The 12 July edition of USA Today ran competing op-eds on this topic: “If Gays(sic) Serve Openly, Will Chaplains Suffer?” The topic was prompted by threats the US Armed Forces are getting from religious Conservatives. If the Department of Defense’s Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy is repealed, “Bible believing” denominations will forbid their members to serve as military chaplains.
As if the Bible had anything in it that even remotely forbids LesBiGay soldiers from serving their country! The editorial premise alone was enough to cheese me off. Still, I risked raising my blood pressure, bought the paper and read the columns by Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff and attorney Daniel Blomberg. Mr. Blomberg, representing the anti-Gay Alliance Defense Fund, rang the usual false alarm bells about potential threats to religious freedom:
(There will be) limitations on the right of chaplains to preach, counsel or teach according to their faith when doing so requires identifying homosexual behavior as sinful or detrimental . . (there will be) restrictions on the ability of chaplains to freely conduct religious services without being forced to allow people who engage in homosexual behavior to take positions of leadership or receive sacraments . . . (DADT repeal) would include forcing chaplain-administered programs, such as the Army’s “Strong Bonds” marriage-building program, to modify their teaching if same-sex couples participate.
Blomberg may or may not be Jewish, but he certainly knows a thing or two about chutzpah! He seems to expect every military base to be the equivalent of a fundamentalist church. Needless to say, that’s hardly a realistic expectation! Soldiers come from all manner of faith backgrounds, and they hold all manner of beliefs. Chaplains are mandated to minister unto them regardless of doctrine.
Also, soldiers often take life! It’s part of their job description. Blomberg contends that sacraments and leadership positions should be denied to troops who engage in homosexual conduct, which is not forbidden in the Ten Commandments; but somehow it’s OK to offer full fellowship to those who’ve killed another human being, an act which is forbidden? Such bizarre reasoning turns logic on its head.
Blomberg’s contention that being true to fundamentalist faith “requires identifying homosexual behavior as sinful” stands on even weaker theological ground; little does Counsel realize what spiritual hot water he’s gotten himself into! He argues that as long as a chaplain isn’t told a soldier is Gay or Bisexual, he can administer sacraments, etcetera, in good conscience; but how absurd is it to assume that everyone he deals with in a military environment is heterosexual? The very existence of DADT invalidates that assumption! Unless they’re profoundly dense, chaplains surely realize that they’re ministering to non-heterosexual folk at least some of the time.
If homosexuality among the faithful is so pressing a concern as Blomberg paints it, then shouldn’t it be mandatory for conservative preachers to periodically quiz their congregations as to individual bedroom habits? I only know of one who does so, Bishop Alfred Owens of Washington, DC.
If there are others, I’ve yet to hear of them. It rarely happens! As anybody knows who’s ever attended a fundie church and perceived Gay membership among the inspirational musicians, even the most reactionary church leaders operate under a Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy. That’s been true for many, many years! I’m sure most military chaplains were familiar with DADT long before it was implemented; but apparently, when the more conservative ones comply with it, they’re violating the tenets of their faith. That makes it immoral for them to insist that the policy be retained. Yipe!
That’s not the worst of it, though. If you’re a theologian who doesn’t practice what you preach (in this case, identifying sex transgressors and excluding them from your faith rituals), doesn’t that make you a hypocrite? Hello! Hypocrisy was a vice that Jesus Christ seemed to hold particular disdain for; there are beaucoup passages in the Gospels where He excoriates Hebrew clergy for displaying it. Here’s one that seems quite relevant to this discussion:
MATTHEW 23:13 (Jesus Christ said) “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces! For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.”
Maybe somebody should read those passages aloud at the next Alliance Defense Fund meeting? I think so! This faith-based group needs to know that its support for DADT is not only discriminatory but sinful, too. Here’s another one of those vexatious teachings from the Savior:
MATTHEW 10:26 (Jesus Christ said)” . . . nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.”
As for chaplains’ fears about having to bless same-gender spouses, the last I heard, the US military was under Federal jurisdiction. Yes, some States allow Gay unions, but currently there’s no Federal mandate to recognize them. Of course, that may change at some future date, but it goes back to my original point: If religious counselors integrate themselves into a non-religious institution, and agree to offer their services to all employees of that institution without regard to faith, then they can’t demand compliance with their doctrines! That really would curtail religious freedom.
Legally and theologically, Bible bigots stumble badly when they try to make a case for deception. Rabbi Resnicoff took the pro-Gay side of the argument, and easily won. The only problem was his Gay-supportive stance. It looked rather wobbly, to say the least:
The threat (from conservative religious groups) dishonors chaplains . . . good chaplains can preach and teach, true to their beliefs, respecting rights while challenging what they believe is wrong . . . for many military personnel, including many chaplains, being Gay (or Straight) is neutral, neither crime nor sin . . . of course, some chaplains believe that homosexuality is sinful, but most religions teach that all of us are sinners . . . those who ask “What would Jesus do?” know from Gospel teachings that He drew near to many sinners while others walked away . . . some religions teach all alcohol is sin, divorce is sinful, or certain faith beliefs (surely mine included) lead straight to Hell. For some faiths, abortion is pre-meditated murder, yet no religious group makes threats to withdraw chaplains unless rules bar women who had abortions, or “tolerate” them only if they “never tell”.
What a thrill, to know that a clergyman who compares my sex life to alcoholism, divorce, heresy and abortion supports my right to serve openly in the US military! Happy happy joy joy! Were I an enlisted man, I would surely want to seek him out straight away and request a counseling session(not)! Lord, deliver me: I’m so damn tired of Liberal theologians who treat LesBiGay converts like bitter medicine they have to drink!
Being a man of faith who’s Gay doesn’t make me a black sheep wandering among the lily white Christian flock! I don’t feature getting ministered to by Wicked Stepmother clergy. That’s what I call preachers who celebrate the righteousness of heterosexual union but classify the way I express love as morally “neutral”. I should be thankful to the Church for such tepid validation? Not hardly, sugar! I don’t need organized religion to do me any favors. I’d rather be condemned than tolerated! At least it’s more honest.
In this world, Gay people are hard-pressed to find a faith home that they’re truly welcome in. Most houses of worship shun them as soon as their same-gender-loving nature is revealed. Clearly, Daniel Blomberg hails from that kind of congregation! Others pretend to welcome them, but make carrying the stigma of sexual sin a condition of joining; once absorbed into these church families, Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual devout are treated like red-headed stepchildren, or worse. I suspect Arnold Resnicoff belongs to one of these stigmatizing fellowships. Lady Day said it best: God bless the child who’s got his own! Thankfully, God blesses His own, so it doesn’t matter when the Church withholds its blessings, or is reluctant to offer them.
If these USA Today opinion pieces fully convey the range of attitudes held by our military chaplains, then LesBiGay enlisted are better off seeking their spiritual counseling off-base. They need to consult clergy who have respect for them, and for God. The kind of respect I’m talking about is a commitment to serving God’s children that’s genuine! Whether they be soldiers or civilians, LGBT people of faith deserve good spiritual guidance: Pastors, imams and rabbis who understand what people of blended gender are; who know how Scripture does and doesn’t apply to them; and who don’t perceive sin where there is none.
Boston cartoonist, composer, journalist, social commentator and graphic novel writer DC (Don Charles) Hampton Jacobs is the author of three graphic novels, two cartoon novelettes, a mock screenplay in graphic novel form, four cartoon short stories, an illustrated Great American Rock ‘n’ Roll Songbook and a stage musical treatment in cartoon form. He blogs at https://popculturecantina.blogspot.com.