About those “21 religious groups” and their chaplain letter…

Timothy Kincaid

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.

Ben In Oakland

May 25th, 2011

not to mention the effects on that much ballhyhooed unit cohesion.


May 25th, 2011

I understand the the RC Archbishop was invited to sign onto the ADF letter, but declined.

Bob lowe

May 25th, 2011

If those chaplains and their homophobic followers suffer discrimination for their homophobic views, perhap they may be enlightened as to how it has felt to gay people who have for many years been subjected to bigotry, hatred and outright discrimination. Those who justify bigotry by their religion represent the highest level of hypcrisy.


May 25th, 2011

Correct me if I’m wrong but weren’t the last round of outraged Chaplains that had issues about DADT, primarily retired and not even active Chaplains? I wonder how many of these co-signers are also “former” or “retired”?

You can wrap their complaints up as “religious liberty” but it still sounds like crusty old white guys yelling “Get Off My Lawn!”

Timothy Kincaid

May 25th, 2011

Yes, Fergie, they are all retired.

Timothy Kincaid

May 25th, 2011

Just wondering…

With a grand total of 28 churches in the United States, I’m wondering just how significant Grace Churches Intenational is to the overall chaplaincy program. I wonder if they even have a single chaplain that they sponsor.


May 25th, 2011

The far right denominations have been increasing putting folks in the military chaplaincy. Most moderate to liberal Protestant as well as Roman Catholic chaplains realize they are in a diverse community and respect the individual conscience of service members, most of the far right don’t. There have been stories in the press about fundementalist military leaders trying to push their religious beliefs on others. The Air Force Academy is proably the best known.
From my point of view, they want to serve in the military, then open up thier minds, if not, don’t join


May 25th, 2011

Just another bunch of holy rollers trying to make sure we don’t have any rights. I’m suprised they didn’t try to get phelps to sign the lying lrtter too.
When are these people going to learn we are here to stay weather they like it or not.
These people are just as bad as the Governor of Tennessee.


May 25th, 2011

Hopefully one day most of those churches will lose their tax-exempt status.


May 26th, 2011

“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.”

Two things strike me as amazing. Firstly that Southern Baptist identity is clearly linked with anti-gay animus. We’ve seen this in their kicking-out of gay-neutral churches. It’s not enough to think gays are sinful, you also have to not-associate with gays in order to be Southern Baptist.

The second amazing thing is how they have to through the adjective “unsafe” in there. They just can’t help themselves! They have to push their pseudo-science. I guess it helps them fall asleep at night if they think we’re harming ourselves.


May 26th, 2011

Thanks for posting this, TK. Your analysis of the points of debate is enlightening; this topic of bigots being marginalized has been a long-standing argument between myself and some old ‘friends’. I’m reading your article over and again until I’m confident enough to use it in my arsenal.


May 26th, 2011

Timothy Kincaid –

Would you consider becoming a member of the following website and posting this essay there as a blog ??


If not, is it OK if I post it there as is?


May 26th, 2011


Obviously, the choice of whether to let you repost his article in its entirety is his and his alone to make. However, as a long-standing blogger myself, the more common practice would be to post a link to the article here, along with a small extract to whet your own readership’s interest in the article.


I agree with your points, but I’d also emphasize the phrase “do not permit same-sex unions” as well. Because let’s face it, they’re not talking about their wish to not perform same-sex unions themselves. They don’t want to permit same sex unions at all. They don’t want the county clerk to perform them. They don’t want the MCC minister down the street to perform them. They don’t want my friend — a Wiccan High Priestess — to perform them. They want their “personal conscience” to become the law of the land that everyone has to bow to, regardless of other people’s personal conscience. This alone turns all their appeals to “religious freedom” on their heads and exposes them for the lies they are.

Timothy Kincaid

May 27th, 2011


Generally, I would prefer that you do as Jarred suggested and either reference the article or quote from it and include a link back to Box Turtle Bulletin.

However in this particular instance, you have my permission to post the entire article provided that you give appropriate credit, note that it is from BTB and provide a link back.



(this is a one-time exception, folks, not a new policy.)


May 27th, 2011

“some soldiers may think it’s forcing them to abandon their religious beliefs or being marginalized for holding to those beliefs”

I would not want anyone that stupid in charge of firearms.

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