About those “21 religious groups” and their chaplain letter…
May 25th, 2011
A news article has been circling about the response of “Leaders of 21 religious groups that provide chaplains to the U.S. military” to the tentative (and subsequently reversed) announcement that chaplains could exercise their religious beliefs in regards to same-sex marriage.
Chaplains and service members who believe gay marriage and homosexuality are immoral might fear reprisal if they express their views openly once the military’s lifts the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, said the retired chaplains, who sent a letter Monday to the chiefs of chaplains of the Navy, Army, and Air Force.
“This is already an assault and a challenge on individual conscience and some soldiers may think it’s forcing them to abandon their religious beliefs or being marginalized for holding to those beliefs,” said Douglas E. Lee, a retired Army brigadier general and chaplain, whose signature was the first on the letter.
Conservative Christian press expressed the letter in even more indignant terms. (Christian Post)
They want to ensure that chaplains and service members won’t be punished if they preach on or discuss homosexuality as a sin.
Considering that the temporarily announced policy was the result of questions from real chaplains about their own rights and abilities, I thought that I would review just what this letter said and who signed it.
Well, it turns out that the complaints really didn’t have to do with real fears by real chaplains. Rather, this is a document written by the Alliance Defense Fund complaining about how allowing chaplains to have religious freedom would hurt their own political campaigns against the rights and freedoms of gay Americans.
Of equally grave concern is the fact that chaplains are instructors of conscience. Chaplains have a tremendous moral responsibility to insure that when they preach, teach or counsel, they do so in accordance with their conscience and in harmony with the faith group by which they are endorsed. When guidance, however, is forthcoming from senior leadership that implies protected status for those who engage in homosexual behavior and normalizes same-sex unions in base chapels, any outside observer would conclude that both homosexuality and homosexual unions officiated as marriages in base chapels are normative. This creates an environment that is increasingly hostile to the many chaplains—and the service members they serve—whose faith groups and personal consciences recognize homosexual behavior as immoral and unsafe and do not permit same-sex unions.
In plain English: if military leadership treats same-sex unions like opposite-sex unions, then those who are anti-gay will no longer have official support for their doctrine. And those who seek to cultivate a culture of rejection and hostility towards gay people will be viewed askance once the military treats all people equally.
And in response they demand that all soldiers should not “be marginalized” for holding and espousing anti-gay views. They should be free to dole out homophobic slurs, to denounce fellow gay soldiers, to mock, berate, and demean gay people in general, provided that all of these behaviors are an expression of conscience based on their religious beliefs.
Which is, of course, nonsense. Anti-Semitism, anti-Catholic, or racist statements do not receive protection from marginalization even when an expression of conscience based on their religious beliefs. Why, then, should homophobes receive special treatment, special exceptions, that others do not receive?
And, as a matter of credibility, let’s review exactly to what extent this letter represents the faith community. Let’s look to see who did – and who did NOT – sign this letter.
As it turns out, the signatories are all from anti-gay denominations. Some, like the Southern Baptist Convention and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod are denominations of significant size and presence in the chaplaincy. But most of these “21 religious groups” are miniscule and filler designed to give the letter a greater representation than it deserves. And some, like the Anglican Church in North America, owe their entire existence, their very reason for being, to the anti-gay attitudes of a handful of malcontents who broke away from their religious affiliation solely because it rejected anti-gay animus.
Who is not there? No mainline or moderate denominations, and not even the reliably anti-gay Catholic Church (which sent a separate letter) or Mormon Church. No Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, or other non-Christian affiliating bodies. This is not a broad spectrum of “religious groups that provide chaplains to the U.S. military.” It is simply a collection of far-right anti-gay denominations pretending to be so.
And this is not about chaplains being denied religious freedom. This is not about an assault and a challenge on individual conscience of conservative soldiers.
This is about one segment of Christendom seeking to impose its will over society, over the military, and especially over those segments of Christendom that do submit to their demands for ‘orthodoxy’. This letter is an assault on the civil and social freedoms of gay people and on the religious freedoms of gay-supportive people of faith.