in red zip codes.

I, of course, remain interested in how this will change one of the most controversial groups of professionals in the ranks of the military — the chaplains.

On the theological left, chaplains say there will be no change — unless so-called “fundamentalists” choose to flee, which means that the changes will be good.

Religious traditionalists in several different camps — Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox, Catholic — are predicting that troubled times are ahead, with some of these ministers differing on just how big the explosion will be. How many chaplains will be affected? Here’s a hint, coming from the left:

In American Fascists, author Chris Hedges warns of the growing power of fundamentalist Christian evangelicals in the US military, noting that the Christian Right sees the military as a key target. …

Some may challenge Hedges’ estimate that “radical Christians” hold half of the armed forces’ chaplaincies. A New York Times investigation in 2005 determined that the numbers of evangelical and Pentecostal chaplains in the Air Force had grown while, perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of mainline Christian and Roman Catholic chaplains had declined.

The number of liberal Protestant chaplains has been affected by several factors, including the statistical decline of those churches, the aging of their clergy, the declining number of clergy who (after Vietnam and the ’60s) want to have anything to do with the military and the rising number of second-career ministers who at the time of their ordination are too old (or too out of shape) to meet the military’s guidelines for chaplains. Thus, the number of chaplains who — doctrinally speaking — are likely to thrive in the post-DADT military is declining.

The number of Catholic priests is declining, period, to no one’s surprise. This affects one of the largest flocks in the American military and, of course, some Catholic bishops are going to openly oppose repeal, while many try to remain silent and out of the line of fire.

I tried to deal with some of that in my Scripps Howard News Service column this week. This was a really hard one to cut down to my usual op-ed page length. I have had lots of feedback on this column, including notes from chaplains involved in this tense situation. Here’s how the column opens:

The setting: The office of a priest who serves as a military chaplain.

The time: This hypothetical encounter occurs soon after the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that forbids gays, lesbians and bisexuals to openly serve in America’s armed forces.

The scene: An officer requests counseling about tensions with her same-sex partner as they prepare for marriage. The priest says this would be inappropriate, since his church teaches that sex outside of marriage is sin and that the sacrament of marriage is reserved for unions of a man and a woman.

The priest offers to refer her to a chaplain at another base who represents a church that performs same-sex rites. The officer accepts, but is less than pleased at the inconvenience.

What happens next? That question is driving the tense church-state debates that continue behind the scenes of the political drama that surrounds “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

There are at least two strong camps in this debate. Here is what that sounds like in real life:

“If the government normalizes homosexual behavior in the armed forces, many (if not most) chaplains will confront a profoundly difficult moral choice: whether they are to obey God or to obey men,” stated a September letter from 60-plus retired chaplains to President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” they argued, will cripple the ability of many chaplains to provide counseling. “Service members seeking guidance regarding homosexual relationships will place chaplains in an untenable position. If chaplains answer such questions according to the tenets of their faith, stating that homosexual relationships are sinful and harmful, then they run the risk of career-ending accusations of insubordination and discrimination. And if chaplains simply decline to provide counseling at all on that issue, they may still face discipline for discrimination.”

These complaints are “somewhat disingenuous,” according to the Rev. John F. Gundlach, a retired Navy chaplain from the United Church of Christ, the progressive Protestant denomination into which Obama was baptized.

“These chaplains … will continue to have the same rights they’ve always had to preach, teach, counsel, marry and conduct religious matters according to the tenets of their faith. They will also continue to have the responsibility to refer servicemembers to other chaplains when their own theology or conscience will not allow them to perform the services to which a servicemember is entitled,” stressed Gundlach, writing in Stars and Stripes. “Any chaplain who can’t fulfill this expectation should find somewhere else to do ministry.”

How many may have to choose to “find somewhere else”? At this point, one has to start doing some math.

Everyone agrees that the Southern Baptist Convention has an unusually high number of chaplains, primarily because so many Southern Baptists want to do this work. Then there are about 300 Catholic chaplains — about half the number needed. Then there is a flock of evangelical/Pentecostal chaplains from a wide variety of sources, including evangelical and charismatic parishes in otherwise mainline Protestant denominations (think charismatic Anglicans, Missouri-Synod Lutherans, evangelical United Methodists, etc.).

Remember, it’s voices on the LEFT who have argued that “fundamentalists” and “radicals” make up 50 percent or more of America’s military chaplains, those active and on reserved status. And then come the Eastern Orthodox, the Catholics, the Orthodox Jews, the Muslims, etc.

And what happens if the conservatives are right and that any advocacy of traditional doctrines by chaplains is labeled “hate speech,” with offenders either being punished or simply denied the ability to advance in rank? If you read the views of theological liberals, there will be no problems after repeal, unless there are problems. No one is talking about “hate speech,” except for those who believe that conservatives are already guilty of “hate speech.” In other words:

There is no easy way out of this church-state maze.

If “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed, “no restrictions or limitations on the teaching of Catholic morality can be accepted,” noted Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services. While Catholic chaplains must always show compassion, they “can never condone — even silently — homosexual behavior.”

A letter from Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America to the chaplains board was even more blunt: “If our chaplains were in any way … prohibited from denouncing such behavior as sinful and self-destructive, it would create an impediment to their service in the military. If such an attitude were regarded as ‘prejudice’ or the denunciation of homosexuality as ‘hate language,’ or the like, we would be forced to pull out our chaplains from military service.”

So be it, said Gundlach. While these chaplains “worry about being discriminated against, they openly discriminate against some of the very people they are pledged to serve and serve with. If the hate speech currently uttered by some conservative chaplains and their denominations is any indication of how they will respond in the future, we can expect this discrimination to continue.”

These chaplains need to resign, he said. The armed services “will be the better for it.”

This is a story, right? Over at USA Today, veteran scribe Cathy Lynn Grossman is following these trends carefully at her weblog, which I would assume means she is building connections for further coverage on dead-tree pulp.

As you would expect, editors at the conservative Baptist Press know that this is a story. Ditto for the professionals on the left side of the Baptist spectrum, at Associated Baptist Press.

But who else is covering this drama closely? Please let us know. This is a story. Period.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Bob Smietana

    I asked Keith Travis, who oversees the Southern Baptist chaplaincy program about this in June. He thought a few might leave but most would stay.
    “We are not pulling our chaplains out. We believe that if God has called someone to military chaplaincy, that’s where they should stay,” he said.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    BOB:

    I have talked to folks on that side, as well.

    This assumes the liberal take is right, that dissenting chaplains will not be dismissed, disciplined or denied promotion.

    Thus, this is ONE SCENARIO, only. The press cannot assume that either the left or the right is correct on this one. Both sides will need to be reported and explored, as the facts roll in after repeal.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Tmatt – So, what scenarios are in play here?

    Is it a choice between (a) homosexual recruits being “dismissed, disciplined or denied promotion”, or (b) many (most?) chaplains being “dismissed, disciplined or denied promotion”?

    Are (c) both groups performing their duties and not being “dismissed, disciplined or denied promotion”, or (d) all groups being “dismissed, disciplined or denied promotion” possibilities?

    What’s the responsibility of journalists to evaluate the probability of scenarios? Should they report all (with or without probability estimates?), or just (what seems to them to be) the most likely?

  • Hyhybt

    How is this any different than any other case where a chaplain disagrees with a service member’s belief system?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    RAY:

    This is where the math comes in.

    So you have the Baptists, Catholics, Orthodox, Orthodox Jews on the record as opposed and insisting on the right to uphold their doctrines (literally, in some cases, saying that they cannot break their ordination vows). Then you have SOME, not all, on the left saying that those doctrines are hate speech, etc., etc.

    I am saying that there is a story in here. We do not know, yet, what the story is. This is common in news coverage.

  • http://www.cresskillucc.org Rev. David C. Bocock

    I served as a chapel manager in the USAF for over 12 years. In that time, I witnessed chaplains refusing to do marriages for a variety of reasons (e.g., they felt the couples were incompatible, of different faiths, or getting married for the wrong reasons). In each setting, the chaplain was free to say, “No, I won’t do it.”

    Chaplains were also free to perform religious rites at their discretion. More than a few conservative chaplains refused to participate in Gospel Services. Some Catholic chaplains refused communion to service personnel who they deemed lived in sin.

    More liberal chaplains, well…the military loves liberal chaplains because they’ll do just about anything. And, they get along with other faith traditions in a way that some conservative traditions who think the Catholic Church is the whore of Babylon do not.

    When I left the enlisted ranks to attend seminary and enter full time ministry, I was recruited by the USAF chaplaincy when they learned I had become a pastor in the United Church of Christ (we’re the liberal protestants conservatives despise). They wanted me because they knew I’d get along with nearly everyone (as I did when I was a chapel manager) and be willing to end a communal prayer said during an awards banquet with, “Amen,” rather than feeling I have to end it with, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

    The military takes great pains to afford its chaplains with great latitude that honors their traditions and their own consciences. Even when the military changes to accept openly gay persons, they’ll continue to make allowances for its chaplains.

    And speaking of its chaplains, there has always been a number of chaplains who were gay in the military. I served with MANY. Most knew who they were and most got along with them. Those who didn’t were allowed to not get along with them.

    Seriously, stop panicking already.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    ” … they’ll continue to make allowances for its chaplains.”

    This is the statement made by those on the left. It is one viewpoint that must be taken seriously and tested.

    Journalists cannot ignore this story — with many chaplains stating the opposite — imply because this statement is plausible.

    This is precisely the point of my column and this post.

  • Jerry

    Will someone please write a non-parochial (heh) story that covers the situation in other countries (or point me at such a story).

    Surely with all the countries where people don’t have to be hypocrites that DADT encourages, there are chaplains in the military service even conservative ones and they have dealt with this in some fashion.

    Surely at least one country in the list that allow gays to serve openly has chaplains from traditional groups? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_orientation_and_military_service

  • Marie

    Hyhybt:
    The difference is the perception of some individuals on what a disagreement in belief system means.

    Current Examples:
    Chaplin says: “What you believe is incorrect; you should believe in Jesus/Buddha/Allah (insert appropriate name).
    Soldier hears: “I have a different faith than you. I think I am right.”

    Chaplin says: “You are sinning by getting drunk and sleeping around.”
    Soldier hears: “We disagree about proper moral behavior.”

    After Repeal Example:

    Chaplin says: “You are sinning by engaging in relationships with members of the same sex.”
    Soldier might hears: “I hate you. God hates you. You are inferrer. I am a prejudice.”
    Soldier should hear: “We disagree about proper moral behavior.”

    Look at the quotes given in the article”

    A letter from Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America to the chaplains board was even more blunt: “If our chaplains were in any way … prohibited from denouncing such behavior as sinful and self-destructive, it would create an impediment to their service in the military. If such an attitude were regarded as ‘prejudice’ or the denunciation of homosexuality as ‘hate language,’ or the like, we would be forced to pull out our chaplains from military service.”

    So be it, said Gundlach. While these chaplains “worry about being discriminated against, they openly discriminate against some of the very people they are pledged to serve and serve with. If the hate speech currently uttered by some conservative chaplains and their denominations is any indication of how they will respond in the future, we can expect this discrimination to continue.”

    The primary concern in not disagreement with a service member’s belief system, but rather wether or not disagreement is allowed. There is no question on either side of the issue that all chaplains must be courteous about the belief system of others. The big question is wether or not chaplains will still be able to call sin sin according to the tradition they represent.

    My frustration is that I have failed to see a true distinction represented in the press. We get a lot of “If you don’t agree with and embrace my homosexuality then you must be prejudice” and ” Because I have a feeling/desire I must act on it” side. What is definitely under represented in the press is the religious-that-do-not-condone-homosexuality point of view. Though these religious may differ in wether they believe homosexuality is a choice or inborn trait, the common consensus seems to be that, regardless of where the feeling comes from, the individual must choose if they will act on them and actually live a homosexual lifestyle. The alternate is to not act and live a heterosexual life style, if the individual can in good conscious do so, or live a celibate life. Instead we tend to get a simple “they believe homosexuality is a sin. They say this is not prejudice” description. Poor representation makes productive communication on such an impassioned issue difficult.

  • Paul of Alexandria

    Two thoughts.
    1) Re Marie (9), part of being a chaplain is being able to minister to people that are not necessarily of your faith. We have several chaplains in our congregation, and they are sensitive to this issue. I don’t know of any chaplain that would go out of his way to tell a soldier of another faith that would say “What you believe is incorrect”, although they would certainly witness to their own faith if asked.

    2) What is totally lacking in any coverage that I have seen is the real reason for not having publicly professing homosexuals serving in the military. It has nothing to do with an arbitrary, religious “morality”, except in the sense that military members must be moral because of the nature of their work. It has to do with the same principal that traditionally deterred the military from putting women into combat positions: the great damage that can be caused by sexual favoritism. Very little will cause more damage to a military command structure or unit moral than a sexual relationship between an officer (commissioned or non-com) and someone in his (her) chain of command. Whether a ranking member demanding sexual favors from a subordinate, a ranking member providing favors (e.g. non-hazardous postings) for a lover, or a subordinate blackmailing a higher-ranking lover, the consequences can be disastrous.

  • Passing By

    We already know what will happen legally when the military places sexual identity in the same category as race or gender, because it is happening in the civilian realm. The journalistic question is whether this category placement will be questioned, or treated as dogma.

  • Steve

    When one reads the statements by persons such as Gundlach, it becomes clear how pogroms begin.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Steve (12) and Passing By:

    No, that is a straw-man statement. We do not know that, just as we do not know that the liberal view (“chaplains will be fine; only conservatives are moaning”) is correct.

    There are still consistent liberals out there who are in favor of basic free speech/religious liberty concepts, including free association. Take the group Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty, for example.

    You are assuming that the leaders of the US armed forces will automatically act like the leaders of the law school at the University of California at Berkeley. One cannot assume that.

    Journalists at this point cannot assume that either side of the debate is automatically correct. Once again, that is the point of my column and this post.

    Dave:

    Similar doctrinal issues (ongoing) in the chaplaincy corps have not drawn coverage, so I worry for a reason. Meanwhile, it WOULD be good for reporters to study what has happened to doctrinal traditionalists in other military traditions in other lands.

  • Dave

    Terry, if any of those ongoing issues has caused a chaplain to be separated from the service, and it wasn’t covered, then I’d worry too.

  • tmatt

    Darel:

    That is one major potential change in worldview, with possible results on officers, recruiting, etc.

    Have you studied the regions of the nation that provide the most volunteers?

  • dalea

    When you examine the rate at which people enlist by state, the leading contenders are red states:

    http://www.statemaster.com/graph/mil_tot_arm_rec_percap-total-army-recruits-per-capita

    But then when you switch to total number of enlistees per state, the results produce a very different result:

    http://www.statemaster.com/graph/mil_tot_arm_rec-military-total-army-recruits

    Of the top providers to the military only 2 are red states, 2 are purple and 6 are blue. In the bottom 10 states, 7 are red, 3 are blue. Which would seem to indicate that more soldiers come from liberal areas than conservative.

    Additionally, when you look at the racial composition of the recruits (which is difficult since the data are given by service branches, not overall), many of the red states send a disproportionate number of Black and Latino recruits. Which probably indicates they came from blue areas within the red state.

  • Passing By

    tmatt -

    Leaders are not the issue. Why would gays in the military act differently than their civilian counterparts and not sue anyone who declined to provide them a service as a result of not affirming the goodness of their sexuality?

    Anyway, my “journalistic question” was simply a more succinct (and, perhaps, obscure) version of Marie’s comment #9. Will the categorization of same-sex attraction with race, which is the main media dogma at this time, continue to make this, unquestioned, a civil rights issue?

  • James

    The Gundlach letter over at Stars and Stripes seems to have been pulled. It’s still in Google Cache, here: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http%3A//www.stripes.com/chaplain-i-beg-to-differ-1.117373

    One wonders what kind of “speech” the labeling of a religious doctrine regarding sexual conduct as “hate speech” would be. Is it hate speech?

    Gundlach does not make clear which sexual acts all persons should, indirectly, should be legally prepared to endorse as virtuous and blessed by God. If he wishes to make a claim of hate speech, he should be more clear which sex acts he believes person must endorse in order to avoid falling afoul of the law, and enjoying the privileges “non-religious” citizens have.

    Perhaps the editors of Stars and Stripes did not want to venture into this territory and thus yanked the letter entirely.

  • James

    They also pulled the original letter to which the Gundlach letter was a response – original letter here in Google cache: http://www.stripes.com/chaplains-in-no-win-situation-on-don-t-ask-1.115780

  • http://www.ecumenicalcanonicalorthodoxchurch.com Scholarios-Gennadius III, OSB

    I think the most unfortunate result of the repeal of DADT is that this policy may be reversed and come to apply to all conservative Christian clergy and laity based upon the political leverage the proponents have used to accomplish the recent federal court ruling. Therefore, the voices of uncertainty emanating from conservative Christian sources may not be without validity based on the diminishing respect our courts and government have in relation to traditional Christian morals, ethics and principles. Will we be forced to practice DADT as Christians in order avoid accusations of prejudice or discrimination? In other words, “don’t ask what your religious freedom rights are, and don’t tell anyone what your faith directs you to do nor not to do.”

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JAMES:

    That’s amazing (unless S & Sts has a regular policy of articles rotating off the WWW).

    Might be a story in there. Those letters may have been too candid. I wonder if Gundlach requested that his come down.

    I wondered if something like this might happen, which is one reason that I linked to Father Alexander Webster’s piece on another site, not S & Sts.

    No sign of the Gundlach piece on another site.

  • James

    tmatt – googling with “Guest column” site:stripes.com and poking around a bit seems to indicate that letters to the editor all disappear after a while, and the dates here are before the earliest one I can find, so I suppose the disappearance isn’t news.

    I’m still surprised they let Gundlach’s column in. “Hate speech” is a very ugly word, and he’s tarred a large number of his colleague chaplains with it.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blospot.com John Pack Lambert

    There are also Mormon chaplains. Their numbers may not be as large as some of these groups, but they do exist.

    ***

    I think Secratary Gates statement is worth more than either side in this debate is likely to concede. “I feel strongly this is an action that needs to be taken by the Congress and that it is an action that requires careful preparation, and a lot of training,” Gates said, according to the Associated Press. “It has enormous consequences for our troops.”

    The change in such sensitive military policies should be done with deliberation. Whether DADT is a good public policy, it seems fairly clear a policy based on rules about acceptable behavior within the military is a constitutional policy.

    Thus congress should have the final say on this matter. Congress should decide how to act. Congress should make these decisions. Not some District Judge in California.

    Public policy works best when it eminates from bodies designed to make public policy decisions. If DADT is cast to the wind we will have disorder, fear panic, and are much more likely to face the worst possible consequences.

    If the policy is ended by measured, planned moves with a willingness to counsel on questions of whether to counsel someone they are in sin or to refer them elsewhere, and an ability to air hypothetical cases without it being with real people who may really complain or really sue if you make any decision, than the whole thing has a chance.

    This is a decision on the proper policies for military recruitment and eligability. These are policies and thus the mater of the legislative and not the judicial branch.

    The more deliberation and thinking about the issues before they happen, the better chance there is that we can avoid negative results.

    I think Secratary Gates statement is worth more than either side in this debate is likely to concede. “I feel strongly this is an action that needs to be taken by the Congress and that it is an action that requires careful preparation, and a lot of training,” Gates said, according to the Associated Press. “It has enormous consequences for our troops.”

    The change in such sensitive military policies should be done with deliberation. Whether DADT is a good public policy, it seems fairly clear a policy based on rules about acceptable behavior within the military is a constitutional policy. Thus congress should have the final say on this matter. Congress should decide how to act. Congress should make these decisions. Not some District Judge in California. Public policy works best when it emanates from bodies designed to make public policy decisions. If DADT is cast to the wind we will have disorder, fear panic, and are much more likely to face the worst possible consequences. If the policy is ended by measured, planned moves with a willingness to counsel on questions of whether to counsel someone they are in sin or to refer them elsewhere, and an ability to air hypothetical cases without it being with real people who may really complain or really sue if you make any decision, than the whole thing has a chance. This is a decision on the proper policies for military recruitment and eligibility. These are policies and thus the mater of the legislative and not the judicial branch. The more deliberation and thinking about the issues before they happen, the better chance there is that we can avoid negative results.

    ****

    I am here in the belly of the beast (aka Eastern Michigan University) and fortunantly their attempt to use the psychology program as a method of forced re-education is still being challenged.

    The absolute need for Orthodox and Catholic chaplains is unavoidable. Do we want to move to a system where we have a military set up deliberately to exclude believing members of our largest religion?

    Thus we need the chaplaincy. Analogies to Israel fail, since Israel has a drafted army while excluding most Orthodox Jews from the draft. Israel is in no way a model for what will happen in the US.

    In fact no where can be, because no where else are people so sue happy.

    I think we also have to recall that the Supreme Court sided with the military in removing an orthodox jew for wearing a skull cap. The military values conformity and there are those who would use the end of DADT to try and force out the believers. If this occurred by Judicial fiat it would be even more of a threat.

    However Tmatt is right that we do not know. Gundlach is still an extreme view, and I suspect that it would take a lot for Catholic priests to leave the chaplaincy unless they were forced out.

    However the fact that some people view it as offensive that some chaplains insist on giving prayers that are actual real prayers to them is disturbing. Mormons and I suspect other Christians could no more not close in Jesus’s name then they could pray to Zeus or Mary.

    On the other hand Mormons are OK with being at prayers done by others. It is the so-called “liberals” who want to prevent others from speaking the name of the Lord who are the problems.

    I will accept that there are Conservatives who would be as offended at the use of Allah, but they are not one and the same with the group who would never say a prayer in other than Jesus’ name.

  • http://opensourcejudaism.blogspot.com/ Aaron

    “If the government normalizes homosexual behavior in the armed forces, many (if not most) chaplains will confront a profoundly difficult moral choice: whether they are to obey God or to obey men.”

    Cutting through all my other concerns and responses to this article, this quotation particularly bothered me. Coming as it does from military officers. As I understood it, the military is pretty big on that “obeying men” thing.

    This makes me wonder what type of coverage is going to military personnel refusing to follow orders of any stripe on religious grounds.


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