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 It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.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

With 9/11 anniversary approaching, Sally Kern reminds us that homosexuality is the real threat

Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern

Right Wing Watch reports that Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern has doubled down on her claim, first made in 2008, that homosexuality poses a greater threat to the U.S. than terrorism. Here’s RWW’s transcript of Kern’s remarks during an Aug. 31 interview with Peter LaBarbera of the hate group Americans for Truth About Homosexuality:

You know if you just look at it in practical terms, which has destroyed and ended the life of more people? Terrorism attack here in America or HIV/AIDS? In the last twenty years, fifteen to twenty years, we’ve had maybe three terrorist attacks on our soil with a little over 5,000 people regrettably losing their lives. In the same time frame, there have been hundreds of thousands who have died because of having AIDS. So which one’s the biggest threat? And you know, every day our young people, adults too, but especially our young people, are bombarded at school, in movies, in music, on TV, in the mall, in magazines, they’re bombarded with ‘homosexuality is normal and natural.’ It’s something they have to deal with every day. Fortunately we don’t have to deal with a terrorist attack every day, and that’s what I mean. …

It’s more dangerous, and yes I think that it’s also more dangerous because it will tear down the moral fiber of this nation. We were founded as a nation upon the principles of religion and morality, if we take those out from under our society we will lose what has made us a great nation, we will no longer be a virtuous people, which we see happening already. And without virtue this nation will not survive.

The audio is here.

—  John Wright

Sally Kern points to Dallas Voice as source of evil

Our good friend, Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern, has a new book coming out called The Stoning of Sally Kern: The liberal attack on Christian conservatism-and why we must take a stand.

Poor Sally. The liberal media is attacking her. And just who is this liberal media? Well, she clearly identifies it as us. Here’s a quote from her book:

“Publications such as Dallas Voice and The Advocate ran on line articles commending my opponent and bashing me.”

Well, if quoting her in context is bashing, we’ll take full credit.

Here’s what she said:

“I honestly think it’s the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam, which I think is a big threat.”

The “it” she was talking about is homosexuality. And that wasn’t some off-handed comment. It was part of a state proclamation that other state elected officials condemned.

And just to make sure she wasn’t misunderstood, she also said:

“Here in America we’ve had what maybe three known real big terrorist attacks on our nation. But every day our young people especially, all of us, but our young people especially are in a sense bombarded with the message that homosexuality is normal and natural.”

We also pointed out that Kern’s district is adjacent to the one where the Oklahoma City bombing took place. People from her district were killed. But gays are a bigger threat.

Here’s my interview with her opponent, Brittany Novotny. I’m not sure that I “commended” Novotny. I merely reported that the New York Times said she had a chance to win. I quoted the candidate calling her opponent an extremist. And Kern would have had the same opportunity if she returned a phone call.

I can’t wait to read the entire book so we can do some more Kern-bashing.

—  David Taffet

Leader of anti-gay group in Amarillo plans to publicly burn Quran on 9/11 anniversary

A Florida pastor may have called off his plan to burn Qurans on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But David Grisham, the leader of a militant evangelical group in Amarillo, tells the local CBS affiliate that he plans to publicly burn the Muslim holy book on Saturday. Grisham is the leader of Repent Amarillo, which gained attention in January when it launched a boycott of Houston after the city elected on openly gay mayor, Annise Parker:

According to Grisham, he has questioned why he should go through with his plan, but in the end, he feels it is right.

“Terrorism was seeded by the ideas in the Quran. It’s the Quran that has put our troops in danger. Burning one isn’t going to put our troops in danger. It’s the ideas contained in that book that put them in danger,” said Grisham.

Grisham is a security guard at a nuclear-bomb facility called Pantex, according to media reports. Repent Amarillo goes by the moniker “Army of God” and refers to itself as the “special forces of spiritual warfare.” The group has also gained attention for a campaign to shut down a local swingers club, as well as a “warfare map” posted on its website identifying its enemies in Amarillo.

—  John Wright

Sally Kern: We’ve had 3 major terrorist attacks, but we’re bombarded with homosexuality daily

Sally Kern

It’s been more than two years since Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern made the statement that homosexuals are a bigger threat to national security than terrorists. And Kern is still trying to explain why.

From an interview with Fox 25 in Oklahoma City, which reported recently on Kern’s race against Democratic challenger Brittany Novotny, who happens to be transgender:

When you mention the name Sally Kern, most people think of the now-infamous speech she gave two years ago, declaring homosexuals more dangerous to America than terrorists. But that is the first of many misconceptions Kern says she wants to clear up.

“Here in America we’ve had what maybe three known real big terrorist attacks on our nation,” Kern said. “But every day our young people especially, all of us, but our young people especially are in a sense bombarded with the message that homosexuality is normal and natural.”

—  David Taffet