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Gays in military: 'conscience protections' needed for chaplains, 21 entity leaders say

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)--The North American Mission Board's head of chaplaincy ministry is one of 21 denominational chaplain-endorsing officials to sign a May 23 letter to the Army, Navy and Air Force chiefs of chaplains voicing concerns over recent policy changes involving homosexuals in the military.

The two-page letter went to Chaplain Douglas L. Carver (Maj. Gen.), chief of chaplains for the U.S. Army; Chaplain Cecil R. Richardson (Maj. Gen.), chief of chaplains for the U.S. Air Force; and Chaplain Mark Tidd (Rear Adm.), chief of chaplains for the U.S. Navy.

The letter was drafted in response to an April 13 memo issued by Tidd in which he granted permission to Navy chaplains to conduct same-gender "marriages" in Navy base chapels. Tidd reversed course on May 10 by rescinding his April 13 decision.

Tidd's reversal came on the heels of an outcry from 63 members of Congress charging that the change in policy was a violation of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). As a result, Tidd said he was suspending his authorization "pending additional legal and policy review and enhanced cooperation with the Army and Air Force."

Tidd, in his April memo, had authorized Navy chaplains to officiate at on-base, same-sex ceremonies in states where such unions are allowed. He also had ruled that naval base facilities "may normally be used to celebrate the marriage" if the base is in a state that has legalized "same-sex marriage."

Chaplain (Col.) Keith Travis (U.S. Army Retired), NAMB's head of chaplaincy ministry, said Southern Baptist chaplains will continue "to treat all military service people with respect and provide ministry and pastoral care to all. But we are firm in our support for one man, one woman in marriage and that we do not want any SBC chaplain to compromise his faith. I also can emphatically state that we have no plans to pull our 1,400 chaplains out of the military or stop endorsing Southern Baptist chaplains."


In their letter to the three chiefs of chaplains, the 21 chaplain-endorsing entity heads said, "We know you are collectively facing many difficult decisions, especially in light of the repeal of DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell)." The chaplains said the policy changes had "potentially far-reaching consequences.

"It is our strong belief that the letter of revision ... by Chaplain Tidd's office goes beyond this stated intent of DADT repeal by sanctioning and normalizing the use of base chapels for same-sex unions. Though this revision is now temporarily suspended pending further review, we are genuinely concerned that this might be a sign of things to come. We are likewise concerned that endorsers and faith communities had no voice in the formulation of such a significant policy change."

The denominational chaplaincy heads maintained that DOMA "remains the law of the land. There is no clear reason why it does not apply to federal military facilities, particularly base chapels."

The letter -- stating that the Obama administration has publicly stated it will no longer support and defend DOMA -- "has every appearance of selective disregard for the law and raises significant concerns."

The chaplains said the policy changes toward homosexuality in the military would "create an environment that is increasingly hostile to the many chaplains -- and the service members they serve -- whose faith groups and personal consciences recognize homosexual behavior as immoral and unsafe, and do not permit same-sex unions.


"No American, especially those serving in the armed forces, should be forced to abandon their religious beliefs or be marginalized for holding to those beliefs," the chaplains' letter said.

"Service members should know that chaplains' ministry and their own rights of conscience remain protected everywhere the military necessity has placed them. We hope you will join us in urging the Department of Defense and Congress to adopt such specific and intentional conscience protections," the denominational chaplains told the three chiefs of chaplains.

Also signing the letter were representatives of the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), National Association of Evangelicals, Presbyterian & Reformed Joint Commission, Anglican Church in North America, Evangelical Free Church of America, Calvary Chapel, Grace Churches International, Foursquare Church, Pentecostal Holiness Church, Church of God of Prophecy, Full Gospel Churches, Conservative Baptist America, Plymouth Brethren, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Free Methodist Church of North America, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, International Ministerial Fellowship and the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church.


Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board. The Southern Baptist Convention has a ministry to homosexuals. Find more information at

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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