Air Force chaplain quits Southern Baptist Convention over gay wedding

Mel Evans / AP

On Friday, The Associated Press ran a story chronicling the fallout over the first gay wedding on a military base, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. Chaplain Col. Timothy Wagoner has abruptly left the Southern Baptist Convention, even though he didn’t conduct the ceremony.

A few days before the wedding, Col. Wagoner decided to attend as a show of support to the base community, and to Tech. Sgt. Erwynn Umali.

Umali no longer has to hide his sexual orientation from his peers in the Air Force. He’s also paving the way for many other gay and lesbians in the military to demand a similar level of equality. He met his partner in a church that now considers them apostates. They both remain religious, and having a chaplain’s presence was very important to them.

Chaplain Wagoner appears to have taken the plunge that now seems inescapable for a theology in crisis. The ‘sanctity of marriage’ boogeyman isn’t real. Read his assessment of the gay wedding he attended:

first gay wedding on military base

“I wouldn’t miss it,” Wagoner said,

describing the ceremony as beautiful.

The Military Times picked up the AP release. Excerpt:

NEW YORK — A long-serving Air Force chaplain has left the Southern Baptist Convention after the conservative denomination publicly questioned his attendance at a same-sex civil union ceremony at his base in New Jersey.

The chaplain, Col. Timothy Wagoner, is remaining on active duty and has affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which holds more moderate views on homosexuality and some other issues than the Southern Baptists.

“I find very little that is more important and nothing that is more exhilarating than providing for the religious freedoms and spiritual care of all service members and their families — and will joyfully continue to do so,” Wagoner said Friday in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Wagoner’s exit from the Southern Baptist Convention, which SBC leaders welcomed, is a direct fallout from the repeal a year ago of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that had prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

Gays are now able to be open about their relationships, and same-sex civil union and marriage ceremonies can take place at military installations if they are legal under state law. New Jersey recognizes civil unions, and thus the June 23 ceremony uniting Tech. Sgt. Erwynn Umali and civilian Will Behrens had legal stature.

Wagoner — the senior chaplain at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst — had made clear he would not officiate at such ceremonies, which the Southern Baptists do not condone.

However, Wagoner had told The AP — in an interview a few days after the ceremony — that he decided to attend as a show of support for the base community, for Umali, and for the Evangelical Lutheran chaplain, Col. Kay Reeb, who presided over it.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” Wagoner said, describing the ceremony as beautiful.

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  • Hasn’t Bryan Fischer been threatening that conservative chaplains will leave the chaplaincy over DADT being ended. It looks like they may leave conservativism instead.

    • Isaac

      I expect that there will be some of each.

    • Sili

      Hasn’t Bryan Fischer been threatening that conservative chaplains will leave the chaplaincy over DADT being ended.

      “Threatening”? That sounds more like a promise.

  • magistramarla

    I’m a military spouse, and I want to see this Tech Sergeant’s spouse given all of the benefits that I enjoy – medical care, commissary/BX privileges, base housing, financial benefits, etc.

    I’m happy to see this chaplain being supportive. Now, I hope that he continues to fight for the rights of our military gay community.

    • Justin Griffith

      Visitation at hospitals, dental, child care, compassionate assignments, invitations to pot-lucks / FRG functions… the list goes on. You are exactly right.

  • It’s harder to hate and discriminate when you get to know people. In a way, that’s why ending Don’t Ask–Don’t Tell was so important. Not only was it not followed–service people were constantly pressured to reveal their sexual orientation–but also it’s easier to hate a cariacatured “other” than the good colleague who has your back.

    Now if only they’d do the same to expose tolerance of military rape and support female colleagues.

  • hotshoe

    Ideally, Wagoner will come to realize that he no longer believes in the rest of the original-sin, eternal-torment, good-christians-must-spread-the-word-to-save-the-heathens Southern Baptist garbage, beyond already realizing he no longer accepts the toxic homophobia of the SBC. Although, if that comes true, I don’t think he’ll be happy staying with the slightly-more-liberal Cooperative Baptists. I hope he’s on a spiritual journey which will result in him being a nice Unitarian Universalist. Or maybe even an “atheist chaplain”. Atheists deserve representation among the official chaplaincy, too, and it looks like he is the kind of decent man who could do it.

  • Thanks for this, Justin. I really appreciate your blog and the important voice you raise within the military. I’ve linked to this blog post in my own blog and I hope this story goes viral. Many people are afraid to push back against the rightward lurch of religion, but good people like Col. Wagoner may help lead the way. Thanks for all you do, Foxhole Atheist – and thank you for your service. You serve your country in more ways than most.

  • left0ver1under

    Considering that this was in the Air Force, with the rampant and rabid fundamentalist proselytizing that’s gone on for years, it’s quite remarkable.

    And just for a laugh, unrelated to my comment:

    Cartoon #1

    Cartoon #2

    Cartoon #3

  • Sounds like progress in the right direction. No matter how large or small the progress, it’s the direction which matters, especially when progress breeds more of the same.