‘Perform or provide’

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


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
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.


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 It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.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

In NH, House GOP’s ‘legislative agenda will not include repealing gay marriage’

Interesting development from the Granite State, which I first saw via Joe.My.God:

The House Republican’s legislative agenda will not include repealing gay marriage.

House Republican Leader D.J. Bettencourt confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday that jobs and the economy will be the top priorities that Republicans will use as their scorecard to measure themselves by for the next two years.

This is fascinating, if it proves to be true. As Joe says:

Stand by for NOM’s hissy fit.

This sure gives all those anti-gay GOP presidential hopefuls something to talk about. Good thing Fred Karger is campaigning in New Hampshire to provide some sanity.


—  admin

The arguments against repealing DADT rooted in outlandish fear and homophobia

crossposted on Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters

In the fight to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the argument of the lgbt community has been consistent.

Sexual orientation should not be used a criteria to keep people from serving their country. Lgbts can and have served in the military admirably and should not have to lie to continue to do so.

Now on the other side of the fence, the arguments of those who want to keep DADT (or keep lgbts out of the military altogether) have ranged from distortions to downright outrageous lies.

Let's look at the top five:

5. Gays will go “rape crazy” on military men – This year, discredited researcher Paul Cameron actually had the audacity to come out with a “study” claiming that gays are four to seven more times likely to rape their fellow servicemen. He even says that some perpetrators of heterosexual sex assaults can be termed as gay because apparently some gay men “like women too.”

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, while saying nothing about Cameron's phony study, actually echoed its main points:

Our military exists to fight and win wars, not engage in radical social engineering. Forcing soldiers to cohabit with people who view them as sexual objects would inevitably lead to increased sexual tension, sexual harassment, and even sexual assault.

4. Heterosexuals will abandon the military if DADT is repealed – Last year, The Military Times came out with a survey claiming that a majority of respondents (58%) said they opposed openly gay service and 10% said they would not re-enlist if the ban was lifted. However, the Palm Center and Gary Langer who headed polling for ABC News skewered the survey for numerous errors.

Robert Knight of the right-wing Coral Ridge Ministries earlier this year said the following:

” . . .25 percent of people in the military have said they'll either resign or they wouldn't re-enlist. It would hurt recruitment because the military draws from traditional populations that have very traditional values. It would hurt unit cohesion.”

However, it was discovered that the poll he was citing was nonexistent.  Knight's claim originated from a quote by World Net Daily writer Mychal Massie.  World Net Daily is a publication not necessarily know for its credibility. Amongst other things, it pushes the belief that President Obama is not a United States citizen.


3. Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal will lead to the draft, forced abortions, pansexual cross-dressing, forced abortions – Robert Knight again:

Forcing open homosexuality on the armed forces would destroy the volunteer military and bring back the compulsory draft. Since women are now deployed close to combat, and the only legal reason they are not eligible is their combat exemption, a new draft could include our daughters. And some would face pressure to have on-base abortions in order to complete their tours of duty.

Chaplains would be the first victims of Mr. Obama's homosexualization of the military, followed by anyone who violated “zero tolerance” policies for homosexual acceptance. Bible-believing Christians would quickly find themselves unwelcome in Barney Frank's new pansexual, cross-dressing military.

Other fallout includes family housing, reduction in retention, recruitment and unit cohesion, an increase in homosexual sexual assaults and a boost to overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Can you believe that? He forgot the wanton cannibalism.

2. Gays in the military will lead to increased diseases – Earlier this year, a right-wing group, America's Survival, put out a video claiming that gays serving openly in the military will lead to an increase in diseases like AIDS. The video was so offensive that it was removed from youtube.

America's Survival is led by Cliff Kincaid, head of the right-wing group Accuracy In Media. Kincaid and AIM has a long history of smearing the gay community.

Earlier this year, AIM was forced to retract a story on its web page which inaccurately accused Obama appointee Kevin Jennings of being a pedophile.

And Kincaid is probably one of the only few people in this country who openly defends Uganda's anti-gay bill including the part about the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”

Now what can top all of these ridiculous reasons? This one by the Traditional Values Coalition:

1. The repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell will lead to “sodomy on the battlefield” and sex parties:

Imagine the impact that the rampant spread of STDs, including HIV would have on the military? How will the military handle the spread of these diseases in the barracks? How will the military handle sodomy in battlefield situations?  . . . what about the unrestrained drug and sex antics committed by young male homosexuals?

The reasons for repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell are good enough to stand on their own.  But the claims of the opposition add credibility to these reasons simply because they are totally unprovable, illogical, and add nothing to the argument. They mainly come from a desire to exploit fear and ignorance. And a place of desperation.

Fear, ignorance, and desperation are qualities which have never had a place in our Armed Forces. And they don't deserve to be accommodated now.

But those who have served admirably and will continue to do so, regardless of sexual orientation, should be allowed in through the front door.
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Tony Perkins’ Completely Reasonable Fear Repealing DADT Will Force Obama To Bring Back The Draft

Reasonable person Tony Perkins, whose Focus on the Family hatemongering has found a home at Tucker Carlon's The Daily Caller, raises reasonable fears: If we repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell and lose all those homophobic straight soldiers, Obama is going to have to bring back the draft! Lord.


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—  admin

Obama’s new pick for Marine Commandant opposes repealing DADT

What idiot chose a guy who vocally opposes one of the President’s top policy priorities? The fact is, the White House didn’t care enough about DADT to pick a nominee who was on our side, and who supported the President. I doubt a Republican president would ever choose someone who vocally disagreed with him, and who would publicly try to discredit him.

Yet again, this isn’t fierce advocacy. It’s yet another missed opportunity by the Obama administration. And it’s further proof that our civil rights just aren’t that important over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.


—  admin

The Predictable Backlash To The Obama Admin’s Go Slow Approach To Repealing DADT, Other LGBT Issues

Politico has a six webpage long article up on their website, entitled Obama’s Go-Slow ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Plan Backfires. Image: Military veterans Autumn Sandeen, Dan Choi, Evelyn Thomas, Jim Pietrangelo II, Mara Boyd, and Larry Whitt handcuffed to the White House FenceThe piece recounts how when President Clinton first took office, one of his first acts was attempting to remove the barrier to gays serving openly in the military services. The attempt failed, and from this we ended up with the federal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) compromise.

When President Obama took office, he appeared to have taken a lesson from the Clinton Administration: Go slow on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, or face Congressional backlash.

Unfortunately for President Obama, LGBT community members want him to live up to quickly live up to his campaign promise to repeal DADT, and allow gay, lesbian, and bisexual servicemembers to serve openly.

Politico‘s Josh Gerstein is indicating in his piece that there is a backlash from the LGBT community that is hurting him not only with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, but hurting him with the Democratic base.

From the piece:

Obama now faces his own political crisis over the issue that threatens his support from key Democratic constituencies, undermines his relationship with the Pentagon and puts him in the odd position of defending a practice he has denounced as discriminatory and harmful to national security.

“It’s crazy that all this is happening 2½ weeks before a national election,” said Richard Socarides, an adviser to Clinton on gay issues during the ’93 fiasco. “The timing could not be worse for them, but it was fairly predictable that their strategy of postponing and delaying getting into this stuff was, at some point, going to come back to haunt them.”

Obama’s current predicament is a result of a collision between a go-slow White House strategy that deferred to Pentagon and military leaders on the pace of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the progress of a stuttering federal lawsuit that a small group of gay Republicans filed more than six years ago.

The Obama White House, led in large part by Clinton veteran Rahm Emanuel, sought to avoid a showdown with the military over the issue. Particularly as Obama, a relative neophyte on national security, faced critical decisions on Iran and Afghanistan, he didn’t want the process derailed by the culturally freighted gays-in-the-military fight.

Socarides adds:

The part of this that was smart was that they figured the only way to get this done was to get the Pentagon’s buy-in. That is informed by the Clinton experience. You cannot outsmart the Pentagon on this kind of thing.

The timing could not be worse for them, but it was fairly predictable that their strategy of postponing and delaying getting into this stuff was, at some point, going to come back to haunt them.

Thumbnail Link to Politico article 'Obama's go-slow DADT plan backfires', which used the iconic DADT photograph of Autumn Sandeen, Dan Choi, Evelyn Thomas, Jim Pietrangelo II, Mara Boyd, and Larry Whitt handcuffed to the White House FenceAnd, of course, there’s a place in this where I played a part in this story on DADT:

While many organized gay groups deferred to a greater or lesser extent to the White House’s strategy and timeline, bloggers like John Aravosis and in-your-face protesters like Dan Choi did not. The online activists and upstart groups never bought into the wait-for-the-Pentagon approach, even after Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented historic testimony in February endorsing an end to “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

I literally stood next to Dan Choi when Dan Choi, Evelyn Thomas, Jim Pietrangelo II, Mara Boyd, Larry Whitt, and I chained ourselves to the White House Fence in a bid to encourage President Obama to propose repealing of DADT in his Defense Department budget request. From the GetEqual press release at the time:

The Defense Authorization Bill (DAB) provides funding for all military operations, and it will soon be up for renewal.

President Obama knows that the DAB provides a way to repeal DADT immediately. And he knows that repealing the policy quickly and decisively is the right thing to do for LGBT servicemembers and for all of the armed forces. But recent reports suggest that the Administration is trying to delay any law change until December or even later.

Yes. That delay plan has been going on awhile, and now many in the LGBT community are dissatisfied with the Obama Administration’s and the Democratic Congress’ failure to not only to successfully repeal DADT, but also failing to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and pass into law the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Personally, I can’t tell you how odd it is to see that a photo by AP photographer Pablo Martinez Monsivais has turned into the iconic DADT photo, in the sense that and that I’m one of the six LGBT veterans in that iconic photo. It’s also kind of odd to me to be in a photo that has become that iconic, but is one where no one in the mainstream media is highlighting that I’m a transgender military veteran.

But beyond it just being about Dan Choi and me being in a photo, there were four others in that photo working for the freedom, equality, and justice of LGBT community members. That image captures a microcosm of how it’ not just one or two activists that are working on LGBT issues, but it’s diverse population of folk within the LGBT community who are working on LGBT issues.

And, that diverse population of LGBT folk (as well as LGBT folks’ friends, families, and allies) are, as stated so many times (and even in this piece), dissatisfied with the Obama Administration’s and the Democratic Congress’ failure to not only to successfully repeal DADT, but also failing to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and pass into law the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

The Obama Administration apparently believed their was a danger of moving to quickly on LGBT issues — including DADT — because of possible backlash from the Pentagon and Congress. I don’t think the Obama Administration was acutely aware that there was another danger regarding LGBT issues — moving so slowly on LGBT issues that many in the LGBT community don’t believe that The President delivered on the change we can believe in. In other words, there may have been a backlash from some quarters regarding moving to quickly on LGBT issues — such as DADT — but there is now a backlash from many LGBT community members because they see him moving too slowly on LGBT issues.

Since a major constituency of his party and to his presidency are LGBT community members, he should have perhaps paid much more attention to that LGBT constituency then he has done in the first two years of his presidency.
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright

O’Donnell: Repealing DADT Would Be Like Allowing Adultery In The Military

Via Wonkroom, here’s what Christine O’Donnell said about DADT.

“A federal judge recently ruled that we have to overturn Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. There are a couple of things we need to say about that. First of all, judges should not be legislating from the bench. Second of all, it’s up to the military to set the policy that the military believes is in the best interest of unit cohesiveness and military readiness. The military already regulates personal behavior in that it doesn’t allow affairs to go on within your chain of command. It does not allow it you are married to have an adulterous affair within the military. So the military already regulates personal behavior because it feels that it is in the best interest of our military readiness. I don’t think that Congress should be forcing a social agenda on to our military. I think we should leave that to the military.”

Fuller clips of the debate are in the post below this one.

Joe. My. God.

—  John Wright

The DNC did a video about us. Forget about repealing DADT and DOMA, and passing ENDA. They did a video!

Yes, the DNC did a video about us. All about us. And if it were 1985, we’d be on our knees thanking them for acknowledging our pathetic existence. But since it’s 2010, it’s not enough for the Democrats to keep doing these very public but very lacking in substance efforts to buy off our money and our votes.

I’ve made the comparison to high school before. And how when we were all insecure children, we practically waited on pins and needles for that one moment in the hallway when one of the popular kids might look our way and smile, or maybe even said “hi.”

But we’re not pathetic kids anymore. And doing a video about us, showing up at some organization’s dinner, or throwing us a cocktail party in the White House isn’t going to cut it anymore. We no longer feel the overwhelming need to be accepted into the cool kids club. We are the cool kids now. Our community has the money, the votes, the power. We are a key constituency of the Democratic party, and you’d better damn well be wooing us, because you need us. And we’ve finally come to realize that point. YOU need US.

That’s why another sweet-nothing, which this video is, is not going to cut it. Truman didn’t do a video instead of integrating the military. Johnson didn’t do a video instead of getting the Civil Rights Act passed. This little YouTube isn’t going to get Dan Choi his job back. It’s not going to help the lesbian fired from her job. It’s not going to let gay couples finally marry like everyone else. The President didn’t promise us videos and dinner appearances. He didn’t promise an administrative fix to hospital visitation rights that will go away the next time a Republican president takes office along with those “new” benefits for gay federal employees that we found out weren’t new at all, and in fact, gay federal employees have been getting since the Clinton era. The President promised us the repeal of DADT and DOMA, and the passage of ENDA.

So where are they?

When you come up with that video, the one telling us you repealed DADT and DOMA, and passed ENDA, get back to us.

PS And please don’t claim credit for DADT when the legislation currently being discussed doesn’t even repeal the law, doesn’t require a repeal in the future, doesn’t mandate what is to replace DADT if it is ever repealed, and in fact gives DOD 2 votes to the White House’s 1 vote for repeal. When you can tell us the discharges have stopped – when you can tell us WHEN the discharges will even stop – then get back to us.


—  John Wright