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Onward, Christian Soldiers

June 20, 2010

The Southern Baptist Convention plans to fight repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. I think one of the most noteworthy points in that article is that the SBC has more military chaplains than any other denomination, including more than the Roman Catholics (there are over four-times as many Catholics in the US as Southern Baptists, but the SBC has nearly twice as many chaplains as the Catholics).

Notable quote from the article:

Southern Baptists, who say their presence in the military chaplaincy totals 1,300 chaplains when Reserve and National Guard units are included, have told Congress and the Pentagon that chaplains could lose their freedom to preach and counsel against homosexuality if openly gay members are accepted by the military.

“For instance, a chaplain could be told there are certain passages of the Scripture that you shouldn’t preach from,” said the Rev. David Mullis, the Southern Baptists’ military chaplaincy coordinator. “If there was a prohibition about certain kinds of literature that did not espouse homosexuality, I can see the Bible being banned in the military.”

Wow.

Just. Fucking. Wow.

To my knowledge, the SBC chaplains don’t “preach and counsel against” cheeseburgers, lasagna, pork chops, bacon, sausage, shellfish, working on the sabbath, wearing clothing made of mixed fibers, shaving with a razor, cutting hair in certain ways, tattoos, piercings, and so on. The Bible is replete with rules which Southern Baptists and other fundamentalists break on a daily basis. The Southern Baptists also express nary a concern that one can walk into nearly any grocery store in this country and find various kinds of meat from animals God calls an abomination.

Why the goddamn silence on those rules? And what is it about homosexuality that makes it a deal-breaker when it comes to whether Baptist chaplains can serve in the military?

Chaplains from many religions serve our military. They’re supposed to be ecumenical but with the growth of fundamentalist Christians in the chaplaincy has come various proselytizing issues. Sometimes Congress has tried to enable sectarianism. Chaplains aren’t supposed to refuse counsel and comfort to those of other religions. But they say they’ll do it when it comes to others with whom they have disagreement? In the end, why is it more unreasonable to minister to an openly gay soldier than to a proud Jew or Hindu or Muslim who rejects that Jesus is the only way to eternal life?

The chaplaincy exists for the benefit of the military — to serve all members of our armed forces. It’s not the other way around: the military doesn’t exist for the benefit of sectarian indoctrination, for proselytizing, for fomenting hate and intolerance of other soldiers on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or anything else.

Perhaps we’ve had it wrong all along. Maybe “don’t ask, don’t tell” should apply to fundamentalists instead of gays. After all, our secular Constitution is silent on the issue of sexuality but it’s very clear that we don’t hold religious tests for public office and government can’t make laws establishing religion or infringing upon practice. Fundamentalists in the military could still practice their religion, just do it on their own time and on their own dime but leave the taxpayers out of it.

Military service is patriotic and commendable. We should encourage everyone who’s fit for service and wants to serve to do so without discrimination. It’s time to do away with bigotry in the ranks. We aren’t a theocracy, and we shouldn’t run our military as if it were.

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