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OutServe Magazine | July 3, 2015

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Oh, So THAT’s “Religious Freedom?”

Oh, So THAT’s “Religious Freedom?”

By Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton
Communications Director for both OutServe and the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy

Over the past several years, right-wing so-called Christian groups like Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Family Research Council have been warning usthat the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” represented a fundamental threat to military chaplains. Now we finally see what they mean.

Air Force Chaplain (Colonel) Tim Wagoner, after close to thirty years as a Southern Baptist Chaplain, parted ways with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) after he was publicly called on the carpet. His offense? Sitting in the back of his own chapel while one of his chaplains conducted a same-sex ceremony for one of his Airmen. Although Chaplain Wagoner insisted that he did not “personally condone” same-sex weddings, he insisted on being a good leader by supporting both his subordinate chaplain and his airman.

U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Col) Timothy Wagoner sits in the McGuire AFB chapel at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Wrightstown, N.J. Wagoner has left the Southern Baptist Convention after the conservative denomination publicly questioned his decision to attend a same-sex civil union ceremony at his base in New Jersey. Wagoner is remaining on active duty and has received an endorsement from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which has more moderate views on homosexuality and some other issues than the Southern Baptists. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention is notoriously hard-line in its anti-gay positions, and published a “clarification” of Wagoner’s views, along with a stern warning to all Southern Baptists about their doctrine.  A few days later, they gleefully reported Wagoner’s departure from their denomination.

So what do we have here? A denomination sending a message to all Southern Baptist chaplains that they don’t dare even give the APPEARANCE of supporting their gay and lesbian troops, lest the SBC withdraw their “endorsement” – and since all military chaplains must be endorsed by an approved body, this could end their military career.

So apparently DADT repeal did carry a threat to military chaplains. A threat coming from people like the Southern Baptist Convention.

The military chaplaincy exists to ensure that military members have access to religious services – not for chaplains to seek converts. If the sponsoring denominations cannot accept the necessary limitations on a chaplain that require him to “perform or provide” for   ALL service members, regardless of belief, then they shouldn’t be sponsoring military chaplains.

Many mainstream Christian groups (as well as other religions) are welcoming and affirming to gay and lesbian people, fulfilling Christ’s command to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). However, many of our gay and lesbian Christian troops report that they are unable to find an affirming chaplain on base. This is the result of a gross mismatch between the denominations of chaplains and that of the troops they’re supposed to serve:

While just 3 percent of the military’s enlisted personnel and officers call themselves Southern Baptist, Pentecostal or a member of a denomination that’s part of the National Association of Evangelicals, 33 percent of chaplains in the military are members of one of those groups, according to Pentagon statistics.

And the disparity could soon widen.

Data from the Air Force indicate that 87 percent of those seeking to become chaplains are enrolled at evangelical divinity schools.

 - Tim Townsend, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan 9, 2011

Do I need to point out that those Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, and other evangelical denominations have some of the most virulently anti-gay leaders?

At the end of the day, there is an attack on chaplains in the military. The attack comes from those who would demand that they ignore their military duty to care for their troops in favor of doctrinal purity regarding gay and lesbian people.

It’s downright unpatriotic – and unChristian.