Discourse is needed on gays and the military

Published 11:05 am Monday, August 1, 2011

The transition from the armed force policy on gays and lesbians (popularly known as “Don’t ask; don’t tell”) is now complete, by a sudden executive order of President Barack Obama. This precipitous action, with clear marks of political pay-back, sends the services scrambling to complete policies and procedure, a risky undertaking for such a delicate task. The task of those religious bodies that endorse their clergy to the armed forces is to find a reasonable balance of legal compliance and religious requirements. It looks to me they are succeeding. They certainly are trying.

Like the armed forces themselves, they accept both legal demands and social reality. The services are determined not to compromise their mission of national defense, and most religious bodies are determined about theirs.

In July of 1993, I wrote here that I didn’t think the DADT policy would work, and I was correct. It worked for neither the services nor gays and lesbians. In February of last year, I wrote again about the policy and opined it was time to abandon it and become more realistically adjusted to the social reality of American culure. As gay activists shouted, “We’re queer, we’re here, get used to it!” No agency of government can create a parochial ideology substantially at odds with the belief and value systems of American society in general. The armed forces must not only defend Americans, but respect them.

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Some religious bodies have no problem at all in this or almost anything. These do not speak prophetically to society and culture, but take their cues from them and conform uncritically. Others, much fewer, dig their heels in and bury their heads. I have neither confidence nor respect for either extreme and irresponsible position.

The greater number, however, forthrightly and courageously sustain their doctrinal positions. At the same time, they graciously and effectively accommodate to reality. I have studied the recently issued “Policy on Sexuality” of one such church association, and I feel these people succeed.

“We believe God ordained human government and that He instructed all people to respect its authority.” While honoring the separation of church and state, this church body anticipates state to ensure it does not intrude into church. Accordingly, it requires its chaplains to “fulfill their duties with honor, caring for all people with Christlike compassion.” Yet, this is to be “without compromising our Biblical convictions.”

The group is forthright but polite in identifying its beliefs, e.g., “…we believe that sexual intimacy is designed by God to be expressed only between one man and one woman within the love and bonds of marriage.” It is convinced God has intelligently created humans to act humanly and perceive several behaviors to be a misuse and even corruption of this order, e.g., “fornication, adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, bestiality, incest, and pedophilia.”

Note among these behaviors are at least two that have, at times, been thought to be widely characteristic of military life, i.e., fornication and adultery. For the history of this church, their chaplains have prophetically challenged the unfounded presumption that soldiers and sailors must be sexually promiscuous, and this has been largely addressed to heterosexual behavior.

It’s curious, however, that in the last couple of decades, the armed forces have come around to actively discourage sexual promiscuity. The motivation was neither religious nor even moralistic, but pragmatic. Research convinced them marital discord is one of the most damaging operational detractors and, on the other hand, wholesome same-sex marriages have produced wholesome, effective soldiers and sailors. Now military leaders worry about what effect the new policy will have on its focus on family values.

The church policy observes “God takes sexual misconduct seriously, yet He lovingly offers complete forgiveness to and restoration of those who disobey” the Bible’s teaching about sexual behavior.

It enjoins its chaplains to maintain these biblical values but, also, “consistency in caring for all people, whether they agree…” The policy is not to be construed as uncritical acceptance of “errant conduct,” but their chaplains — “as, indeed, Jesus Christ himself — will not focus predominately on condemning but on constructively helping people in their need.”

I respect this representative policy, but will leave its defense to its authors. No reasonable person could expect anything more, and this thoughtful perspective can make the new policy effective. Now the gay activists within and without the armed forces need to respond as reasonably and responsibly.