In 2010, after eight years at Quaker House, I couldn’t recall ever seeing an article in our local paper, the Fayetteville Observer, that was affirmative of GLBT issues, or in particular, supported the repeal of the military’s repressive “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, which since 1994 had pushed gay troops into the closet or out of the services..
This doesn’t mean the paper was a font of homophobic verbiage; but when anti-gay articles did appear, they usually went unanswered.
That silence was consistent with the general atmosphere of the community. Racial integration has been the policy of the military for sixty years, and federal law for almost fifty; racism still exists here, but it skulks in corners and speaks publicly in code. Mixed families in mixed neighborhoods are everyday.
Homophobia was another matter. I was acquainted with a number of gays and lesbians there, some who were quite active in the community. But there was no visible gay presence in the city. No “Gay Pride Day,” no vocal organizations, and the gay bars kept a very low profile. It was the most closeted city I had lived in.
Hence when a homophobic Op-Ed appeared in the Observer in the Spring of 2010, praising “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the chances were that it too would go unanswered. That commentary, by retired Chaplain Ronald Crews, is excerpted below, for context.
This communal closeting had long been a burden to me, and after reading Crews, I decided to speak up for my own convictions, and perhaps those of some others who did not feel safe to speak.
My Op-Ed response was published in the Observer on June 3.
As advocacy goes, it was pretty mild. That reflected an effort to take the immediate audience into account.
So, here first is part of the original piece, by retired chaplain Ronald Crews:
“Let military decide gay issue,” published May 26, 2010:
President Barack Obama announced early in his administration his desire to repeal the law commonly known as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate to accomplish the president’s desire and make a 180-degree change in military policy. . . .
As a retired Army chaplain, having served 29 years on active duty and in the reserve system, I am concerned about how the repeal of this policy will affect not only the ministry of chaplains, but also the morale and welfare of our soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines.
We believe that military leaders, not politicians, should make this decision. This decision should be based on military needs and not a political agenda or payback to a special-interest group. Our military should not be used as a social experiment.
Further, this push is a distraction from providing the resources needed by our fighting forces as they continue one of the longest continual combat missions of our nation’s history. This is not the time for such a radical change. . . .
Grace Churches International chaplains, along with chaplains from other faith groups, serve the men and women of our armed forces regardless of their faith background or sexual practices. However, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will impose a policy of how they serve a certain portion of the military population. This raises the following questions.
Preaching/teaching sound doctrine regarding sinful conduct: Like other Evangelical Christians, we believe that homosexual behavior is inconsistent with a Christian lifestyle.
Our chaplains must be able to address sin as they see it, knowing that sinful behavior is harmful to individuals and to society at large. Chaplains must be able to speak against sin from the pulpit, as well as within a counseling session. Chaplains must also remain free to use the scripturally accurate depiction of the sinful nature of homosexual relations when necessary. Impact: Will chaplains be free to preach and counsel their convictions?
Counseling of soldiers who are affected by the conduct of homosexual personnel . . .: Will chaplains be free to advise soldiers that they can maintain their convictions concerning homosexual behavior? Will chaplains be free to advise commanders of how soldiers have been adversely impacted by the homosexual behavior of peers and/or supervisors?
Strong Bonds: Strong Bonds marriage retreats are part of the commander’s program for assisting married soldiers after deployments. Commanders will be required by law to protect the rights of homosexuals in their command to have equal access to the programs and services that a chaplain provides, leaving a chaplain’s ministry vulnerable to Equal Opportunity violations. Impact: Will chaplains be required to include cohabiting homosexual couples in Strong Bonds events? If chaplains refuse to include homosexual couples, will they be guilty of Equal Opportunity violations?
Chaplains are often given chapel duties that require working with persons of different faith groups. . . . Will chaplains be required to share pulpit duties with homosexual chaplains or lay-leaders?
Adultery: Since most states and federal law still define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, will homosexuals living together open the door to the legitimization of adultery among all ranks in the military?
If homosexual soldiers can share rooms together in a barracks, will the same accommodation be afforded to heterosexual men and women?
. . . Grace Churches International will not endorse chaplains who hold hatred toward any person, regardless of lifestyle. We believe in the commandment to love and serve all people. But muzzling chaplains and forcing them to preach a politically correct gospel would ultimately violate that commandment, and so we oppose replacing the military’s current policy with special protections for homosexual behavior. May God grant His wisdom to our political leaders as they consider this radical change to military policy.”
My reply – which was in fact the only substantial rebuttal the paper published, came on June 3, 2010:
“Op-Ed: Policy’s death a boost for morale”
“Ronald Crews . . . decries the likely end of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and fears the impact of the change upon certain evangelical chaplains.
I’m all for ending DADT, for many reasons – and one of them is that Crews has much less to worry about than he thinks.
Crews insists the military “should not be used for a social experiment.” But isn’t this much the same objection raised to desegregating the military 60 years ago? And didn’t that “experiment” turn out rather well?
Crews also is worried about “the morale and welfare” of the troops, and calls DADT repeal a “distraction from providing the resources needed” for them.
Actually, repealing DADT will improve the morale and welfare of the troops. Especially that of the thousands of homosexual servicemen and women.
They’re an important “resource,” too. It will improve their welfare by removing an unnecessary risk from their lives – so they can better face the real ones, of which there are plenty.
For that matter, it will also improve the morale of many commanders. Enforcing DADT is a useless “distraction” they don’t need. No question, the sooner DADT is gone, the better off all the services will be.
Yet, Crews wonders whether ending DADT will prevent some chaplains from preaching what they regard as “sound doctrine.” Especially regarding the “scripturally accurate depiction of the sinful nature of homosexual relations when necessary.”
But don’t various churches already differ about many other issues? Are chaplains “muzzled” when it comes to, say, the hotly disputed issue of abortion? Or evolution? This should be no different.
But maybe there’s a point here that needs a closer look. The doctrinal statement of Crews’ Grace Churches International asserts that the whole Bible is “free from error in the whole and in the part,” and I’m sure that is part of their preaching.
I note, however, that in both the Old Testament (Leviticus 20:13) and the New (Romans 1:32) it teaches that homosexuals deserve to be put to death. [And we know that in Uganda, for instance, there was then underway an effort to enact those commandments into law, which initially proposed to sentence homosexuals to death. NOTE:The Uganda legislation, which had early support from some very prominent American evangelicals, proved to be very controversial, and was condemned by many other governments and NGOs. This turned into a case of Ugandan officials taking the literal scripturalism of evangelicals like Crews too, um, literally, at least for good international public relations.]
On principle, I support the free speech of any military chaplain who feels obliged to uphold such “scripturally accurate” doctrines.
I swallow hard when saying that, but I do.
Even so, I hope the chaplain would add that acting on these “scripturally accurate” strictures is against U.S. military and civil law today, and could lead to a long prison sentence or indeed, capital punishment. Even evangelical Christian troops deserve such full disclosure.
Crews asks whether post-DADT chaplains will “be free to advise commanders of how soldiers have been adversely affected by the homosexual behavior of peers and/or supervisors?”
The answer is that, post-DADT, sexual harassment and assaults, regardless of orientation, will still be crimes.
But if one of Crews’ flock simply dislikes serving alongside open homosexuals, there’s another adage which is applicable. It is not exactly biblical, but I’m told it has something of scriptural weight in military circles.
It is: “Suck it up and drive on, soldier. Follow your orders.”
Yet, as it also says in 1 Corinthians 12:31, there is a “more excellent way.”
Crews himself pointed to it, when he stated that one of the “strengths of the Chaplains Corps has been the collegiality and respect for chaplains from other faiths.”
This is good to hear, especially when we consider that several large U.S. Protestant denominations already accept homosexuals as members and clergy. Two of the three largest Jewish communities do, too. All are represented in the chaplaincy.
I suggest that the solution for the evangelical chaplains Crews is concerned about is straightforward: simply extend the “collegiality and respect” accorded to these other chaplains to all the troops, whether homosexual or not.
Or to put it another way: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7).
That should take care of it, really.”
Nonetheless, Crews and his fellow evangelicals fought DADT repeal to the last ditch, and for their crusade they had the heavyweight backing of the Southern Baptist convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. In fact, in the same year, the SBC adopted a “save DADT” resolution which declared, in suitably apocalyptic language, that repeal would mean the end of American military strength. [Full text here]:
“Military recruiting will be crippled because:
(1) those segments of the American population most represented in the armed services are also those segments most likely to have moral convictions against homosexual behavior,
(2) a great many of those who have served in the military since 1993 say they would not have served if required to live on intimate terms with open homosexuals,
(3) should current law be repealed, a large percentage of currently serving military personnel say they will not reenlist or will end their careers early, and
(4) should current law be repealed, many parents will not entrust their sons and daughters to superiors who require them to live on intimate terms with open homosexuals . . . .”
So there it was. If Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, we were warned, not only would most of the conservative military chaplains leave, the military itself will shrivel drastically.
Richard Land, the SBC’s voice on social issues, made it plain: “Land warned that allowing openly gay Americans to serve in the military would ‘destroy the finest fighting force the world has ever known.’“
When I read these, once I stopped laughing, I thought– I ask you, for a peacenik, in all of this, what’s not to like?
After all, some of us have been laboring for decades to find ways of shrinking the military, and rolling back the crusader mentality joined with biblicist homophobia in an ever-growing chunk of the chaplaincy and officers corps.
And suddenly, here it is: kill DADT, says the SBC, and presto, job done, or almost. Where we anti-DADT advocates merely thought we were reaching for equality of service in a hazardous occupation, according to these Baptist prophets and chaplain seers, this was actually the vanguard who would deal the Military Industrial Complex a nearly mortal blow.
What all our petitioning and mass marches and civil disobedience and tax resistance couldn’t accomplish, the Lavender brigades would achieve by a stealth attack.
Well, if that’s how it turns out, I say, Here’s to Irony, and God bless every gay or lesbian who ever hit on a recruiter.
But as we know, both the SBC’s huffing and chaplain Crews’s puffing failed. DADT was officially repealed in September 2011. At Quaker House we celebrated the breaking of this chain with a press briefing, and an 80-second YouTube video, which used a current recruiting meme “Army Strong”, and which can be seen here.
And of course — doggone it –neither army recruiting, or its fighting units, the chaplain corps, or the Military Industrial Complex, collapsed, as so confidently pronounced.
Even so, Chaplain Crews has been keeping busy, trying to roll back these changes, as head of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. But he and they soon suffered another major setback: within three years, on October 3, 2014, legal same sex marriage came to North Carolina and Fort Bragg.
I’d retired by then, but drove down to Fayetteville to witness the change in action, at the county courthouse. Lots of same sex couples showed up, and unlike some other places, were served without incident. A good friend, the late Rev. Kat Royal, was on hand to tie the knot for those who were ready.
I was grateful that Quaker House did its small best to aid this advance for justice.
Chuck Fager retired as Quaker House Director Director in 2012.