‘Perform or provide’

DADT repeal gives progressive chaplains a chance to counter evangelical clergy in the military

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CATCH-ALL CHAPLAIN | Chaplain Chris Antal (Lt.) attended the meeting of the Forum on Military Chaplaincy at Cathedral of Hope in October. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com
When a soldier recently came to Chaplain Chris Antal, a lieutenant in the Army National Guard in New York and a Unitarian Universalist minister, and asked if he’d pray with her even though she was a pagan, he said he replied, “Of course I will, but you’ll have to show me how.”

Several weeks later, when he saw her again, she told him that the day she had come to visit him, she had hit rock bottom. He had, she told him, saved her life that day.

But Antal said he was only doing his job — helping any soldier who comes to him.

“I’ve earned the nickname, the Catch-all Chaplain,” he said, explaining that it means he takes everyone the other chaplains don’t want to deal with.

Carpenter.Dodd

Capt. Tom Carpenter (ret.) and Col. Paul Dodd (ret.)

Being there to help a soldier in need is what it’s all about for a military chaplain, said Col. Paul Dodd, a retired chaplain who now lives in Austin.

“The duty of a military chaplain is to perform or provide,” said Dodd, adding that he once sponsored an Islamic conference.

Dodd said that no chaplain can perform every service needed by every member of the military. But if a chaplain can’t perform the service requested, he or she must provide that soldier with a referral to someone else who can.

Antal said that chaplains who enlisted knew what they were getting into — to some extent. But none of them really expected the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. And for many, that repeal was a game changer.

In October, a group of active and retired chaplains and military personnel and other people of faith, such as the Rev. Steve Sprinkle from Brite Divinity

School in Fort Worth, met at the Interfaith Peace Chapel at Cathedral of Hope to begin looking at ways of addressing the issues that arose for military chaplains around DADT repeal.

Dave Guy Gainer said The Forum on Military Chaplaincy is not exactly new. It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.

Sprinkle said people in the Pentagon, up through Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, knew about their work and considered their statements throughout the DADT repeal process.

And now, with repeal complete, the group met to “come out.” At their meeting in Dallas, forum members considered ways to become an independent organization helping to ensure newly out service members receive the pastoral care they need while serving in the military.

Susan Gore, principle of The Mentor Group and editor of the book Coming Out In Faith, moderated the Dallas conference. She said the group started with several retired military officers “who wanted to push back against the far-right skew.”

Sprinkle has been part of the forum for four years and said he was recruited to participate because of his work on hate crimes.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sprinkle said, more and more members of the Chaplain Corps have come from just one school — Liberty

University, founded by far-right evangelical Jerry Falwell. Today, Sprinkle estimated, one-third of military chaplains come from Liberty University.

“They instituted a program that barely meets minimum requirements,” he said of the evangelical school. “It’s an online course.”

And, Sprinkle said, Liberty University’s goal is to take control of the Chaplain Corps and use the military as a pool for religious recruits.

“This is fertile ground to bring people to Jesus at taxpayer expense,” said Tom Carpenter, a retired Marine captain and one of the forum’s founders.

“I’ve heard stories of them holding the hand of someone who’s dying and trying to bring them to Jesus.”

And although such actions contradict military policy, no one in the corps has been disciplined or dismissed for it.

“They give chaplains a lot of leeway,” Carpenter said.

Gainer said the military is looking for well-rounded ministers who bring experience with them to the military.

According to the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School in Fort Jackson, S.C., candidates must be endorsed by their denomination or faith group and be “sensitive to religious pluralism and able to provide for the free exercise of religion by all military personnel, their family members and civilians who work for the Army.”

But Sprinkle said that Liberty University is transparent about its goals, and those goals do not line up.

“They’re not committed to pluralism or serving all the troops,” he said.

Gainer said that the greatest opposition to repealing DADT came from the Chaplain Corps because military chaplains answer to two groups — the military and their denomination. Those chaplains that didn’t adhere to a strict stance of maintaining the ban on gays and lesbians were threatened with losing their accreditation from their endorsing religious body — and with it their livelihood and their pensions.

But that contradicts the stated goals of the Chaplain Corps.

“Someone has to say, ‘Either you comply and serve all the troops all the time or get out,’” Sprinkle said.

Gore said that one of the goals of the newly public forum is to “rebalance the Chaplain Corps by bringing in more mainstream faiths.” She said that for many who come from more liberal traditions, questions of what’s a just war make it hard to serve in the military. Antal, for example, is one of just four Unitarian Universalists in the Chaplain Corps.

During its push for repeal of DADT, members
said, the forum had several successes working behind the scenes.

Despite the assumption of confidentiality between parishioner and clergy, that wasn’t always the case between gay soldier and chaplain. Dodd said that a number of discharges under DADT occurred after a soldier talked to a chaplain and the chaplain turned them in.

In fact, he wrote a white paper on the practice. After he submitted it, the military tightened up on chaplain confidentiality, Dodd said.

Carpenter, an attorney, wrote an amicus brief for the Log Cabin Republicans’ lawsuit against DADT. The court found in favor of declaring DADT unconstitutional, but Congress repealed the law before the decision could be enforced.

Carpenter said that the repeal allows gays and lesbians to serve with no protection. The legal decision, had it not been vacated upon repeal, would have allowed gays and lesbians to serve equally.

Now that DADT is gone, the forum is examining how to ensure LGB personnel receive the same services as other troops from chaplains.

Dodd said that right-wing chaplains charge that allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military will force them to act in ways that go against their beliefs. Some have said they would be required to perform same-sex weddings.

Dodd called that ridiculous. Chaplains are never asked to perform duties that go against their religious beliefs, he said.

“I turned down weddings,” he said. “An officer came to me who wasn’t divorced.”

He said the officer tried to pull strings and force the issue, but Dodd wasn’t going to discuss marrying someone who was still married to someone else.

“But we’re insisting chaplains have the authority, if it’s in keeping with their faith, to marry same-sex couples,” he said.

Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, the repeal provides no family benefits. For some issues, Dodd and Carpenter suggested work-arounds.

Issuing ID cards would be extremely helpful, especially to same-sex couples with children, Carpenter said, noting that “That way either parent could get on base to get a child to the hospital.”

In another example, joint assignments can be offered at the discretion of a commanding officer, and married couples are often assigned together when they both qualify for positions that are available at the same base. Same-sex couples could be given the same priority.

As the forum looks ahead, rebalancing the Chaplain Corps with members from a more diverse background to reflect the membership of the military is a priority.

“And we need to take care of our trans brothers and sisters,” Carpenter said.

The repeal of DADT did not address any transgender issues and does not allow transgender men or women to serve in the military.

Gainer believes representatives of the forum need to sit down with far-right members of the Chaplain Corps and agree to disagree. He said that before the repeal of DADT, they talked to people at Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. While both groups testified against the repeal, they met with some success.

“The president of the VFW in Pflugerville said it was the right thing to do,” Gainer said.

That dialogue, he believed, would help chaplains perform or at least provide a useful referral, rather than doing more damage to a soldier seeking help.

Gore thought that the focus of discussion should be with the majority of chaplains “who want to do a good job and are part of the moveable middle.”

“We have to convince administrators and educators in divinity schools to encourage some of their best and brightest to serve,” Sprinkle said. “So many schools dropped what they were doing during the Vietnam era.”

Antal thinks that gays and lesbians will gain more acceptance as they tell their stories in non-confrontational settings and others see “their identity as professional service members is primary.”

While the work of the forum will concentrate on helping LGB military personnel, creating a more diverse Chaplain Corps may help a majority of service members. Recent polls show that a majority of troops find the chaplaincy irrelevant.

Sprinkle called the work of the forum a gift from the LGBT community to the nation.

“You wouldn’t think we’d be the ones opening the doors so that all troops will be served with dignity, integrity and respect,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Grindr goes non-gay with Project Amicus

On Thursday, the famous hook-up … I mean, location-based social network app, Grindr, will announce its newest venture. Via webcast, Grindr CEO Joel Simkhai will launch Project Amicus, which takes the Grindr idea of men meeting meN and opens it up to “everyone, whether you’re female, male, straight, gay, lesbian or bi,” according to an invitation to the webcast.

So finally, your non-gay male friends can leave you alone about how you’re hooking up all the time … err, making friends, because they can now do it for themselves.

In Thursday’s webcast, Simkhai will announce the app’s name (Project Amicus is a working title), key features and discuss how it will affect the socializing scene, which this guy isn’t all too fond of. But with Grindr’s bragging rights of having 2.6 million users, they have to be doing something right.

To get your invite to the Project Amicus app, click here to begin. If you’re interested in Thursday’s webcast at 10 a.m. Central time, email here to RSVP.

UPDATE: The new app’s name is Blendr. Simkhai tries hard to keep the app sounding G/PG rated by telling the New York Times today, ““If someone speaks the same language or is also into cooking, or crafts, that’s a strong basis of commonality and you might want to go meet them.”

—  Rich Lopez

More amicus briefs filed: Eagle Forum, Liberty Counsel — in support of Obama DOJ DOMA defense

More amicus briefs filed: Eagle Forum and Mat Staver & Bam Bam’s Liberty Counsel — in support of the government’s DOMA defense in Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management et al. From Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD):

We have received amicus briefs on behalf of DOJ from Eagle Forum, the American College of Pediatricians, and one from the attorneys general of Indiana, Michigan, Utah, Colorado, and South Carolina.

Also up are the briefs from the Pacific Justice Institute and the Foundation for Moral Law. From the Liberty Counsel brief, an attempt to say Loving v. Virginia is not a legitimate comparison to refer to when considering the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Loving v. Virginia is readily distinguishable.

The District Court’s reliance on Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), as evidence that Congress lacks authority to define marriage for purposes of federal laws is misplaced. (Op. at 7-8). To support its conclusion that Congress lacked authority to define marriage in DOMA, the District Court stated that prior to Loving, when some states prohibited interracial marriages, the federal government relied on state law definitions of marriage for purposes of federal law. Not only does this fail to address the other federal statutes mentioned above that defined marriage, it also ignores a critical distinction between the situations when, on the one hand, a state law definition of marriage is more restrictive than a federal definition of marriage (as in the instance of the state bans against interracial marriage), and, on the other hand, a state law definition is more expansive than a federal definition that incorporates the longstanding common law definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

As the Supreme Court ultimately and correctly held in Loving, it constitutes unconstitutional discrimination to prohibit interracial marriage. Prior to Loving, the federal government accepted the state definition of marriage for purposes of many federal statutes from those states that prohibited interracial marriages. Although no state should ever have prohibited such marriages, there are at least two reasons why the federal government might have relied on the state law definitions for purposes of federal statutes even when the state definitions unconstitutionally prohibited interracial marriages.

First, none of the marriages presented to the federal government for recognition was inconsistent with the longstanding definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Thus, while all the marriages allowed by the state fit the longstanding common law definition of marriage, the state’s definition included fewer marriages than would be accepted by the federal government. In other words, the federal government was not asked to acknowledge as a valid marriage anything that was inconsistent with the longstanding common law meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Second, the interracial couple could relocate to another state that permitted interracial marriage and, in turn, have their marriage recognized for purposes of federal statutes.

In contrast with the federal government’s acceptance of the more limiting state definition of marriage before Loving, the relief requested by Massachusetts asks the federal government to broaden its definition of marriage to include relationships that are inconsistent with the longstanding definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. In other words, it asks the federal government to recognize as a valid marriage a relationship that is repugnant, as was polygamy and bigamy, to the common law definition of marriage.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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Anti-gay orgs file amicus briefs in DOMA case

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders gave the heads up that the Obama DOJ brief (re: Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management et al.) will see fundie bedfellow filings, and lo and behold, the first out of the gate are from the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council.

From the FRC brief:

FRC actively supported the Defense of Marriage Act, the constitutionality of which is the subject of this appeal. FRC, therefore, has a particular interest in the outcome of this case. Requiring the Government to recognize the validity of same-sex marriages would not promote any of the interests on the basis of which marriage is a protected social institution. And, for the reasons set forth herein, nothing in the Constitution, properly understood, compels such recognition.

…Contrary to the district court’s understanding, the issue is not whether denying federal recognition of same-sex marriages “promote[s] stability in heterosexual parenting,” but whether granting such recognition would promote 17 that interest. Clearly, it would not. Under the rational basis standard of review, that is sufficient to sustain the constitutionality of ? 3 of DOMA.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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MASSACHUSETTS: NOM Files DOMA Amicus Brief With Federal Appeals Court

Joe. My. God.

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