‘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 It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.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

Virginia Lawmaker: Feds Can’t Stop Us From Banning Gays From National Guard

Back in December, wingnut Virginia legislator Bob Marshall announced a bill to ban homosexuals from serving in that state’s National Guard. Today we get the text of that bill, which lists numerous examples of gays being booted from the military after declaring that the federal government has no right to tell Virginia who can serve in its National Guard.

A state may have different eligibility standards for membership in a State’s National Guard than for membership in the Armed Forces of the United States (e.g., education, driving record, drug use, criminal record, age, and other criteria). Such eligibility standards are not within the power of the U.S. Congress because they are not matters of “discipline.” “training,” “arming” or “organizing” the Militia, or National Guard. At present, the Virginia National Guard and the U. S. Army have different eligibility admission criteria than the Armed Forces of the United States, and the Commonwealth of Virginia has authority to determine whether or not an active, open and practicing homosexual should serve in the Virginia National Guard. There is no constitutional right to serve in the National Guard.

Joe. My. God.

—  admin

Former Coast Guard Member Leads Repeal Efforts in Illinois

The following comes from HRC Field Organizer and military veteran Lee Reinhart:

Shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks I decided to rejoin our military.  Ready to serve again,  I decided to serve by joining the Coast Guard.  This decision was cut short just three months into my enlistment. After a visit to a gay bar (with both gay and straight shipmates), I quickly found myself on the road to discharge.

During the investigation, Navy JAG lawyers told me the investigation was flawed, that my command had insufficient proof and that I could stay in if I denied I was gay. After years of being out to my family and having served openly in the Navy 1995-1999, I was not willing to lie.

Now, instead of serving my country in uniform, I’m proudly working to help America live up to her promise of liberty and justice for ALL.  I’m working with the Human Rights Campaign in Illinois to help repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I love our country and hope to return to service one day soon.

I am calling on all Illinois voters to call  Senator-elect Mark Kirk’s office and ask for his immediate support in repealing the ban.  His office number is 202.225.4835.  Call today!

Calling isn’t the only thing that we have planned for the coming weeks in Illinois; if you want to help out, we are always looking for volunteers. Contact me at 773.680.0620 to find out how.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  admin

If your security guard is out having a smoke while your store is getting robbed, do you only blame the burglar?

So you pay a lot of money for a security guard. He’s the best in the business, and promises to be loads better than the drunk you had before. Somehow, however, your home ends up getting burgled anyway. It seems the guard was busy doing other things when he said he’d be watching your home.

So you’re pretty much screwed, and you’re angry. Who do you blame?

1. Just the burglar; or

2. The burglar and the lazy security guard?

Some in the gay community, and the administration, would like you to believe that the Republicans are the sole ones responsible for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” going down in flames this week. And to some extent they’re right – clearly it was the GOP that led the filibuster of the Defense Bill.

But is that really the whole story? That the Republicans did it?

Isn’t it true that the Senate leadership is supposed to rally its own caucus for important legislation? And just as importantly, doesn’t the President of the United States have his bully pulpit, in addition to other mechanisms for pressuring members of Congress on votes?

This past week, the Republicans led the charge to be sure. But it’s also true that Senator Reid was unable to keep his caucus in line – two defected and joined the GOP filibuster, giving them enough votes to kill the bill.

And then there’s the President. He was simply AWOL. While DADT repeal supporters were frantically trying to scrounge up the votes to block the filibuster, the President didn’t lift a finger to keep Democrats in line, or to try to embarrass Republicans for the “un-American” act of voting against a defense bill (something the GOP routinely accused Democrats of during their years in the majority). Instead of calling members of the Senate about the DOD bill, the President was busy calling the WNBA champions. And instead of punishing Democratic Senators who strayed and sided with the GOP in an effort to kill one of the President’s top campaign promises, VP Biden actually did a fundraiser for one of those Democrats the day after the ignominious vote.

We’ve been robbed. And you’d better believe I’m pissed at the thief. But I’m also pissed at the security guard who I gave a lot of money to in exchange for his promise to be my fierce advocate. When the going got tough, he chickened out. And the funny thing is, now he wants me to hire his buddies for another two years.

I get that the bad guys are still out there. But I’m thinking it’s time to look for a new bodyguard.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright

Eagles Guard Sorry for Antigay Tweet

Philadelphia Eagles guard Todd Herremans apologized Tuesday after he
posted a tweet about his love of the HBO show True Blood, but his
distaste for its use of gay characters.
Daily News

—  John Wright