Beliefs Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion

DADT and the Chaplains

The Defense Department’s superb report on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell includes an interesting contrast between the racial integration of the U.S. military in the late 1940s and early 1950s and the current homosexual integration. Then, when the military was out in front of the rest of the country, the chaplaincy corps was strongly supportive of integration. Now, many military chaplains “express opposition in religious terms to
allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military.”
What’s changed? Back then, most military chaplains were mainline Protestants and Catholic clergy whose racial views were at the liberal end of the spectrum. Today, the chaplaincy is dominated by white evangelicals–the only religious grouping in America opposed to gays serving in the military. Of course, it would be unacceptable–indeed, a violation of the Establishment Clause–for the government to allow DADT to continue on religious grounds.

Unsurprisingly, DADT supporters in the military would like to wrap themselves in the Free Exercise Clause–as in the following statement quoted in the report:

“If the state favors the demands of the homosexual activists over the First Amendment, it is only a matter of time before the military censors the religious expression of its chaplains and marginalizes denominations that teach what the Bible says about homosexual behavior.”

But chaplains are not obliged to serve in the military, and their religious rights are not the same as they would be if they were civilians. They are hired by the government to serve the free exercise needs of those in uniform.

Those chaplains who told the drafters of the report that they “would refuse to in any way support, comfort, or assist someone they knew to be homosexual” should seek another place of employment. As the report properly declares, if DADT is repealed, the DOD must “direct the Services to reiterate the principle that chaplains, in the context of their religious ministry, are not required to take actions inconsistent with their religious beliefs, but must still care for all Service members. Evaluation, promotion, and assignment of chaplains must continue to be consistent with these long-standing Service policies.”
Tension between evangelical chaplains and the military is longstanding, as historian Anne Loveland has demonstrated in her book, American Evangelicals and the U.S. Military, 1942-1993. The persistent impulse to proselytize has always been at odds with the requirement that chaplains respect the spiritual needs of those whose beliefs differ from their own. The idea that some would refuse to help a known homosexual is no less unacceptable.

What’s disturbing is not that there should be a significant number of chaplains who oppose homosexuality on religious grounds. It’s that they should fail to grasp that their desire to promote an anti-homosexual viewpoint is an inappropriate basis for keeping gays in the military closet. In a country where anti-sodomy laws have been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, where many states and municipalities prohibit discrimination against gays, where civil unions and same-sex marriages are increasingly the law of the land, and where Americans by a more than 2-1 majority support the right of homosexuals to serve openly in the military, the readiness of chaplains to impose their minority morality betrays a strange, sectarian view of the country’s armed forces.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


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  • Those chaplains who told the drafters of the report that they “would refuse to in any way support, comfort, or assist someone they knew to be homosexual” should seek another place of employment.
    They should find a new profession, since they are clearly unsuited to be Christian ministers. For those that think homosexuality is a sinful choice, I get that. I know that they’re wrong, but I understand the basis for their belief.
    But there is nowhere in the Christian Bible that allows these chaplains to refuse “support, comfort, or assist[ance]” to a homosexual person. In fact, as these chaplains are fully aware, the Christian Bible – the red-lettered words of Jesus, no less – makes it very clear that their primary responsibility, even the basis for their ability to enter heaven, is to provide “support, comfort, or assist[ance]” to everyone in need, especially those they may otherwise despise.
    They should be dishonorably discharged from the military and stripped of their ordination.

  • Chaplains who object to lifting DADT because it would limit their free speech grounds seem to believe that their ministry is about them. It’s not. Their ministry is for the people they serve, on behalf of their country.

  • This article is so disingenuous it’s not even funny. Not surprisingly, you continue to spout the nonsense about race without giving the facts.
    It was white protestant evangelicals who were largely involved in abolition long before WW2.
    Homosexuality has been considered perverse and immoral for thousands of years because it IS perverse and immoral. Anal intercourse, which a majority of male homosexuals engage in, is physically dangerous. Any doctor will tell you this.
    What you guys are advocating is tying the hands of the chaplains when they are asked to counsel someone who’s PROBLEM is that they are homosexual(as many people do experiment in this before deciding they are straight or homosexuality), they will be unable to say what they can do. In other words, they can tell them they should give up every other sin EXCEPT Homosexuality, when the person asks what they should do.
    And for the guy saying people in the Navy don’t care, you’re lying. I’m in the navy, and I DO care that after DADT Is repealed I could be punished for not affirming a perverse lifestyle.
    No one is mentioning the huge medical problems that will result due to this as homosexual men are far more likely to have medical issues than heterosexual men. Costs will skyrocket.

  • With a long standing war going on in Afghanistan – and approximately 50,000 Soldiers still in Iraq – doesn’t the Military have anything else more pressing to think about – like maybe WINNING the wars or getting ALL our Troops OUT ??