Air Force chaplain quits Southern Baptist Convention over gay wedding

Air Force chaplain quits Southern Baptist Convention over gay wedding July 29, 2012

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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