Sat, Jul 07, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Culture: Seeking balance

Nine months after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” military chaplains of different faiths are lending support to gay couples

By David Crary  /  AP, Wrightstown, New Jersey

“I’m also supporting Chaplain Reeb,” he said. “She gave a beautiful ceremony.”

According to the latest Pentagon figures, there are about 2,930 chaplains on active duty, most from theologically conservative faiths and organizations. The Southern Baptist Convention has the largest contingent, with about 450 active-duty chaplains; the Roman Catholic Church is next with about 220.

The Catholic official who oversees those chaplains, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, had vehemently opposed repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and issued a statement after repeal conveying ongoing concerns “in this difficult time.”

“This archdiocese remains resolved in the belief that no Catholic chaplain will ever be compelled to condone—even silently—homosexual behavior,’’ he said then.

However, Broglio said he was unaware of any major repeal-related problems that had arisen for his chaplains during the first nine months of the new era.

“There have been no overt difficulties,” he said. “It’s more a question of what might occur in the future.”

Broglio remains concerned that Catholic chaplains might somehow be pressured to participate in or facilitate ceremonies or programs that bestow recognition and approval on same-sex couples—“As time goes by, it will be a challenge, to make certain you’re not silently condoning.”

As for preaching the Catholic doctrine that homosexual behavior is a sin, Broglio said he expects chaplains to retain the freedom to do so as part of their religious services. But he said there is confusion as to whether that freedom extends to other settings where chaplains might face pressure to deliver inclusive messages.

Broglio said he has not given his chaplains specific instructions to either emphasize church teaching on homosexuality in their preaching or to avoid the subject.

He concurred with the estimates that only a handful of chaplains have left the military because of the repeal. He said “two or three” Catholic chaplains had resigned their commissions in recent months, and guessed that repeal may have been a factor though they didn’t cite that specifically.

Another conservative denomination with a large contingent of chaplains—114 on active duty—is the Assemblies of God.

Scott McChrystal, a retired Army chaplain who oversees them, said the concerns that preceded repeal had not been borne out.

“Since the actual repeal, I cannot recall a single instance where I’ve gotten a call from one of our chaplains who’s had a problem,” he said. “Our goal as an organization is simply to provide as much help as we can to anybody we can.”

Likewise, Frank Clawson, director of military relations for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said none of the 42 active-duty Mormon chaplains with whom he works has reported problems linked to the repeal or expressed a desire to leave the service.

Yet Clawson remains wary that the military could become increasingly inhospitable to religious conservatives.

“I don’t know if the vote is in yet,” he said. “The pendulum has swung the other way, to where if you do have a faith, you’re almost looked down on.”

The loudest assertions that conservative chaplains face problems come from outside the active-duty ranks, notably from a coalition of retired chaplains and other religious leaders called the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. In a letter to a Republican congressman in March, the alliance contended that repeal has been implemented “with an open and palpable hostility” to chaplains and service members who disapprove of homosexuality.

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