The overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act is having repercussions in military chaplaincy. This week, Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist seminary in Louisville, wrote an article responding to one posted by Tom Carpenter a Presbyterian elder. Carpenter argues that perhaps Baptist military chaplains can’t serve both God and country if they can’t serve all the people in uniform. Mohler argues back that Southern Baptists cannot sacrifice historic Biblical Christianity or they, in effect, will be kneeling to Baal. He cautions that Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jewish chaplains will soon find their callings questioned too. I am simplifying the two arguments. You can Google them if you want to read both in full.
First, everyone needs to know that military chaplains never have been required, and never will be required to perform religious rites of any kind that go against their faith. It is a red herring to argue that the government is going to order any chaplain to perform a same sex marriage, bless such a union, or even offer pre-marriage counseling to such couples. It is against everything foundational to military chaplaincy to force a chaplain to break their personal religious beliefs when performing religious rites.
But, and this is where the fight happens, what do military chaplains do that might appear to bless such unions? If a chaplain is teaching a class, leading a seminar, or supporting a family day where same sex couples show up, is the chaplain in effect blessing same sex marriages? Apparently Mohler and some other current Baptist leaders think so.
Where I would challenge these leaders is with this: Are you applying the same standard to heterosexual couples that are living together outside of marriage? In my experience as a military chaplain, this is a fairly common phenomenon among younger people today. If a chaplain can’t support an event that might have a same sex couple show up there, wouldn’t that chaplain need to apply the same standard if a couple that was living together, and having sex outside of marriage, showed up? If any chaplain applied such a standard, the chaplain would soon find themselves having to excuse themselves from more and more events.
I hope no one reads this thinking I think that a chaplain should, in the practice of their faith, break faith with what they believe. And yet, by its very nature, military chaplains are serving armed service members that come from very diverse religious, social, and cultural backgrounds. It is never our job to judge the people walking into our office (or theirs) or in any class or seminar we are leading that is offered to the larger base populations. At the same time, every chaplain not only can but should raise the bar high when teaching his or her faith in a sectarian setting (which we have ample opportunity to do as well).
I have worked with many excellent Southern Baptist chaplains and hope we all will continue to do so. I certainly do not support their exclusion from the chaplaincy and hope that any restrictive guidance from their endorsing agency is reconsidered.
We are all in this together and need to remember, in God’s kingdom there aren’t going to be all these artificial divisions that humanity has developed over the centuries. May those with such a calling continue to serve God and country.
Until next time,