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 It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.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

Great Spaces: Conditioner love

Yes, you can have a cold house without the big bills — and that’s not hot air

By David Taffet

Perhaps the one thing we loathe the most besides triple digit temps in summer is that dreaded electric bill. The air conditioner is a must for summer in Texas, but the wallet sure takes a beating. One local expert recommends these simple tips to help you keep your cool and some green.

Todd Ylen of TNS Mechanical in Arlington said that only half the air conditioning complaints his company receives could be traced to the main unit. The first thing he checks is the overall cleanliness of what he calls “the guts.” He recommends a professional cleaning with caustic chemicals.

“It should be done professionally,” he says, “The chemicals won’t hurt the plants but it can melt the rubber off your sneakers.”

During the season, he said, don’t be afraid to wash the unit with a hose, but not a pressure washer. A garden hose will not damage an outdoor air conditioning system. They’re made to withstand gale-force winds.

Keep grass and weeds off outdoor condensers. They clog the system and decrease efficiency.

Next, Ylen said he checks the house.

“How efficient is the ductwork?” he says. “How efficient is your house?”

The outer lining of much of the ductwork installed in the 1980s has deteriorated. Squirrels, raccoons and other animals that get into the attic can cause a tremendous amount of damage to the ducts as well.

Cold air will blow in the attic but never reach the living areas of the house if the ducts are torn or worn. He recommends modern, high-insulated ductwork.

Next, he suggests an energy audit company to check for leaks around doors and windows.

“Seal the house,” he says. It pays off in lower energy bills quickly.

And ventilate, he said. Ylen called the old whirlybirds on most roofs worthless.

He recommends solar-powered, fan-driven ventilators. A year ago, he said, they were $1,800. Today they sell for $400, an amount that will pay for itself in one season. He calls it an upfront investment that continues to pay off by lowering electric bills on air conditioning and never costing a cent to operate.

Filters should be changed monthly. Dirty filters prevent the system from drawing air easily, making it work harder and use more energy.
Programmable thermostats are also useful in keeping the system from cooling the house when not needed.

Ylen calls radiant barriers ineffective with a 50-year payback, but insulation very useful.

“A preventive maintenance program is crucial,” he says. He sums up his energy-saving tips to all homeowners — insulate, ventilate and stop air leaks.

TNS Mechanical services homes throughout Texas and has other tips at AirConditioningRepairArlington.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 15, 2011.

—  John Wright

Obama to Connecticut AIDS Hecklers: Why Do You Think This Is A Useful Strategy?

The president’s speech was interrupted by AIDS hecklers at a stop in Connecticut yesterday, prompting him to address them directly.

‘Let me just say this,’ he said, addressing the hecklers. ‘You’ve been appearing at every rally we’ve been doing. ‘We’re funding global Aids,’ he continued defensively. ‘And the other [Republican] side is not. ‘So I don’t know why you think this is a useful strategy to take,’ he finished, jabbing his finger angrily in the direction of the hecklers. The crowds boos turned to cheers as Mr Obama – who was in the state campaigning for Democrat Richard Blumenthal – spoke. ‘So, what we would suggest,’ he added, ‘I think it would make a lot more sense for you guys to go to the folks who aren’t interested in funding global Aids and shout at that rally. Because we’re trying to focus on figuring out how to finance the things that you want financed.’

Then he turned to another group of hecklers on his other side, adding: ‘You guys same thing.’ As more chants filled the rally, he said: ‘Alright, you guys have made your point, now let’s go.’ Fighting to regain the momentum of the rally, he held his hands up saying: ‘Everybody – we’re alright. ‘Come on guys,’ he said. He then fell silent again, watching with pursed lips as the crowd booed the hecklers once more. The President waited nearly 20 seconds for the noise to stop, then attempted again to continue with his speech.

Joe. My. God.

—  admin

Ken Mehlman, Do Something Useful: Speak Truth to Power.

I'm not privy to what Ken Mehlman did or did not do secretly while working for the Republican Party and the White House.  Nor am I privy to his soul.  And I'm not privy to hearts of those he caused agony, suffering, depression and anxiety to, or to those were were fired or beaten up partly as a result of the campaigns he waged.  And I have no idea what, if anything, he could possibly do for those hearts to forgive him.

Still, Mr. Mehlman claims that “he wants to become an advocate for gay marriage.”.  That's pretty vague, and seems to consist of doing a fundraiser to support further litigation in the Proposition 8 trial.  Kerry Eleveld and I have a better idea.  As she put it on Friday:

… instead of crucifying Mehlman, let’s hand him a pickax and a shovel and let him get to work on dismantling the hate he and his cronies helped heap upon a vulnerable and undeserving minority.

Or, in my less eloquent opinion, if Ken Mehlman really wants to demonstrate a commitment to equal rights, he should forecefully employ the political talents he is famous for.

Below the fold for my two ideas.

Mr. Mehlman was the Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2005 to 2007.  He was also a very important political operative working in the Bush White House before that.  Hell, the American Association of Political Consultants named him the Campaign Manager of the Year in 2005. He's given large sums of money to various Republicans who currently hold positions of responsibility.  It's safe to say he knows lots of Republicans.  Very Important Republicans.  In Washington and everywhere.

The battle for equal marriage rights in California isn't going to be won or lost because Ken Mehlman does or does not co-host a fundraiser.  The arguments have been made, the Ninth Circuit and perhaps ultimately the Supreme Court will render their verdicts.  But there are two hugely important political battles that Mr. Mehlman might, just might, be able to effect to the point that he could actually change the outcome.  What might those be?

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA):  It's not marriage equality, true.  But it's as fundamental to full equality.  ENDA is nearly dead, largely because there aren't enough votes in the Senate to invoke cloture (there are at least 51 votes for passage).  Could Mr. Mehlman convince two or three Republicans other than Senators Snowe and Collins (who are sponsors of the bill) to support it?  Hell, he doesn't even have to do that.  All he has to do is convince a few Republicans to vote for cloture.  They don't have to vote for the bill itself. If there were five Republicans ready to do that, might Harry Reid just get a spine, round up the 55 Democrats he needs, and push it through?

Marriage equality in New York State:  At some point in the not too distant future, the New York State Senate is likely to again take up marriage equality.  Last year, in a truly dismal result, the Senate voted 38-24 against, with all Republicans voting nay (the Assembly had passed the bill by 89-52).  But there were indications that some Republicans (and some Democrats) might have been willing to vote in favor of the bill if their vote meant it would pass.

With a newly elected Senate in 2011, and with it a different cast of characters, could Ken Mehlman (now a New York State resident) employ his considerable political savvy to convince some Republicans in the Senate to support a bipartisan effort to pass marriage equality in New York State?

I have no idea whether someone of Mehlman's stature could pull off either of these.  Perhaps Republicans in office are unmovable on these issues.  Perhaps he has become persona non grata to the very people he would need to influence.  But if Ken Mehlman was truly thrown from his horse expensive automobile on the road to Damascus Chelsea, wants to do something important, and wants to have a real impact, these two battles might be good place to start.

And, if he's successfu at the latter, he could get married…
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright