Chaplains will not abandon their posts over DADT

Will military chaplains abandon their posts if "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is repealed?

In a USA Today op-ed, Daniel Blomberg, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, says that repealing DADT will violate the religious freedom of military chaplains, causing some faith groups to withdraw their endorsement of military chaplains and cause others to leave this ministry.

Retired Navy chaplain Rabbi Arnie Resnicoff disagrees. He writes:

Despite some outlandish claims (including one charge that the Bible will be banned), chaplains should not be affected by a new policy. "Don't tell" never did apply to conversations with a chaplain, which are "privileged communication." And good chaplains can preach and teach, true to their beliefs — respecting rights while challenging what they believe is wrong. They also teach commandments — loving neighbors, judging not, not casting stones, the golden rule — that help the troops serve together.

Free exercise of religion is the basic reason chaplains serve. But their mission is threefold: ministry to those of their own faith; helping those of other faiths fulfill their religious needs; and providing care for all. Christian chaplains ensure that Muslims have prayer rugs and Jews have matza, and military rabbis and imams find rosaries and New Testaments for personnel they serve. For those in pain — religious, atheist, straight or gay — chaplains offer comfort and a helping hand.

For many military personnel, including many chaplains, being gay (or straight) is neutral, neither crime nor sin. Others hold that regardless of their own religious views, neutrality and respect for equal rights should determine military policy and law. In more than 20 NATO nations, gay men and women serve without restriction and with distinction.

Of course, some chaplains believe that homosexuality is sinful, but most religions teach that all of us are sinners, although in every soul there is good, too. Civilian pastors visit hospitals and prisons with no demands that gays "don't tell." And those who ask "What would Jesus do?" know from Gospel teachings that he drew near to many sinners when others walked away.

We Americans should never underestimate our heritage and vision of united service, despite differing beliefs. Some religions teach all alcohol is sin, divorce is sinful, or certain faith beliefs (surely, mine included!) lead straight to hell..

The Rt. Rev. James B. "Jay" Magness, Bishop Suffragan for Federal Ministries, whose ministry oversees the work of Episcopal military and federal chaplains agrees. He e-mailed the Cafe today, saying:

I have significant agreement with Rabbi Resnicoff, and I continue to support the lifting of DADT policy.

It is disappointing, though not surprising, that some persons, to include retired chaplains many of whom are also old friends and former colleagues, have confused the issues surrounding the discussion. In light of the emotional pitch of the rhetoric, it is important to understand that the provisions of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution will be as valid and authoritative after the repeal of DADT policy as they were prior to that action. In other words, military leaders can neither forbid nor stipulate religious expression. It is difficult for me to envision that the role of the military chaplain will undergo any significant change post DADT. Quite to the contrary, the role of the military chaplain will continue to be one of providing appropriate religious support access to all service members and to their authorized family members.

It may take some time for DADT to be repealed, more time than some would like. I believe that during this interlude between the proposal and the actual policy repeal it will be important to foster the dialogue between persons who are in disagreement with one another. Indeed, not all of our Episcopal chaplains are of one mind in the DADT discussion. It is important for speakers to listen to one another. Through listening to the other we will have the opportunity to hear the concerns of heart and mind, and to give voice to our fears.

After all the arguments have been concluded and tempers have flared so long that there is no more energy to fuel the flame, we will be left with Rabbi Jesus' response to the lawyer who wanted to know about the greatest of all the commandments: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22.37-40).

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