False Prophets: Religious Right’s Military Chaplaincy Predictions Bomb

The latest wild Religious Right charges of potential religious liberty violations have proved utterly baseless.

When plans were made for gays to serve openly in the military, Religious Right zealots and the Catholic hierarchy were predictably apoplectic. They imagined a range of dire consequences including a devastating impact on the work of military chaplains.

In a fund-raising letter last year, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins warned darkly, “[C]haplains who uphold the Bible's teaching on homosexuality will open themselves up to disciplinary action, bad fitness reports and the denial of promotions.”

Catholic Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who heads the Archdiocese for Military Services, warned, “A change might have a negative effect on the role of the chaplain not only in the pulpit, but also in the classroom, in the barracks and in the office."

Catholic chaplains, he said, “can never condone – even silently – homosexual behavior.”

These ultra-conservative sectarian forces predicted that chaplains would quit the service in droves and sponsoring denominations would drop their relationship with the nation’s military. Religious Right allies in Congress were soooo concerned that they introduced special legislation purportedly ensuring the rights of chaplains. 

U.S. House members added provisions to the National Defense Authorization Act barring same-sex marriages at military chapels and “protecting” chaplains from being required to perform same-sex marriages – something they weren’t required to do anyway.

"Liberals may have successfully ended 'don't ask, don't tell,' but they should not be allowed to force members of our military to give up their religious beliefs," said U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.). "That is simply unacceptable and unconstitutional."

OK. It’s been nine months since “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed. So what’s actually happened? According to the Associated Press, pretty much nothing.

AP reporter David Crary says, “Prior to repeal, various conservative groups and individuals — including many conservative retired chaplains — warned that repeal would trigger an exodus of chaplains whose faiths consider homosexual activity to be sinful. In fact, there’s been no significant exodus — perhaps two or three departures of active-duty chaplains linked to the repeal. Moreover, chaplains or their civilian coordinators from a range of conservative faiths told The Associated Press they knew of virtually no serious problems thus far involving infringement of chaplains’ religious freedom or rights of conscience.”

Col. Timothy Wagoner, a Southern Baptist chaplain in the Air Force, told the news service that the chaplaincy corps is responding professionally and collegially. Wagoner even attended a recent civil union ceremony for an airman and his male partner. (I hope Richard Land and the other gay bashers in the Southern Baptist denominational hierarchy don’t find out.)

“We’re good at this stuff — we want to take care of our folks,” Wagoner told the AP. “We have to respect the faith requirements of the chaplain, and we have to take care of the needs of the airman.”

Even Archbishop Broglio grudgingly conceded that things have gone well.

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

Broglio told the AP he remains concerned that Catholic chaplains might somehow be pressured to recognize same-sex couples.

“As time goes by,” he grumbled, “it will be a challenge, to make certain you’re not silently condoning.”

No, Most Reverend Archbishop, we certainly wouldn’t want you or any of your fellow prelates to “silently condone” anything “immoral.” No, indeed.

So the bottom line is this: the latest wild Religious Right charges of potential religious liberty violations have proved utterly baseless. Gay people are serving openly in the military, and chaplains are dealing with that fact in a professional manner without any infringements on their religious freedom.

Members of Congress can move on to serious problems, and Religious Right forces can find another issue to demagogue.