Texas religious folk weigh in on chaplains’ concerns about repealing DADT
December 7th, 2010
The Dallas Morning News asked a broad variety of religious leaders – Unitarians, Baptists, Jews, Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, more Baptists (it is Texas) – about their views on the difficulties that some military chaplains have expressed about repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Specifically, they were asked to address the opinions of Rev. Douglas E. Lee.
Here were their responses:
KATIE SHERROD, Progressive Episcopalian activist and independent writer/producer, Fort Worth
As to the military chaplains, how do these pastors handle the conflict between “Thou shalt not kill” and the often open and widespread killing of innocents during modern warfare? Seems to me that’s a much bigger contradiction than dealing with someone who is attracted to and/or loves someone of the same gender.
CYNTHIA RIGBY, W.C. Brown Professor of Theology, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Chaplains who believe homosexual sex is sinful are not being asked to change what they believe. They are, however, being asked to honor the fact that not all people of faith think the same way by listening, understanding, counseling, and leading worship in ways that model compassion and welcome into fellowship those who strongly disagree. If a clergy person is not gifted at honoring others’ positions, he or she is not called to the particular vocation of being a military chaplain and should seek a ministerial calling elsewhere.
Perhaps chaplains who are more socially conservative would be helped by seeking counsel from their more liberal counterparts, who are well practiced at negotiating the space between their own convictions and military policy. Military chaplains who do NOT believe homosexual sex is a sin have, for decades, been expected to be careful about how they represent their views, especially in the face of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. While the repeal of the policy will be a challenge for some chaplains, it should be remembered that it would be a burden lifted from the consciences of many others.
DANIEL KANTER, Senior Minister, First Unitarian Church of Dallas
My personal approach, and the one I learned as a hospital chaplain, is to meet people where they are to address their deepest needs and struggles. I know that it is possible that my beliefs can get in the way of the healing that can take place in a counseling setting. As clergy we first must aim to make room for people to be who they are as children of God and only in a distant second do we introduce our personal values into the room.
JOE CLIFFORD, Senior Pastor, Head of Staff, First Presbyterian Church of Dallas
If chaplains paid by the government feel they cannot proclaim what their faith believes, then perhaps they should not work for a government that prohibits establishing any one religion.
JAMES DENISON, Theologian-in-Residence, Texas Baptist Convention and President, Center for Informed Faith
At the same time, military chaplains are commissioned to serve people of all faith commitments and none, whether they agree with their beliefs or not. They can serve alongside and counsel soldiers who do not obey biblical teachings without endorsing such behavior. The same seems true regarding sexual activity, whether homosexual or heterosexual.
As a pastor, I never required those I counseled to believe everything I believed, or felt I endorsed their actions by trying to help them. The darker the room, the greater the need for light.
MIKE GHOUSE, President, Foundation for Pluralism, Dallas
When an individual opts to serve our country to defend our freedom, we must honor that individual to the highest degree and treat him or her with dignity. We should never forget that they are defending every American and not just an exclusive club. Those of us who serve them ought not to forget to reciprocate them with equal enthusiasm and unrestrictive honor.
The Army Chaplains are employees of the nation to serve the men and women who defend our nation, and they ought to serve every defender of our nation regardless of their sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, faith, language or appearance.
LARRY BETHUNE, Senior Pastor, University Baptist Church, Austin Texas
The religious liberty of the troops and their protection from discrimination when seeking spiritual care is at least as important as the protection of the spiritual liberty of the chaplains.
Chaplains will not be required to teach or counsel against their beliefs unless their beliefs compel them to discriminate or disrespect the religious liberty of others, in which case they need to choose a sectarian setting rather than a chaplaincy setting for their ministry. As the U.S. Coast Guard Academy white paper referenced in the Pentagon’s implementation plan (page 9) suggests: “…religious plurality is a core American value.”
DARRELL BOCK, Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary
They have to do the best they can to honor their convictions and yet try to serve those they are called to minister to. This is not always easy, but the military is full of such situations given the mix of faiths that are present.
Counselors often find themselves dealing with situations where they would act differently. Still, one can always listen and give advice knowing it may or may not be heeded. That is about all one can do.
GEOFFREY DENNIS, Rabbi, Congregation Kol Ami in Flower Mound; faculty member, University of North Texas Jewish Studies Program
It is well past time for this discriminatory aspect of our armed forces to disappear. Gay men serve effectively in other armed forces, such as the IDF. I know some personally.
As a police chaplain who has worked with people in crisis from diverse faiths, I don’t see how the inclusion of gay troops should present any additional difficulty that is not already faced by military chaplains who counsel soldiers, given that many soldiers engage in behaviors that a given chaplain may not morally approve of.
Lots of soldiers, for example, drink alcohol socially. Are the current hard-shell Baptist and Muslim chaplains simply unable to counsel such troops without getting entangled in arguments about liquor?
WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
Anyone who serves as a military chaplain chooses that career path in ministry. No chaplains today are drafted. Therefore, every chaplain knows that proclaiming the faith and providing pastoral care must be professionally done without insisting that one’s own personal or denominational preferences will prevail.
It would be outside the role of chaplains, in a military that allows gay and lesbian personnel to serve, for the chaplain to condemn or deplore the orientation of a uniformed person’s sexuality. If a chaplain finds someone’s sexual orientation to be offensive or unacceptable theologically, the chaplain must arrange for a less offended colleague to offer ministerial care. Or the offended chaplain must consider finding another venue for exercising her or his call to ministry.
Ya know, if the Texas Baptists really aren’t seeing this as a hardship for chaplains, well then I really don’t think that religious liberty is at stake.