Chaplain questions older than DADT

Allow me to start with some personal confessions before I take a look at the following CNN.com news feature about the debates about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the state of chaplains in the U.S. military.

First of all, for the past week or so I have not been wading in the mainstream media as much as usual — due to the rapid decline and death of my mother in Texas. It may take me a few days to get back up to speed.

Second, the author of the following report — Eric Marrapodi — is someone I have known for a year or so, because I cooperated in some of the early blogging discussions that led to the creation of the CNN Belief Blog. I did not, however, have any conversations with him about this story.

Third, this post is built on my long-term interests in the church-state debates that have raged around the wider issue of chaplains (approved by religious organizations and answering to them) working for the state and the military in the first place. This is an astonishingly complex subject and has been for a long time. Controversies about the behavior and rights of chaplains are not new.

Finally, I am well aware that there are people who insist that there is no conflict between religious liberty and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and that, as a result, they believe that the MSM does not need to cover the views of those who believe a conflict exists. However, there are two sides of the debate and, once again, the goal of the mainstream press is to accurately report the views on both sides. There are major religious institutions, including leaders in America’s two largest religious flocks, who are worried about potential — stress, potential — results of repeal. Click here for my Scripps Howard News Service column about all of that.

This brings us to Marrapodi’s CNN.com report. It focuses on the fact that the status of military chaplains was addressed in the Pentagon report on DADT and the fact that, once again, people are arguing about the results. Here’s the opening of the story:

The Pentagon’s long-awaited study on its policy against gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military found that repeal of the controversial policy would face resistance from some service members on religious grounds, but that repeal would not require anyone to change their personal views or religious beliefs.

“Some feared repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell might limit their individual freedom of expression and free exercise of religion, or require them to change their personal beliefs about the morality of homosexuality,” the report says. “The views expressed to us in these terms cannot be downplayed or dismissed.”

Once again, the story says that, in the view of the authors of the pro-repeal report, soldiers will not have to change their religious beliefs. However, what about expressions of those beliefs? No limits? That’s where the debates continue behind the scenes.

The main thing that I want to note in this CNN.com report is a block of material near the end that gets right to the heart of the matter. This section is must reading for journalists and others interested in understanding why this debate is — in terms of public coverage — just getting started. No matter what happens in the lame-duck Congress, reporters can expect hearings in the new House of Representatives on the potential — again, potential — effects of DADT repeal on religious liberty, both for soldiers (liberal and conservative) and chaplains (liberal and conservative).

Read the following very carefully:

A religious group or denomination that is recognized by the military must endorse a clergy member to serve as a chaplain. The report says they reached out to “approximately 200 ecclesiastical endorsing agencies that endorse military chaplains, to gauge the likelihood of continued endorsement in the event of repeal.” If a religious group or denomination pulls its endorsement for a chaplain that individual can no longer serve in the U.S. military.

The report says they received written responses from 77 of the groups they contacted, but those 77 groups represented over 70 percent of the chaplains in the armed forces. They found that “most expressed opposition to a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, based primarily on theological objections to homosexuality. However, none stated that it would withdraw its endorsements for military chaplains if the law were repealed.”

It would be good to know (a) which religious groups were contacted and which ones were not and (b) which groups were contacted and elected not to respond.

Also, it’s crucial that few if any religious leaders have, in the past year or two, suggested that mere repeal would lead to an exodus by chaplains. That isn’t the issue. Thus, read on:

Despite the fact they would not pull their endorsements for chaplains, “A significant portion of the respondents did suggest that a change in policies resulting in chaplains’ free exercise of religion or free speech rights being curtailed would lead them to withdraw their endorsement,” the report said.

In other words, the issue is what happens when traditional religious beliefs on sexuality are expressed in public or in one-on-one ministry.

Truth is, this is where the DADT conflict assumes the form of previous debates about the rights of soldiers to sympathetic chaplains and the rights of chaplains to be true to their ordination vows, in terms of the rites they perform and the doctrines that they publicly advocate or reject.

Thus, read on and prepare to come back to this point and read the following paragraph again:

“Existing regulations state that chaplains ‘will not be required to perform a religious role … in worship services, command ceremonies, or other events, if doing so would be in variance with the tenets or practices of their faith.’ At the same time, regulations state that ‘Chaplains care for all Service members, including those who claim no religious faith, facilitate the religious requirements of personnel of all faiths, provide faith-specific ministries, and advise the command.’ “

You can see the shape of the debates.

Chaplains are not required to do things that violate their ordination vows. However, some have insisted that their careers are negatively affected if they constantly decline, for example, to pray in public events that would (to avoid offending soldiers of other faiths) require them to drop references to the Christian Trinity or to Jesus Christ.

Chaplains are required to care for all soldiers. But what about the doctrinal content of this care?

Does this mean caring for soldiers in ways that please all of the soldiers? What if the chaplain declines to provide certain rites or reassurances that are requested by a serviceperson? What if a traditional Catholic priest hears the confession of a Catholic soldier — gay or straight — who is in a sexual relationship that violates the Church’s teachings and tells this believer that he or she must repent? Does the soldier have the right to protest, saying that the chaplain has declined to show proper care and respect? Has the chaplain violated the soldier’s rights? Will this conflict help the priest when it is time for a promotion?

Now, go back to that passage on the rights and responsibilities of chaplains. Read it again.

Stay tuned. This is not a new story and it isn’t just about sexuality. It’s about doctrine and the rights of soldiers, the rights of chaplains and what happens when the two clash.

Print Friendly

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.

  • Toronto Guy

    Interesting question. Isn’t it a secondary concern relative to the civil rights issue that’s the centre of so much debate, i.e. a secondary issue to consider after the change?

    • http://www.mikehickerson.com Micheal Hickerson

      I’m confused, Toronto Guy. Are you saying that free exercise of religion is not a civil right?

  • Evanston2

    I served 22 years in the Marines, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Every year we had mandatory training that we called “EEO” training though it continually expanded in scope and its title changed with the latest fashion. Anyway, the whole notion that you’ll be free to have a religious belief worthy of the name (i.e., something more than a mild or whimsical preference) is ludicrous. Because if you express or act on that belief, you will be prosecuted. Please know that there is no such thing as a “private” action in the military, you may be prosecuted for violating EEO policy even when “off duty.” I belabor the point because I’ve seen many articles on DADT repeal and even the conservative press ducks the issue of religious belief. The unstated assumption, I believe, is that the military culture will be “status quo, plus” with repeal of DADT. That is, the same types of people will join and remain in the military, plus those who were excluded or offended by DADT who would otherwise have served. I don’t know how many 60 Minutes style shows I’ve seen over the years questioning the effectiveness of weapons systems, or military strategy, etc. I wish the press would bring some of that same skepticism to this issue, but that would probably require genuine courage. Y’all have your own Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: I shouldn’t ask for coverage of religious issues because journalists won’t tell about it.

    • Marie

      What is EEO?

      • Dave

        Equal Employment Opportunity

  • Confused correspondent

    Correct me if I’m wrong, aren’t evangelical Christian chaplains currently ministering in a U.S. military that includes Mormons, Muslims, Jews, atheists, pagans, etc. — folks whose beliefs they directly oppose — to serve openly? Aren’t Catholic chaplains ministering in a military that has soldiers who are divorced, use birth control, etc.? I could go on.

    So, why draw the line at openly gay soldiers?

    • Marie

      The question isn’t wether current chaplains will be able to minister to individuals who’s beliefs are in direct opposition to their own. That is only half the concern. The article states that non of the religious institutions that were contacted and responded stated that they would remove chaplains. You need to look at the concern they did have. “a change in policies resulting in chaplains’ free exercise of religion or free speech rights being curtailed would lead them to withdraw their endorsement.” The issue in this debate is wether or not chaplains will be allowed to treat homosexual soldiers the same way they would treat any other soldier who’s personal beliefs conflicted with the faith tradition that chaplain represents. That is the big question.

    • Marie

      The question isn’t wether current chaplains will be able to minister to individuals who’s beliefs are in direct opposition to their own. That is only half the concern. The article states that non of the religious institutions that were contacted and responded stated that they would remove chaplains. You need to look at the concern they did have. “a change in policies resulting in chaplains’ free exercise of religion or free speech rights being curtailed would lead them to withdraw their endorsement.” The issue in this debate is wether or not chaplains will be allowed to treat homosexual soldiers the same way they would treat any other soldier who’s personal beliefs conflicted with the faith tradition that chaplain represents. That is the big question.

    • Anonymous

      I didn’t draw the line there. That’s the point of the post.

      • Evanston2

        Looks like ADM Mullen is addressing the rights question: “Should repeal occur, some soldiers and Marines may want separate shower facilities. Some may ask for different berthing. Some may even quit the service,” Mullen said. “We’ll deal with that.”
        So finally the press is being dragged into mentioning the conflict of rights (religious, etc. vs. sexual). We’ll see if they really explore these issues with the chaplains, etc. or if they’re content to quote just one viewpoint.
        http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/12/02/mullen-troops-balk-change-gay-service-policy-job/

      • Evanston2

        Looks like ADM Mullen is addressing the rights question: “Should repeal occur, some soldiers and Marines may want separate shower facilities. Some may ask for different berthing. Some may even quit the service,” Mullen said. “We’ll deal with that.”
        So finally the press is being dragged into mentioning the conflict of rights (religious, etc. vs. sexual). We’ll see if they really explore these issues with the chaplains, etc. or if they’re content to quote just one viewpoint.
        http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/12/02/mullen-troops-balk-change-gay-service-policy-job/

  • John M.

    Terry,

    Condolences on your mother.

    -John

    • dalea

      My condolences also. Loosing a mother is a fearful event. Best, Dale

      • John Willard

        Tmatt,

        Memory Eternal!

        • Dave

          Terry:

          You have my condolences, too. I’m sorry I pestered you about a computer problem with GetReligion that was all on my end.

  • Jerry

    However, there are two sides of the debate

    Actually that’s a false dichotomy since there are more than two opposing sides. For example: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20101201/rel-religion-today/ and, perhaps a classic example http://courageman.blogspot.com/2010/11/what-ive-been-taught-about-condoms.html The later is from a gay Catholic who describes gay sex as “stumbling” and goes on to write in regard to condoms:

    These conversations with priests took place in circumstances where fidelity to the Church’s teaching on sexuality can be presumed all around and such theological detail-sweating is appropriate. And the priests both know that I’m quite well educated, theologically literate and devout enough to care about i-dotting and t-crossing.

    So it’s accurate to write, as you did, that there is a potential for an issue. But that potential will play out against a more complex reality than two sides in conflict. I don’t know how many people who are gay believe that gay sex is sinful, but those people too are part of the picture.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, you’re right on that. That was part of the Law School case out at the University of California.

  • St. Nikao

    Another way to look at the chaplains’ dilemma is to ask if homosexuality is a religion, a philosophy that requires a separate or different kind of ministry?
    Does having same-sex attraction make a person a separate and exempt from the mandates of Scripture, a victim, a possessor of special needs and considerations?
    Do homosexuals merit special protections, affirmative actions so that other people must sacrifice their freedoms, beliefs and values?
    Is homosexuality an indicator of a different and peculiar set of priorities and values? Is it a pathology and a symptom of abnormal feelings and desires?
    Or is it just an alternative form of normal?
    Does being a homosexual carry with it a set of psychological symptoms and values that would create a security risk that justifies the military policy?

    The homosexual ‘gay’ activist army private who copied and leaked thousands of secret documents to Wikileaks because of a break up with a sexual partner and his anger about military policy in regard to homosexuality, had certainly placed his emotions and loyalty to his sexual agenda above his job, his country and the potential security of millions of other people.

    The mainstream media has been silent about this man’s sexual orientation and anger as the motive behind his actions….just as they have denied the religious motive behind the recent muslim army psychiatrist shooting at Ft. Hood.

    The final question is – will this administration allow the military act to protect the security of this nation or will political correctness dictate the outcome?

    • Suzanne

      I’m really curious about the supposed mainstream media coverup of the Wikileaks soldier. If you do a brief search for his name and “gay” you discover that most of the bloggers writing about him (including the conservatives) are relying on two stories published last summer — one in the New York Times and one in the UK’s Daily Telegraph.

      Not mainstream enough? How about CBSnews.com, which had a similar story. As it happens, that story had an Associated Press byline.

      The fact is, you wouldn’t know about this soldier’s orientation if it weren’t for the mainstream media. I’m sure they don’t trumpet it as often and as loudly as you’d like (“Gay Wikileaks Scandal Widens”) or use it as a jumping off point to smear all gay soldiers as St. Nikao clearly insinuates, but they’re reporting the story.

      • Evanston2

        Suzanne, it’s not being discussed in the context of DADT.

      • St. Nikao

        Suzanne, Like it or not, an increased incidence of emotional problems, violence and substance abuse and addictions has been seen in bisexual and homosexual persons that can only be exacerbated by traumatic war experiences. Research consistently shows a need for awareness and treatment of these problems in this population group. This should be part of the program for military chaplains and mental health professionals.
        Other questions in my mind …..How and why is an army private (or anyone of any sexual preference) able to access and COPY all this classified material undetected? Why aren’t there special safeguards in place?

        • St. Nikao

          This is not a ‘smear’ but a statement of the evidence. I just spent part of this afternoon reviewing health journal literature from the last ten years on this particular topic.

          • St. Nikao

            There is another consideration re: ‘gays’ in the military, and it gets back around to increased health risk. According to the statistics released in the Sept. 2010 CDC report 20% of actively homosexual males have AIDS and 44% of those don’t know they have it.

          • Evanston2

            Nikao, Notice how it is a “smear” to extrapolate from the behavior of 1 gay person to the rest in a way that has an impact on public law? Evidently this is an iron-clad rule for people of good will and good journalism, everywhere.

            Well, almost. A gay college student kills himself because he is videotaped ‘in the act.’ A law is now working its way through Congress to supposedly remedy this sort of event. You see, we can generalize from the actions of 1 gay person to smear everyone else and take away their rights to free expression. We are told that this is caring and progressive.

            But to even suggest that we use 1 gay person as a negative example, as one additional factoid in the argument to maintain an existing law, is wrong. Oh no, we can’t do that. That would be a “smear.” I sleep easy knowing the vigilant journalists are protecting me from information that I might mis-use.

          • Suzanne

            This analogy makes no sense. Assuming you’re talking about Sen. Lautenberg’s bill, it does not extrapolate from one incident to suggest that an entire group of people should be treated differently, unless you’re counting people who like to surveil others via hidden video cameras and post the results on the Internet.

          • Evanston2

            The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/11/higher_education_anti-bullying.html
            Lede = “Colleges and universities across the nation would be required to have anti-harassment policies and recognize cyber-bullying as a threat to students under federal legislation introduced today in memory of a Rutgers University student who committed suicide.”
            Really, this one incident has not been used to launch a bill? I suppose it’s a coincidence that the bill is named for the incident in question. And really, this bill is limited to “people who like to surveil others via hidden video cameras and post the results on the Internet”? Uh, OK.

          • Suzanne

            Really? And which studies have you found that suggest that homosexual soldiers are more likely to betray their country or divulge classified information?

            Most of the pseudoscience that conservatives put forward on this subject fails to prove that any ill effects are innate to homosexuality and not the result of prejudice and ill treatment by others.

  • Bob Smietana

    The head of the chaplain program at Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, which I believe is the largest single chaplain endorser, has said they will not withdraw chaplains if DADT is repealed.

    • Anonymous

      Bob,

      Did you read my post? Did you read the CNN article?

      That is not the issue at stake.

  • Ann Rodgers

    Terry,
    My condolences on your mother’s death. My best to you and the whole family.
    That said, I question your example of confession. No one would go to the sacrament to confess a sin if they didn’t believe it was a sin in the first place. Certainly there are legitimate concerns for chaplains who may be called on to perform marriages or do relationship counseling. But I don’t think that the sacrament of Confession is going to be impacted by this (particularly since the priest would be unable to tell his superiors about anything that transpired in the sacrament).
    Personally I wonder if a lifting of DADT could result in an influx of United Church of Christ and Unitarian chaplains into the military. It would probably increase the appeal of such service in two traditions that have generally been somewhat anti-military. That would give the evangelical and Catholic chaplains someone to refer gay service members to.

    • Anonymous

      Well, I think you need to listen to the Catholics on that first issue.

      You are predicting large numbers of UCC and Unitarian ministers who can pass the physical fitness exams/age limits for military chaplains? You’ve seen the age trends in the liberal mainline clergy?

  • Dave

    It would have been interesting to have broken out chaplains in the survey of service members to see what the folks with boots on the ground feel.

  • Bob Smietana

    The other side of this issues are the claims that evangelicals- who are most like to be opposed to lifting DADT–already have too much influence in the military and are infringing on the religious liberties of non-evangelicals.

    • Evanston2

      “Too much influence.” The question, rather, in changing the culture of an organization is “What’s the impact?” Push out the evangelicals and replace them, as Ann Rodgers mentions above, with “two traditions that have generally been somewhat anti-military.” An “influx of United Church of Christ and Unitarian chaplains into the military” might even be preferable. I just wish the media would deal openly with how changing the military’s culture may change its effectiveness.

    • Anonymous

      Chaplains? Or the claims related to rogue officers?

  • http://twitter.com/MRTriplett Michael Triplett

    … The current Pentagon report provides much of the perspective that his discussion has needed. Instead of relying on activist group rhetoric, it focuses on the Pentagon’s rules, reiterates the freedom that chaplains have, and reinforces that chaplains are expected to serve the military by treating servicemembers with respect and dignity. It also points out that few chaplains actually say they would quit if DADT were repealed.

    Those are good jumping off points for fair and accurate coverage of the issue that puts the religious liberty issue into perspective and context, something NLGJA has been encouraging journalists to do all along. …

    • Evanston2

      Eminently reasonable. But such treatment wouldn’t allow for a DADT push during the current lame duck session, so therefore advocacy “journalism” rules.

  • Watchinitall

    As a Chaplain, and with no dislike or ill-will toward any homosexual person of any sort, I still wonder with trepidation what the future case law post-DADT will determine are the parameters of my conduct. It’s not all that easy to tell. The 14th amendment is now the one super-right that supercedes all others. Equal Protection does not mean that the rights we enjoy are equal. It means no discrimination under the law. That will inevitably mean discriminating between rights, and religious expression rights are sinking to the bottom of the list.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X