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Religious Tolerance logo

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

Policies of religious groups towards DADT. Part 1

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"LGB" is an acronym referring to lesbians, gays and bisexuals.

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Christian denominations have by far the greatest influence on American culture because there are over 60 Christians in the U.S. for each follower of Judaism -- the next largest organized religion. There are also 4 to 5 Christians for every NOTA (None Of The Above -- religiously unaffiliated American adults).

Most Christian denominations fall into one of the following groups:

  • Roman Catholicism & Eastern Orthodoxy,
  • Fundamentalist & other evangelical denominations,
  • Mainline denominations and
  • Liberal/progressive denominations.

Each group's policies towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals (LGBTs) are mainly based on the following four factors:

  1. The group's interpretation of the Bible's six or seven "clobber" passages which may be related to same-gendered sexual activity,
  2. The group's historical beliefs and teachings about sexual minorities,
  3. Members' personal experiences, and
  4. The findings of psychologists, psychiatrists, human sexuality researchers, etc.

Conservative groups -- mostly Roman Catholicism, and fundamentalist/other evangelical denominations -- give the greatest emphasis to the factors 1 and 2. Further, their interpretation of the Bible assumes that most passages are to be interpreted literally, that the Bible is inerrant and that it delivers a consistent message from cover to cover.

Liberal/progressive Christians tend to emphasize the factors 3 and 4. Further, their interpretation of the Bible tends to be based on an analysis of the Bible in the same way that any other historical document is examined. They view the Bible as describing the evolution of religious beliefs over about a one thousand year interval ending circa 150 CE. They expect it to contain inconsistencies and even passages which are immoral by today's secular and religious standards. e.g. condoning human slavery, executing some hookers by burning them to death, raping female prisoners of war, etc. They view some passages that were perhaps acceptable in earlier pre-scientific tribal cultures, but are not applicable today.

Mainline denominations tend to be divided, with part of the membership taking a conservative view, and part the liberal/progressive stance. Thus, many are currently experiencing major internal dissension over LGB issues.

As a result, most Christians denominations and their membership have adopted one of six viewpoints toward lesbians, gays and bisexuals, ranging from:

  • Treating same-gender sexual behavior an abomination, intrinsically disordered, and profoundly immoral, regardless of the nature of the relationship,

  • Through four intermediate positions, to

  • Treating all persons with any of the three sexual orientations -- homosexuality, bisexuality, and heterosexuality -- as fully capable of achieving loving, committed, and moral relationships and marriages.

With such different views one can expect a great deal of conflict over the presence of LGBs openly serving in the military.

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Comparing teachings of conservative denominations with the beliefs of the public:

There is a major gap between the moral concerns of the leaders of conservative Christian faith groups and the concerns of the general public. The gap appears to be growing.

  • All of the conservative denominations of which we are aware reject same-gender sexual activity as immoral, regardless of the nature and level of commitment of the relationship. Back in the year 2000, the general public agreed: A poll by Gallup Inc. revealed 53% of adults considered same-gender sexual activity immoral; 40% said it was moral. Gallup repeated the poll during 2010-MAY and found that a reversal had occurred: more recently, 52% said it is morally acceptable and 43% say it is not. 1

    Actually, these data are almost useless, because Gallup did not indicate whether the question of morality referred to lesbians, gays and bisexuals only, or to persons of all sexual orientations, or to persons with the same sexual orientation as the person being polled. One can easily imagine a person being polled who believed that same-sex behavior between two gays, lesbians, or bisexuals is moral, but the same behavior between two persons with a heterosexual orientation to be immoral. The polling group also did not indicate whether the question related to a same-gender couples who are married, or to such couples in a civil union, or to couples in a loving committed relationship but not in a formal union, or to all lesbian, gay or bisexual couples including those involved in a "one-night stand."

    Still, the two sets of data indicates that an immense change in the public's attitude towards LGBs has happened over the first decade of the 21st century.

  • All conservative denominations vociferously condemn same-sex marriage. Yet polls in 2010 and 2011 showed that about 52% of American adults favor making marriage available to same-sex couples. About 45% of the adult population is opposed. This is a  margin of about 7 percentage points, which is growing.

  • All conservative denominations are believed to have been campaigning to preserve the DADT military policy with various levels of commitment. Yet various national polls have shown a steady rise in the percentage of adults favoring the repeal of DADT. For example, the Washington Post found 44% support for repeal in 1993 shortly after the policy was introduced. This reached 77% support by the end of 2010, for an increase of 33 percentage points over 17 years. The latter is a remarkable figure. It is extremely rare for more than three out of four American adults to agree on the morality of anything.

  • Conservative denominations and their membership are concerned about what they feel is the poor moral status in the U.S. A national survey during 2010-MAY \revealed that 45% of American adults believe the U.S. to be is in poor moral condition. Their largest concern was over peoples "disrespect for others" at 15%. Presumably homophobia, gay bashing, campaigning against equal rights for LGBTs, etc. would have formed a major part of that 15%. On the other hand, the behaviors that conservative Christian denominations and para-church groups often cite as profoundly immoral had relatively small ratings: only 2% cited teen pregnancy; 3% homosexual behavior; 3% abortion, and 7% breakdown of families and unwed mothers. 1
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Reactions by a group of retired conservative Christian chaplains:

On 2010-SEP-26, a group of 41 retired Army, Air Force and Navy chaplains sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. They wrote in support of what they called small "o" "orthodox Christianity" in the armed forces. This would apparently refer to conservative Christian denominations. They wrote, in part:

"Put most simply, if the government normalizes homosexual behavior in the armed forces, many (if not most) chaplains will confront a profoundly difficult moral choice: whether they are to obey God or to obey men. This forced choice must be faced, since orthodox Christianity—which represents a significant percentage of religious belief in the armed forces—does not affirm homosexual behavior. Imposing this conflict by normalizing homosexual behavior within the armed forces seems to have two likely—and equally undesirable—results.

First, chaplains might be pressured by adverse discipline and collapsed careers into watering down their teachings and avoiding—if not abandoning—key elements of their sending denomination’s faith and practice. Such a result would be the very antithesis of religious freedom and inimical to the guarantees made by our First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Second, chaplains might have their ability to freely share their religious beliefs challenged and torn away in a variety of everyday situations. For instance, chaplains who methodically preach book-by-book from the Bible would inevitably present religious teachings that identify homosexual behavior as immoral. Thus, while chaplains fulfill their duty to God to preach the doctrines of their faith, they would find themselves speaking words that are in unequivocal conflict with official policies.

In fact, the proposed “non-discrimination” law may effectively ban chaplains from expressing their religious beliefs on homosexual behavior. The affects of this ban would be felt keenly within a chaplain’s religious duties, but it would extend outside the pulpit, too. Since chaplains are tasked with teaching classes in moral leadership and ethics both on armed forces bases and at branch schools, such censorship would prevent
them from providing the full moral instruction their faith background gives them." 2

The tasks facing chaplains are difficult. They have to support all of the service members in the unit to which they are assigned: persons of different genders, races, sexual orientations, gender identities, nationalities, etc. In particular, they have to provide spiritual and emotional counseling to fellow Christians who may be from conservative, mainline or liberal/progressive denominations; they may be from other religions; they may have no religious affiliations at all; they may be Atheists, Agnostics, Deists, etc.

Repealing the DADT policy would force chaplains to face, as they state: "... a profoundly difficult moral choice:" –- whether to obey God or men. Precisely stated, that is, whether to stop their discriminating against and denigrating LGBT service members, or violate their interpretation of the six or seven "clobber" passages in the Bible. They may have a third choice: to accept how other Christians interpret these same passages; the latter conclude that the passages actually refer to rape, molesting children, sexual activities that violate an individual's basic nature, bestiality, etc., but are unrelated to a homosexual or bisexual orientation, or sexual activity within a loving, committed same-sex relationship.

Rev. John F. Gundlach is a retired Navy chaplain from the United Church of Christ, one of the leading progressive Protestant denominations. He wrote an article in Stars and Stripes in which he commented on the conflicts faced by military chaplains:

"These chaplains ... will continue to have the same rights they’ve always had to preach, teach, counsel, marry and conduct religious matters according to the tenets of their faith. They will also continue to have the responsibility to refer service members to other chaplains when their own theology or conscience will not allow them to perform the services to which a service member is entitled. Any chaplain who can’t fulfill this expectation should find somewhere else to do ministry."

Chaplains have had to handle difficulties of this type in the past, when the Pentagon eliminated racism and partly eliminated sexism in the Armed Forces. Some of chaplains came from Christian denominations that strongly supported racial segregation, and that opposed women in positions of authority over men. Somehow, over time, they were able to accommodate their beliefs and practices to the changes in the U.S. culture.

Their task is not an easy one, particularly in a war zone. Referring a service member to another chaplain with more liberal religious and social views is not really feasible when the chaplain and service member are in a foxhole. 3

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This topic continues in Part 2

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Related essays on 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. Star Parker, "Homosexual behavior publicly condoned but morally unacceptable," Scripps Howard News Service, 2010-DEC-27, at:
  2. Letter from 40 retired chaplains to President Obama & Secretary Gates, 2010-SEP-16, Alliance Defense Fund, at: This is a PDF file.
  3. Terry Mattingly, " 'Don't Ask' policy puts military chaplains in a vise," Go San Angelo, 2010-OCT-22, at:

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Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality & Bisexuality > Challenges > DADT policy > here

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Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2011-SEP-24
Latest update: 2011-SEP-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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