Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Worrying About The Wrong Issue

Retired Navy Chaplain Roy Beebe wrote a short article for the Gospel Coalition today, What's Next for Military Chaplains if DOMA Is Rescinded?. His concern is that military chaplains will be placed in a position of having to choose conscience over policy. From the article....

Should our courts adopt a new policy of special protection of same-sex arrangements—as currently seems likely—the repercussions will threaten chaplains. The practice and expression of traditional religious beliefs in an "open setting" will be threatened under the loss of DOMA. This collision has not yet occurred but the scenario has been set. Recently the Department of Defense (under Secretary Panetta) released guidelines for all military commands to recognize same-sex domestic partner benefits including issuance of I.D. Cards, Exchange/Commissary privileges, as well as a number of other benefits. The current administration seems to assume that DOMA is inevitably doomed and is attempting to tip the scales in favor of abolishing it altogether.

I am not sure these concerns are valid.The piece smacks of being a bit alarmist. By definition military chaplains are in a position of ministering to all sorts of people and I don't see how allowing homosexual military personnel to "marry" is a threat to the religious liberty of chaplains unless they are required to perform wedding ceremonies (which raises the issue yet again, when you become an agent and partner of Caesar you have to play by Caesar's rules). That doesn't seem imminent under any scenario I can see.

I have a different question and it has to do with the entire system of military chaplaincy. I left this comment on the post and since many of the comments come from past or present chaplains I would imagine it will not be popular.

It is interesting that as the church in America we have no qualms about putting on the uniform of Caesar until it means making hard choices about homosexual "marriage". Perhaps the question we should be asking is why the church is not only accepting but enthusiastic about embracing American militarism. That is far more troubling than hypothetical situations regarding solemnizing homosexual unions among military personnel.

The mission statement for the U.S. Army chaplaincy corp is pretty vague:

The U.S. Army Chaplaincy provides religious support to America's Army while assisting commanders in ensuring the right of free exercise of religion for all Soldiers. In short, we nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen. 

That may or may not be laudable but it has next to nothing to do with the Gospel. Notions of free exercise of religion and religious liberty would have made no sense at all to the early church. In a more controversial statement, nor would we expect to see a Christian volunteer to wear the uniform of the Roman legion. Now I have never served in the military and I am quite certain that a great many fine Christians serve as chaplains in the various branches of the Armed Forces. I am still not at all convinced that this is appropriate for a follower of Christ and it seems to be yet another example of our religious cultural love affair with war and violence that is often dressed up in pseudo-Christian trappings. I have a suspicion that the chaplaincy serves in part as a way to assuage the conscience of Christians who serve in a capacity where they are called to kill others on behalf of a secular nation and I find that troubling. I can't really imagine what it is like but taking the life of another, no matter the reason, must be horrifying and infinitely more so for a Christian to do something that is so contrary to the central doctrine of loving our enemies.

So I throw this question out there and it is a different one than the idea of general service in the armed forces since chaplains serve a specifically religious role and last I checked are not even permitted to carry arms: is it appropriate or wise for Christians to wear the military uniform of the secular government in order to serve in a religious function within that military organization?

No comments: