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The military's "Don't ask, Don't tell" (DADT) policy

Part 2: Religious freedom concerns faced by
conservative military chaplains if DADT ends.

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This topic continues from a separate essay

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Can the problem be minimized or avoided?

For many religious and social conservatives, their nightmare scenario is that homosexual and bisexual orientations will be considered by the general public as being as morally neutral as is heterosexuality. That is, although promiscuity and one-night stands will probably continue to be widely frowned upon and criticized, they are concerned that loving committed relationships will be fully accepted whether the couple is of opposite-sex or of the same-sex. Just as racism and sexism were once prevalent and are now frowned upon throughout most of North America, they fear that:

  • Homophobia -- fear, oppression, discrimination against lesbians, gays and bisexuals -- and eventually
  • Transphobia -- fear, oppression and discrimination against transgender persons and transsexuals, --

will eventually be despised.

One measure of these trends is support for same-sex marriage (SSM) across the U.S. Current polls indicate that support for and opposition against SSM reached parity in 2010. Further, support for SSM is increasing at slightly more than 1 percentage point per year -- about the same rate as was experienced in the late 20th century over interracial marriage.

Conservative pastors can resist these trends within their own congregations and denominations by refusing to marry loving, committed same-sex couples and by terminating the membership of any sexually active lesbians and gays. However, if the DADT policy is repealed, these freedoms to discriminate will no longer apply in the military. If the armed forces adopts neutral stance against persons of all sexual orientations, the chaplains may well risk expulsion if they actively condemn homosexual behavior.

There seem to be a few ways to avert this problem -- all of which are painful and difficult:

  1. The same conflict must have arisen in the mid-20th century over racism, when the military racially integrated the army. Many religious and social conservatives at the time were heavily supportive of racial segregation. Yet the task was successfully completed. A study of how this was accomplished could greatly aid present-day chaplains in conflict over their desire for the religiously based freedom to discriminate. More recently, the military started to end discrimination against women. Again, this must have introduced conflict in the lives of many conservative chaplains who interpret the Bible as reserving special roles for women, and retaining positions of authority only for men. A study of how this was accomplished might be helpful.

  2. In the above open letter, conservative chaplains see themselves as having to make a "profoundly difficult moral choice: whether they are to obey God or to obey men." What they appear to mean by that phrase is that they can:

    • Choose to obey their interpretation of the seven "clobber passages" in the Bible and discriminate against lesbians, gays and bisexuals, or

    • Choose to obey the military's non-discrimination policy if DADT is repealed.

    There is a way out of this conflict: change their interpretation of those seven passages.

    Currently, most conservative Christians interpret each of the passages in Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 and 20, 1 Corinthians 6, Romans 1, 1 Timothy 1, and Jude 7 as banning all same-sex sexual activity:

    • Whether it be a "one-night stand" or within a loving committed relationship,

    • Whether by two males or two females,

    • Whether by a married or civil unionized couple or a dating couple.

    However, most secularists, religious progressives, and religious liberals and many mainline Christians interpret these same passages quite differently, as:

    • Referring only to same-sex sexual activity with a religious prostitute in a Pagan temple,

    • Involving rape for the purpose of humiliating a victim,

    • Involving an adult man sexually abusing a child,

    • Involving same sex activity by heterosexuals which is against their basic nature, or

    • involving bestiality -- inter-species sex between humans and angels.

    The chaplains who signed the letter appear to firmly believe that their interpretation of the Bible is correct. But other chaplains who follow a more liberal or progressive Christian faith tradition are probably equally certain that their interpretation is accurate. The solution might be dialogue among chaplains who hold different opinions. Within the fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian denominations, there are differences of belief concerning apologetics, divorce, eternal security, female ordination, God and genocide, Hell, the millennium, the morality of war, origins (creation & evolution), predestination, the rapture, the book of Revelation, salvation, sanctification, the morality of wealth and poverty. In the past there have been major differences among conservative denominations over human slavery, racism and segregation. Perhaps chaplains could change their interpretation of what they refer to as "God's Word" on same-sex sexual behavior.

  3. According to the Texarkana Gazette:
    "Clergy would be ineligible to serve as chaplains if their churches withdraw their endorsements, as some have threatened to do if 'don‚€™t ask, don‚€™t tell' ends. Critics of allowing openly gay troops fear that clergy will leave the service or be forced to find other jobs in the military that don‚€™t involve their faiths." 1
    That might create a major dislocation in the Chaplain Corps if, for example, both the Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic denominations pull their endorsements. A chaplain can no longer serve if they lose the endorsement of their denomination. They might have problems finding assignments at churches within their denomination, as the membership in most Christian denominations is decreasing.

  4. Mikey Weinstein is president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation that advocates that "No religion or religious philosophy may be advanced by the United States Armed Forces over any other religion or religious philosophy." 2 He said:
    "My heart doesn‚€™t bleed for these chaplains. If you don‚€™t like it, there‚€™s a very simple solution: Fold your uniform, file the paperwork and find something else to do." 1

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Comments by individuals concerning the religious freedom to discriminate:

  • Eileen Lainez, a spokesperson for the Pentagon said the military would not force chaplains to keep their beliefs silent. She said:

    "Chaplains are allowed to speak according to the dictates of their faith. ... With great acumen, chaplains, throughout the Department's history, have found means wherein they could strike a balance between faith group requirements and Department of Defense needs. ...Members who feel something is inappropriate may always utilize their chain of command, the inspector general or other systems already in place, to address their concerns." 1

  • Retired Col. David Upchurch, a former Army chaplain, is a minister at Grace Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Lawrence, KS -- an evangelical Christian denomination. He commented on the annual review received by every officer in the military, including chaplains. One criteria is whether the officer supports the military's equal opportunity policy which forbids discrimination on the basis of race, religion, as well as most bias against women. If DADT is repealed, then lesbians, gays, bisexuals and heterosexuals will presumably all be included in the policy. Chaplains would then be expected to accept private sexual behavior by persons of all sexual orientations. Upchurch said:

    "As a chaplain, on religious grounds, I could not support that, meaning that as a chaplain, I'm going to face consequences."

  • Retired Navy chaplain Capt. John Gundlach, of the United Church of Christ, -- a liberal Christian denomination -- supports repealing the DADT policy and doesn't anticipate the types of problems predicted by his conservative coworkers. He said:

    "They may run into some difficulties in not being able to speak out against those who are gay or lesbian in the military, because that would be counter to good order and discipline. But chaplains have the right to preach according to their tradition in worship services they hold for those of their own denomination."

  • Diane Mazur is a retired Air Force captain and a law professor at the University of Florida. She said:

    "A good military chaplain must minister to everyone. It's really very different than in the civilian world. Repealing 'don't ask, don't tell' doesn't really change that basic difference." 1

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Related essay in this web site:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Tom Breen, "Retired chaplains warn against military‚€™s ‚€˜don‚€™t ask‚€™ repeal," Associated Press, 2010-OCT-30, at:
  2. "Our Mission," Military Religious Freedom Foundation, at:

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Copyright © 2010 & 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2010-NOV-14
Latest update: 2011-SEP-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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