Chaplains are waiting to see if this week's end to the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT) policy offers repercussions for their ability to express their views on homosexuality.
Despite others' initial concerns that chaplains could leave over the repeal, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Carleton W. Birch said that only one out of 2,900 active Army Reserve and National Guard chaplains has left since DADT was repealed. "Chaplains have not left the Army over this issue, nor have denominations that endorse chaplains pulled their chaplains, even though doctrinally they have strong views on the subject," said Birch, spokesman for the Army Chief of Chaplains. The military requires chaplains to be endorsed or sponsored by a religious organization.
Birch said that the military will not require chaplains to perform same-sex marriages. Birch's own faith background requires that he not perform a wedding without premarital counseling. But if he does not do the wedding, he finds someone who can.
"Chaplains will continue to serve according to the dictates of their faith without compromise," Birch said. "Even during the 18 year 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' period, any soldier could come to a chaplain about any issue and that conversation is protected."
However, chaplains have told Richard Land of the Southern Baptist's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in private that they dread potential future conflict.
"They're fearful that there will be interference to preach what they believe to be the truth of the Scripture," Land said. "Will they be forced to perform homosexual commitment ceremonies or homosexual marriages? I predict you'll see a significant number of resignations in the near future."
Twenty-one representatives of religious groups that endorse military chaplains wrote a letter to congressional leaders urging action to protect religious liberty as the repeal. Some chaplains are concerned that there will be unofficial pressure to affirm a gay lifestyle.
Land said he does not know anyone who has left as chaplain yet, but he says "They're very concerned and pessimistic. We shouldn't do social experiments with the military as a laboratory."
Others are less pessimistic about chaplains' future. "It's not the worst thing that's happened to chaplains," said Paul Vicalvi, chaplains commission executive director for the National Association of Evangelicals. "We've tried hard to be positive and proactive. We're not troublemakers, but we're trying to do what's right."
"Chaplains may become the peacemakers, I don't know," Vicalvi said. "We do not hate homosexuals and we challenge chaplains as we always have to love homosexuals in our communities and to treat them with love and respect. We do not want to be seen as hate mongers or hateful people."
He said it was discouraging to see the Navy's chief of chaplains say military chapels would be open to same-sex weddings in states that permit same-sex marriage (a statement he later revoked). The Pentagon is reviewing the issue, according to the Associated Press. "When things like that come out and are started by the chaplain leadership, it kind of concerns us," Vicalvi said. "We're kind of playing 'wait and see.' We're saying, 'You're mature leaders, just do your job. Love people and continue to care for those that you serve.' "
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Previous stories on "Don't Ask Don't Tell" include:
Navy's Same-Sex Marriage Allowance Draws Complaints | The Navy's plan to allow chaplains to perform same-sex marriages in military chapels has led to opposition. (May 10, 2011)
Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Moves Forward | The Senate blocks the DREAM Act. (December 18, 2010)
Some Chaplains Plead, Don't Repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell | Military policy on gays and lesbians survives one more round. (September 2, 2010)
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