The Chaplain Corps of the respective branches of the United States Armed Forces have long played a crucial role in the U.S. military. From its inception, the chaplaincy largely served a nonsectarian “civil gospel” catering to the needs of America’s war fighters to worship, attend holiday services, and otherwise receive the spiritual counsel and guidance needed to carry out their duty with optimal morale, good order and discipline. However, the Cold War sharply accelerated the politicization of the Chaplain Corps. Department of Defense (DoD) top brass found it expedient to ally themselves with militant Christian extremists such as the Church of the Christian Crusade and the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade. Under the approving gaze of successive generations of complicit military leaders, ever more powerful sections of the chaplaincy became strongholds for those who sought to turn the Armed Forces into a bitter battleground to win the hearts, minds, and souls of service members perceived to be religiously derelict and, accordingly, branded as “unchurched.” Were blind eyes turned to the clear Constitutional provisions outlawing such DoD blasphemies? No. Not merely “blind eyes.” Let’s call a spade a spade here. Unconstitutional rape of armed forces member’s civil rights is quite more to the point.
Throughout the course of the Cold War, an extremist alliance comprised of military personnel, private and public sector civilians, and clergy used the black brush of McCarthyism to relentlessly and unconstitutionally target anyone not already to the right of Attila the Hun. Indeed, this vicious tool of dehumanization proved to have a shelf life extending far beyond that of the “Red Menace” itself. Civil rights organizations representing ethnic, national, cultural, and religious minorities, organized labor, opponents of fundamentalist (also known as Dominionist) Christian supremacy, and advocates for the continued separation of church and state were each subject to vicious attacks by this modern day inquisition. The courageous advocates of equality who fought for the basic human rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community were subject to some of the most egregious of these vituperative, unyielding attacks.
The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and the recent judicial challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) have provided additional impetus to these bigots’ continued crusade against these most basic rubrics of human equality. Shamefully, the significant lesbian, gay, and bisexual demographic within the armed forces is once again being subjected to a withering torrent of cowardly assaults launched by the fundamentalist Christian gutter-press. The weapons? Wildly off-base predictions of mass defections within the chaplaincy, foretellings of a shattered esprit de corps across the whole of the U.S. Military, and the usual uber-fundamentalist gay-bashing tropes.
For example, last November the ultra-Evangelical fundamentalist Family Research Council issued the ominous warning that “[C]haplains who uphold the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality will open themselves up to disciplinary action, bad fitness reports and the denial of promotions.” The same letter demagogically goes on to ask, “how long will it be before your church can no longer preach the portions of God’s word that are politically incorrect?”
Meanwhile, the Huxleyesque-named Chaplain Alliance for “Religious Liberty” (CARL) endlessly fulminated about the fictitious damage to troop retention, morale, and discipline that was to be caused by the repeal of DADT. CARL is an activist organization of extremist former armed forces chaplains who claim to “speak on behalf [of] more than 2,000 chaplains.” CARL tries mightily to pose as the polar opposite of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the constitutionalist civil rights organization of which I am founder and President.
Craven posers, indeed. According to CARL Executive Director Col. Ron Crews (USAR-Ret.) “DoD is bowing to a political agenda to turn our nation’s military into a social experiment, […] It is time for the American public to say, ‘Enough!'”
Col. Crews’ preference for fantastic melodrama over reality was starkly revealed in a recent press release from CARL. In Crews’ imagination, “It just seems that every time Mikey Weinstein sends an e-mail over to the Pentagon that they just cater to his every whim.” The rabid fundamentalist dogs at CARL have even called for an official Congressional investigation of what they perceive to be my supposedly “unfettered access” to senior Pentagon officials.
CARL will utter just about any falsehood in line with its prerogative, which is to maintain the fundamentalist Christian supremacist grip on our nation’s armed forces. Thus, they can disingenuously twist, torture, and contort a phrase such as “religious liberty” into its total antithesis without batting an eyelash. Such is also the case with their horrendously alarmist forecasts of the “dire” repercussions of DADT’s repeal.
Crews said in a recent statement that “Evangelical soldiers, airmen, marines, they’re going to have to make some courageous stands right now to say to their commanders, ‘Sir, I cannot participate in this type of ceremony because we believe this is a celebration of something that God’s Word is clear about defining as wrong.”
Fortunately for our national security and our armed forces, Crews and his spiteful “klan” of old school, putrid bigots appear to be isolated in their pursuit of a fearful and ignorant witch-hunt of those whose oppressive burdens have been lightened by DADT’s repeal. According to a recent story from Associated Press, chaplains representing a broad range of Christian denominations have reported virtually no problems following the lifting of DADT:
Bishop James Magness, the coordinator for about 75 active-duty and reserve Episcopal chaplains, said he’d heard a common, positive verdict about repeal from his more conservative Catholic, Mormon and Southern Baptist colleagues.
“The whole argument about religious liberty is so incredibly uninformed, and inflamed by some of the very conservative legal groups,” Magness said. “In reality, there’s been very little if any of the services forcing any ministerial activity on a chaplain against his or her will.
There you have it. Once again, the specious claim of a toxic environment within the military that restricts the religious freedom of those “very conservative” (read: fundamentalist) practitioners of the Christian faith has been proven to be the stuff of desperate, outlandish lies and transparent mendacity. The Chaplain Corps deserves kudos for this rare display of professionalism, which constitutes a total refutation of CARL’s fire and brimstone-tinged prognostications. However, the ranks of the U.S. Armed Forces are still inflicted by the unchecked dry rot of theocratic religious extremism and its directly consequential ingrained bigotry.
U.S. sailors, soldiers, marines and airmen are the true guardians of all of our Constitutional freedoms. Thus, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? “Who will guard the guards?” The answer is that this is our collective duty as a people, one that will require that we muster every fiber of our nation’s being. We must forever remain on guard and vigilant to eliminate the continuation of this ongoing molestation and abuse of our servicemembers’ civil rights, and the horrendous victimization and oppression of our LGBT friends, family, and neighbors. As the celebrated journalist Elmer Davis said so well; “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”