Military Chaplains Forum Revealed, Takes on Religious Bigotry

For five years an ad hoc group of retired and active duty Chaplains have been working under the radar to assist LGB service members and prepare the way for repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law. By filing a brief in support of the federal trial court’s decision in the case of Log Cabin Republicans v. US that DADT is unconstitutional on Monday, April 4, 2011, the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy has become public. It is now fully engaging the forces of religious bigotry.

The Forum is joined in the brief by the General Synod of the United Church of Christ; the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church; the Metropolitan Community Churches; Unitarian Universalist Association; California Council of Churches; California Faith for Equality; and nine retired senior military Chaplains.

It is about time there is a strong voice for people of faith who can no longer stand by and see religion used as a weapon against patriotic Americans who want to serve their country.

In the brief, the Forum argues that DADT represents no threat to the religious liberty of anti-gay clergy, who will continue to be able to preach their beliefs within their congregations. However, they argue retaining the policy is a threat to religious liberty of all service members “by imposing anti-gay dogma offensive to many religious organizations, [and] by preventing military chaplains from ministering to the needs of service members whose faith communities are welcoming and affirming to gays and lesbians,” among other things.

“The right of anti-gay chaplains to preach their beliefs within their denominations is not being abridged,” said Chaplain Paul Dodd, founder and co-chair of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy. Dodd served 31 years in the Army Chaplaincy, including a tour as Command Chaplain for the Army Medical Command. “But more importantly, military chaplains are trained to be pluralistic. They must respect the rights of others to hold and practice religious and moral values different from their own.”

Chaplain John Gundlach, who served 27 years in the Navy, and now serves as Minister for Government and Professional Chaplaincies for the United Church of Christ said,

“Chaplains understand when they are commissioned that they are entering a ministry environment that is religiously pluralistic and culturally diverse. While chaplains have the right to perform their religious duties according to the tenets of their faith groups, they are there to serve all military members without discrimination. For chaplains and faith groups who opposed the repeal of the military’s discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to now claim they will be victims of discrimination themselves is at best questionable. It seems what these chaplains want, is to be able to discriminate against service members who disagree with their fundamentalist religious beliefs.”

In the brief they even go further, pointing out the hypocrisy contained in the arguments of the anti-gay proponents of DADT. These fundamentalists use selected scripture to advance their own homophobic agenda. While they rail against same sex relations as against the so called holiness codes in Leviticus, they say nothing about violations of those same codes by those service members who enjoy bacon, shrimp and Southern fried catfish! And as these Christian fundamentalists argue that the presence of gay and lesbian troops would violate the Old Testament and have dire consequences on their religious liberty, not a word from one Rabbi.

It gets even better. What about the largest denomination in the military, the Roman Catholics? Their Catechism makes it clear that divorce is as grave an offense against natural law as is homosexuality. Catholics who divorce cannot remarry in the church and if they do remarry, in a civil ceremony, they will be in a state of public and permanent adultery. The Catholic Church commands that gays and lesbians, as well as divorced persons, remain celibate. Doesn’t the presence of legally remarried Catholic service members challenge the religious liberty of Roman Catholic Chaplains?

The Forum cuts through the smoke screen. What these fundamentalists really want is to inscribe their faith traditions’ doctrinal restrictions in federal military policy. To them “religious liberty” means the freedom to force service members to follow their anti-gay religious rules.

The Forum on the Military Chaplaincy and the other faith groups that joined in this amicus brief will no longer remain silent. Just this past week, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel held its first post repeal hearing on the progress of implementation. At the forefront of the questions by the new Republican majority was the impact repeal would have on religious liberty of Chaplains. This issue will not go away, and thankfully, we now have a strong voice that will fight for the religious liberty of all service members.

Military Chaplains Forum Revealed, Takes on Religious Bigotry” originally appeared on LGBTPOV on April 5, 2011.