Evangelical Chaplains and Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Randall Stephens

I heard an interesting story on NPR this morning: "Chaplains Worry About Careers If 'Don't Ask' Is Lifted" by Barbara Bradley Hagerty. It seems that the end of the Don't Ask, Don't tell policy has been making some evangelical chaplains nervous. But should it? The military's change in policy centers on a civil rights matter. How will that alter the careers of conservative chaplains?

While most military personnel see no problem serving with openly gay comrades, some military chaplains are bristling. Many of the 3,000 chaplains are evangelical and believe repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy may affect how they do their jobs.

Ronald Crews, a retired Army colonel and chaplain, works with active chaplains from his evangelical denomination. A few months ago, he began asking military chaplains what they thought about repealing don't ask, don't tell. One response in particular bothered him. The chaplain had just returned from a briefing by a general about the impact of changing the policy and asked if the military would protect him if he asserted that homosexuality is a sin.>>>

Anyone out there know how Truman's 1948 decision to desegregate the military was received by chaplains?


Thanks for posting this story, Randall. It highlights why military chaplaincies represent a problematic intersection of church and state.

As cases such as Goldman v. Weinberger have demonstrated, the military has the power to restrict religious (and of course other) rights.

At the same time, I agree with Dennis Camp, who (according to the NPR story) says the proposed rules clearly protect a chaplain's religious rights. What chaplains can't do, he says, is act like "moral policemen" and openly condemn homosexuality. The chaplain's job is to serve everyone — religious or not, gay or straight.

"They have made it an issue because they want to fight this thing on moral grounds," he says. "That's not the kind of fight it is. It's a civil rights issue."

But of course the evangelical chaplains would most likely not agree with this distinction. And the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would become yet another grievance to heighten their sense that gays and lesbians are receiving "special rights" while their own religious freedoms are stripped.