Will Chaplains Lose Their Religious Liberty?
The end of the law that barred individuals who openly practice bisexual and homosexual behavior from serving in the military brings with it the implicit – and soon, explicit – pressures for military chaplains to change their public statements on such behavior. Instead, chaplains inevitably will face uncertainty and a chilling of their ability to preach and share the Word of god in all of their responsibilities.
The Alliance Defense Fund is closely following these developments, while seeking out ways to support chaplains and service members as they face the profound implications of this fundamental shift in American military policy.
Talk to any military chaplain, and you’ll hear stories that stir your soul and tighten your throat. Some are their own – moments in battle, or in ministry. Some are of friends who were lost amid the brutal flow of battle … and, in a few cases, found again. Many are remembrances of a soldier, sailor, or airman whose life brushed theirs during decades of postings all over the world.
Colonel Fred Hudson, retired after 30 years as an army chaplain, remembers an article from his local newspaper. The headline read: Soldiers receive encouragement from chaplain. The photo showed the chaplain – whom Hudson knew – baptizing a soldier in the middle of the Iraqi desert.
Two days later, another article reported that the unit to which the young chaplain belonged had been ambushed, and casualties were running high. One of those killed turned out to be the soldier the padre had baptized in the desert just a few days before.
"His mom and dad repeatedly shared with the media how much it meant to them that their son has gotten close to his chaplain, confessed his faith in Christ, and then been baptized in the desert," Hudson remembers. "What comfort and hope it was to them. That’s a great thing about serving as a chaplain – you are able to bring God to soldiers in times of great despair."
"This ministry is not for everybody," says Colonel John Schumacher, another veteran army chaplain who devoted three decades to his country and its soldiers. "There’s a price to pay: saying goodbye to your family, going off to war … seeing bodies, the carnage … grieving every day for your family and the soldiers you are serving with … it takes a lot out of you. But the rewards far outweigh anything we give. The length and breadth and depth of the chaplain’s potential ministry cannot be measured."
But it can be abbreviated, censored, and rendered largely ineffective, chaplains say, under the new U.S. law permitting those who openly engage in bisexual and homosexual behavior to serve in the military. By condoning such behavior – and requiring all military officers, including chaplains, to condone it as well – the government takes a giant step toward quashing the religious freedom of both soldiers and those who minister to them.
"Bottom line: chaplains, soldiers, and soldiers’ families are going to be forced to abandon their religious beliefs," Hudson says. "It is going to impact every aspect of our lives. It’s going to drive a very large wedge into our society."
"This repeal is a pulverizing of values that have been a critical part of america’s military success over all these years. And so I fear for America."
Brigadier General Douglas Lee, U.S. Army, Retired
"Serving under this change would put me in a position where I have to choose between obedience to God and obedience to the government," says Lt. Commander David Crum, a Navy chaplain. "And what a position to be in as a [military] chaplain, when you wouldn’t be a chaplain if you weren’t loyal to your country… if you didn’t love your country."
"The primary role of the chaplains is to bring soldiers to God, and God to the soldiers," says Colonel Ron Crews, an army chaplain now retired after 20 years of active service. "We represent a faith life and set of convictions. One of my concerns is that, as a chaplain, I am going to be limited in bringing the full counsel of God to soldiers."
"Automatically, we have one hand tied behind our back in our ability to share our experience, our wisdom, and our principles," Hudson says. "And these are not light values, they are not sitcom values, they are not pop-culture issues. They are ancient core beliefs."
Chaplains won’t be the only ones affected, says Colonel Tom Troxell, a decorated Army National Guard chaplain. Soldiers he knows are asking, "If you are not going to allow me to freely exercise and practice my religion, why should I freely give my services to my country? Why should I defend the religious liberties you are taking away from me?"
"Our chaplains are going to be challenged," says Lt. Commander David Mullis, a veteran Navy chaplain. "This is going to be a great conflict." And because "what happens in the military works its way into all of society," he says, "the civilian population needs to be concerned."