October 25, 2014

Chaplains in no-win situation on ‘don’t ask’

From the article:

Confronted with such a dim future, many chaplains might retire early, resign their commissions in protest, or decline to serve in the first place. More drastically, the bishops, boards or other religious judicatories whose approval is indispensable for clergy to be commissioned as officers might withdraw their official endorsements and pull their chaplains from military service.

In a recent letter to the Armed Forces Chaplains Board, my own bishop, Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen) of the Orthodox Church in America, has promised to do precisely that, if any of the two dozen priests under his care “were in any way forced to minister the sacraments” to active, unrepentant homosexuals, or “forced to teach that such behavior is good or acceptable, or prohibited from denouncing such behavior as sinful and self-destructive,” or regarded as purveyors of “prejudice” or “hate language.” It’s at once inspiring and reassuring as a retired chaplain to know that Metropolitan Jonah has, in the peculiar parlance of troops in combat, “got our back.”

Note: Fr. Alexander Webster is an adviser to the American Orthodox Institute.

Source: Stars and Stripes

By Fr. Alexander F.C. Webster

President Barack Obama’s initiative to rescind the “don’t ask, don’t tell” statute of 1993 will, if Congress yields to him later this year, shred the social and moral fabric of our armed forces. The experiment will also test the mettle of the chaplain corps in each of the military services — Army, Air Force and Navy (including the Marine Corps and Coast Guard). Fortunately for the nation and its military defense, many chaplains and their civilian faith group leaders are beginning, at last, to push back on the issue.

Having taken numerous showers in open bays during 12-month-long deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq while serving on active duty as a U.S. Army chaplain since August 2005, I know firsthand how expendable the personal privacy of heterosexual males (and females, I presume) would be in a new homosexual-affirming military. It’s quite obvious to most Americans why we do not permit male and female soldiers to shower together or to sleep in co-ed pairs in close quarters. That same principle applies to the homosexual parallel. It’s not a matter of “gay rights,” as if a willed sexual behavior has the same moral and legal standing as race, ethnicity or chromosomal sexual identity. What’s at stake instead is the moral imperative to honor the dignity, privacy preferences and needs of the vast majority of servicemembers.

If the president ultimately has his way, “don’t ask, don’t tell” should be renamed “don’t ask, don’t tell — or don’t shower!” Perhaps the co-ed military shower scene in the campy 1997 sci-fi film “Starship Troopers” was more prescient than preposterous. A universal vulgarity and coarsening of military decency may soon await our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, and brothers and sisters in uniform.

The pragmatic arguments against the president’s proposal concerning unit morale, cohesion and readiness are well-known. Not so the following slippery slope. A “nondiscrimination” policy would surely mutate into approval and celebration of the “gay” lifestyle, followed by “affirmative action” recruitment of homosexuals, politically correct ideological indoctrination throughout the armed forces including family members, and, finally, active discrimination against — and persecution of — those who dare to express a dissenting opinion.

The latter scenario figures prominently in a remarkable open letter to Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates co-signed on April 28 by 41 retired U.S. military chaplains including two brigadier generals (James Hutchens and Douglas Lee). Those Protestant former chaplains (soon to be joined by additional Roman Catholic and Orthodox signatories, including me) argue that the normalization of homosexual behavior in the U.S. armed forces would pose a profound dilemma to chaplains similar to that which the earliest Christians faced in the pagan Roman Empire: whether to obey God or men.

Specifically, chaplains from the morally conservative faith groups and denominations — significantly, the vast majority at present — might be cowed into silence on the issue to preserve their chosen vocations or to avoid clashing with official policies or the commander in chief himself. Their preaching, teaching, counseling, worship leadership and pastoral care — so vital to the free exercise of religion by our troops, especially in wartime — would suffer immeasurably, and their particular contributions to a genuinely pluralistic religious mix would be needlessly lost. Chaplains who balk at performing homosexual “weddings,” sharing pulpits with openly homosexual clergy, including homosexual pairs in married couple retreats, or hiring “gay” civilian workers to engage in youth ministry might be subject routinely to the potentially career-ending consequences of a discrimination complaint. Anyone who has served as a senior military officer knows how easy it is to punish chaplains or other subordinate officers who are deemed inadequate as “team players” through a negative or even lukewarm efficiency report, or by undesirable assignments designed to thwart their career progression.

Confronted with such a dim future, many chaplains might retire early, resign their commissions in protest, or decline to serve in the first place. More drastically, the bishops, boards or other religious judicatories whose approval is indispensable for clergy to be commissioned as officers might withdraw their official endorsements and pull their chaplains from military service.

In a recent letter to the Armed Forces Chaplains Board, my own bishop, Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen) of the Orthodox Church in America, has promised to do precisely that, if any of the two dozen priests under his care “were in any way forced to minister the sacraments” to active, unrepentant homosexuals, or “forced to teach that such behavior is good or acceptable, or prohibited from denouncing such behavior as sinful and self-destructive,” or regarded as purveyors of “prejudice” or “hate language.” It’s at once inspiring and reassuring as a retired chaplain to know that Metropolitan Jonah has, in the peculiar parlance of troops in combat, “got our back.”

Nor is Metropolitan Jonah alone on this issue. The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resounding resolution of support for “don’t ask, don’t tell” in June. Meanwhile the 800-member Rabbinical Alliance of America has called for a filibuster by U.S. senators opposed to change in the law. And Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Roman Catholic Military Archdiocese issued a pro-“don’t ask, don’t tell” statement in June that urges the U.S. military to “develop strong prohibitions against any immoral activity that would jeopardize morale, good morals, unit cohesion and every other factor that weakens the mission.”

The battle lines over active homosexuality in the U.S. armed forces are clearly drawn. Supporters of traditional sexual morality have now begun to field an army against the advocates of radical social engineering. Many Americans may not recall that “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a compromise between full acceptance of homosexuality in the military and perpetuation of the traditional strictures against even the mere presence of homosexuals in uniform, whether sexually active or celibate.

This time, however, there can be no compromise. Despite the widely reported insistence of Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the issue is not already settled. Now is the time for citizens to impress upon our representatives and senators in Congress — the final legislative arbiters — the dire consequences of the elimination of “don’t ask, don’t tell” for our military and our nation.

Father Alexander F.C. Webster, Ph.D., an archpriest in the Orthodox Church in America, retired in June as an Army Reserve chaplain at the rank of colonel after more than 24 years of military service. He is a traveling professor with University of Maryland University College (Asia Division) and the author or co-author of four books on topics of social ethics, including “The Virtue of War: Reclaiming the Classic Christian Traditions East and West” (2004).

Comments

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    Fr. Peter Dubinin says:

    As an Orthodox priest, Army chaplain for 14 years, presently serving on active duty, I say more than ever we need our priests to serve within the military chaplaincy. Rescinding DADT could result in a standing order not to preach against homosexuality, but I’m not exactly sure how that could be enforced against groups which hold to the ages long truth revealed by God that homosexuality is an abomination; especially since by virtue of my ecclesiastical endorsement I must uphold the teachings, tenets, rules, laws of my Orthodox faith; already I do not minister the Holy Sacraments to the non-Orthodox, nor to the Orthodox who do not rightly make the effort to repent and strive to live an Orthodox Christian life.

    I have never been asked by anyone in the Army to conduct myself as anything other than an Eastern Orthodox priest. By the Army standard, I am not a generic chaplain i.e., just sort of a religious person, glorified social worker, but rather an Eastern Orthodox priest serving as an Army chaplain by authorization of my ecclesiastical endorser, Metropolitan Jonah (OCA). Should His Beatitude decide to withdraw the ecclesiastical endorsements of OCA priests serving in the military, then I could no longer work as an Army chaplain. If other religious groups who share the same moral conviction as the Orthodox take the same action and withdraw ecclesiastical endorsement for their clergy to serve as chaplains, this would create an immediate morale crisis within the rank and file because the Army would have significant difficulty filling the chaplain vacancies this would create.

    Most of the chaplains accessioned to the chaplaincy are from conservative religious groups; we already have a difficult time recruiting chaplains from those religious groups which do not consider homosexuality as aberrant behavior; I personally do not think rescinding DADT will result in more of these religious groups rushing to fill chaplain vacancies. This becomes particularly troublesome for the Army since the present emphasis on training resiliency has such a spiritual emphasis; without those precisely trained in spiritual matters to be engaged in implementation of resiliency training, the desired end-state hoped for by the military will be destined for failure.

    Understand that as an Orthodox Christian, I make it my business to treat everyone I meet with dignity and respect; I have never, as God is my witness, turned anyone away in need of God’s mercy and help because of their presenting sin – whatever it may be. I also make no apology, nor do I keep it secret that I am an Eastern Orthodox priest. When I am unable to perform a requested religious function or ritual because the individual is not an Orthodox Christian, I find a chaplain of their persuasion and refer; remaining always ready to assist in whatever way the situation and my faith will permit.

    God placed me in the military; it is a calling. The only way I will not finish the course laid out for me by God in the military is if His Beatitude withdraws my endorsement. As we recite in the soldiers creed – I will not abandon my post – the stakes are too great. Peace.

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    George Michalopulos says:

    Fr Peter, your words are strirring and you present an alternative view, that is that most chaplains come from the more conservative faith traditions and not from those that have succumbed to the spirit of the age.

    Two points, ths first is hopeful: the Congress will become cognizant of this fact and pull back from rescinding DADT (crisis averted), or two: They will do so anyway because they don’t care about the morale, unit cohesion, and esprit d’corps of the Armed Services, or the spiritual formation of the individual serviceman (crisis catastrophic).

    Although I’m not in the military nor ever had the honor of serving my country, I believe that the secular elites simply don’t care about the consequences. For one thing, the Michael Moore/Jane Fonda/Julian Assange wing of the liberal elite hates America and all that is still good and traditional about America. They would like nothing better than to see the Armed Services degenerate into a sloppy, slip-shod department of lightly armed and slovenly attired pizza deilivery men.

    Such a devolution would do two things instantly: one, severely attrit America’s offensive war-making capability, and two, make them feel better about themselves. (Let’s call these people the flower children for the sake of argument). As for the more sensible wing of the secular elite (I’m having trouble thinking of someone here), they naively think that the Armed Forces can function in a value-neutral/secular/amoral environment, just like the civilian world (supposedly) does. (Let’s call these people the agnostics.) Both are dangerous, because while the flower-child view is ludicrous, the agnostic view is naive: the flower children know what they want to accomplish, the liberals don’t really believe in God and think that man can live under a completely secular system. Therefore, if they the conservative chaplains leave and are not replaced. it’s no skin off their ass as they think spirituality is just a bunch of hocus-pocus anyway.

    To prove this point, I’d like to ask two questions: how many Unitarians and other people from extremely liberal denominations are there in the Armed Forces and also, how many of the chaplaincy corps is likewise staffed by members from these denominations (UCC, Unitarians, PCUSA, ELCA, etc.)?

    And let’s not forget, just like in Obamacare, Ground Zero Mosque, etc., the liberal elite will do back flips to accommodate the reprehensible beliefs of the growing Muslim population. Muslim chaplains will be given a pass. I guarantee it. Christians will increasingly leave the Service and the Muslim fraction will concommitantly increase. Although this would frustrate the plans of the flower-children, the seculars wouldn’t mind, because in the final analysis, any powerful nation needs a lethal military. A Muslim-dominated military would adequately serve the imperialist needs of an increasintly secular American elite.

    Fr Peter, I trust that you take my counter-arguments in the spirit in which they were given. I understand from your critique that this would put +Jonah in a bind and that you see his concerns in a negative light, but truth of the Gospel places His Beatitude in an position from which he cannot back down. The spiritual morass that is engulfing our country has arisen precisely because of the pell-mell rush to accommodation that previous spiritual leaders reluctantly acquiesced to. The push-back has to begin somewhere.

    I thank you for your service to our country.

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      Fr. Peter Dubinin says:

      George – thanks for your kind words; you speak truth. I do not disagree with your assessment of the liberal elite and the military. I will however leave it to those who do not have daily contact with soldiers and their families to be principally concerned with the “push-back.” When persecution broke out against followers of the ‘Way’ in Acts chapter 8, though many Christians fled Jerusalem the Apostles stayed put; I can do no other. “Truth of the Gospel” compels me. In my opinion pulling chaplains from conservative faith groups from the chaplaincy plays to the liberal elites’ hand; makes their overall objective that much easier. I say, make them follow through by the means available to them through the courts, etc., to attempt to silence those of traditional morals. Why make it easy for them to realize a chaplaincy devoid of any real moral content?

      As to your request for information – across the Regular Army/National Guard/Army Reserve – Adherents:Chaplains; Fiscal Year 09: Episcopalian – 5696:31; PCUSA – 1157:94; ELCA – 1000:64; Unitarian Universalist – 348:2. As for Islam – 2797 adherents:6 chaplains. As a chaplain recruiter, I can tell you at this point in time there are not enough Muslim clerics who meet the chaplain requirements – principally educational – to significantly change the number of Muslim chaplains in the Army any time soon.

      Some years ago I left conservative protestant evangelicalism to return to the Orthodox Church. Why? One reason – I could not abide their misguided response to society; either they withdrew to cloister or so watered down the gospel in an effort to be culturally acceptable they fell into theatrics and show business. Orthodoxy has allows had cajones; pardon any crudeness. If advising His Beatitude, I would permit those priests in uniform who cannot abide the rescinding of DADT to leave the chaplaincy to return to parish ministry and to allow those who are compelled to stay in uniform to stay and deal with what comes down the pike as a priest of the Church.

      George, I trust that you take my counter-arguments in the spirit in which they were given. Blessings and many thanks for AOI.

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        George Michalopulos says:

        Fr Peter, thank you for clarifying that. Honestly, I didn’t think of the possibility that Orthodox (and other conservative chaplains) could/should remain where they are and force the USMJ to convene courts-martial against those who hold true to the Gospel. That’s definately a possibility. However I think it would be presumptuous of +Jonah or any Orthodox primate to willfully put a chaplain in his jurisdiction in such a tight spot. If an Orthodox/conservative chaplain wishes to do so on his own accord, that’s fine by me. Personally, I hope that every last man-jack chaplain serving from Toledo to Timbuktu forces the issue and causes the USMJ to grind to a halt.

        Having said that, I feel that the Islamophilia that so grips the modern Left is what is guiding a large part of this. Call me paranoid but for the life of me, I can’t fathom their new-found interest in “religious freedom.” These poltroons spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to remove creches every year at Christmastime but now they’re absolutely ga-ga about Eid and Iftar and commenting on how the Hadiths of Mohammed guide their lives (no kidding, Sen John Kerry, said that back in 2004 or so). To quote Gandalf: “Dark days are indeed upon us.”

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    RZ says:

    Fr Peter, as an Orthodox priest, how do you deal with people of other non-Christian faiths in the military, whether they be Jews, Mormons or Hindus? (I say Mormons as they are generally considered not among the historical orthodox Christian traditions as are Catholics or even Baptists.)

    Are you not permitted to preach specifically about the Christian view of salvation?

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      Fr. Peter Dubinin says:

      Dear RZ – thank you for your question; many have the same question and concern. As an Orthodox priest, Army chaplain, I am called to provide pastoral care to all from my own unique faith tradition. When someone comes to me say to arrange for a wedding, but neither is an Orthodox Christian, I determine what their particular faith is and find a chaplain of that persuasion to perform the wedding. I will provide the pre-marriage counseling from my perspective as an Orthodox priest; I will communicate with them those essential elements as directed by God which must be a part of any marriage if it is in fact to survive. I have spent countless hours counseling single soldiers, marriages and families – most of whom are looking and in need of someone to pastorally put their arms around them. I say that military chaplaincy is a very unique call; civilian ministers (those who have never served in the military) cannot do what a military chaplain is equipped to do reference our service members and their dependents. In the Army we are embedded with our soldiers; when they train, I train with them; when they are on an airborne operation, I am with them; when they are on a ruck march, I am with them; when they are deployed and in harms way, I am with them. Army chaplaincy is incarnational. I trust this answers your question.

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    cynthia curran says:

    Well, to be gays in the military are kind of a gray issue. In anicent times there were Greeks that fought with their lovers and Julius Caesar was said to be bi-sexual. So, some homosexuals are good fighters. The problem is straight men and christians that don’t approve of homosexual behavior have to share barracks with them. Also, I disagree with some christians that didn’t want a wicca soldier that died to have the 5-star penagram on his tomb. I support freedom of religion and even neo-pagans which are usually not the military types that want to serve. The us has various people that support the military from different religious views and same goes for the war.

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      George Michalopulos says:

      Cynthia, the issue was never one of whether homosexuals can fight. They most definitely can. The Mamlukes of Egypt were an exclusive homosexual fighting force. The theion lokhos of Thebes (Sacred Band) also. As were the Sturmabteiling (SA or Brownshirts). These cadres were phenomenal soldiers and/or thugs (SA).

      The question is ultimately one of unit cohesion: in a large army made up of citizens (the vast majority of whom are straight), what guarantee does the straight soldier have that the (possibly) homosexual officer is not going to put him in harm’s way in order to spare a “favorite”? You could say that heterosexuals are not immune from this temptation, after all, this is what King David did when he sent Uriah the Hittite to the front lines so that he could be killed and then David could take his wife. The military solves this at present by criminalizing adultery and fraternization within the ranks.

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  1. [...] it until I read Julia Duin’s latest article on him in The Washington Post, but +Jonah was the first major religious leader to speak out against the lifting of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) in the military. He wrote an [...]

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