Chaplains Disinvite FRC’s Perkins over DADT Statements

Just days after noting the potential impact that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal might have on military Chaplains, there are now widespread articles on the decision by an Air Force base Chaplain’s office to rescind the invitation of a speaker who opposed President Obama’s proposed repeal.

The actions were those of an individual Chaplain’s office and were not necessarily indicative of the decisions of higher level leadership.  However, the decision itself is a perfect example of the conflict that organizations opposing the repeal intend to highlight.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins had been invited in October by the Chaplains’ office to speak at the February 25 National Prayer Luncheon at Andrews Air Force Base (now known as Joint Base Andrews).  Perkins is a US Marine veteran and ordained minister.  Supposedly, after President Obama used his State of the Union to call for a repeal of DADT, and Perkins and the FRC vocally opposed him, the Chaplain’s office rescinded the invitation.  (Notably, the Chaplain’s office is free to invite or disinvite anyone they choose; it is their public reasoning for doing so that makes this case interesting.)

The letter from the Chaplain’s office rescinding the invitation reportedly said: 

We must rescind the invitation due to statements posted on the Family Research Council Web site which are incompatible in our role as military members who serve our elected officials and our commander-in-chief.

As a former Marine officer, I’m sure you understand the situation in which we find ourselves. As military members, we are sworn to support our commander-in-chief, and are forbidden to make or support statements which run counter to our roles in the armed forces.

After the brouhaha entered the press, the Chaplain’s office issued a statement saying

The Chaplain’s Office retracted Mr. Perkins’ invitation after his recent public comments made many who planned to attend the event uncomfortable.

Regrettably, the Chaplain’s office seems to be woefully misinformed as to their “roles in the armed forces.”  The Chaplain’s office said, for example, that they

serve our elected officials and our commander-in-chief.

Pop quiz for military members:  What “elected officials” (besides the commander-in-chief) do military members serve?

The answer: none.  Elected officials are in the legislative branch of government, which is in no way part of the military chain of command.

The Chaplain’s office also said

As military members, we are sworn to support our commander-in-chief

Second question, for military officers:  When are military officers “sworn to support our commander-in-chief?”

The answer: never.  Military officers swear only to uphold the Constitution.  Enlisted military members do swear (or affirm) that they will “obey the orders of the President,” but they are not sworn to “support” him.

It appears the Chaplain’s office was trying to convey the reasoning behind the decision, but they either chose their words extremely poorly (they may have been mistakenly trying to convey that it is inappropriate for military members to use “contemptuous words” toward the President), or they were unaware of the fact that their entire reasoning was faulty.

Ultimately it is unlikely that the details behind the decision to rescind the invitation will ever be fully known.  The most recent statement indicated people were “uncomfortable;” it would be interesting to know if those people were misinformed or “took issue” with Perkins in general.

It is interesting to note that the Chaplain’s office said Perkins’ comments made “many who planned to attend the event uncomfortable,” but his comments were made nearly a month prior to the event.  A review of local announcements from Andrews indicates that the prayer luncheon wasn’t even widely advertised until 28 January (it was not at all in the prior week’s announcements).  It is possible, then, that people were reacting not exclusively to Perkins’ recent comments, but simply to the recent announcement that Perkins was going to be the speaker.

If the discomfort was purely related to Perkins’ outspoken views contrary to the President, the Chaplain’s office made a strategic error and missed the opportunity to educate those who complained.  Contrary to the Chaplain’s office statement, appearing to support Perkins’ statements by allowing him to speak at the Prayer Luncheon would not be “counter to our roles in the armed forces.”  A military member’s “role in the armed forces” is not to support the political propositions of the President.  As Perkins also pointed out, his statements were in support of the law.

Understandably, the Chaplains were placed in a difficult situation.  The Commander-in-Chief made a political proposition about changing a law, and until just last week not a single military leader had publicly disagreed with him.  Admiral Mullen has held several forum type events with servicemembers and has expressed surprise that it has not been a hotter topic.  He, too, has apparently failed to see the underlying pressure against contradicting the President or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Now that several Generals have come out in opposition to the change, perhaps the sense of debate will allow younger troops to feel comfortable to voice their minds on the topic.  These Generals have now shown the Andrews Chaplain’s office that military members are permitted to support positions that disagree with the political stance of the Commander in Chief.

More importantly, this “difficult position” is what Perkins has highlighted will be a future problem if DADT is repealed:

I am very concerned…that this merely foreshadows the serious threat to religious liberty that would result from repeal of the current military eligibility law. Such legislation would not merely open the military to homosexuals. It would result in a zero-tolerance policy toward those who disapprove of homosexual conduct.

Military chaplains would bear the heaviest burden. Would their sermons be censored to prevent them from preaching on biblical passages which describe homosexual conduct as a sin? Would they remain free to counsel soldiers troubled by same-sex attractions about the spiritual and psychological resources available to overcome those attractions? Any chaplain who holds to the millennia-old tradition of Judeo-Christian sexual morality could be denied promotion, or even be forced out of the military altogether.

If military members cannot invite a speaker who holds a moral opposition to homosexuality, as the Andrews Chaplain’s office seems to believe they cannot, then Perkins’ statements may already be proven true.

If DADT is removed from law, will all who oppose homosexuality on moral grounds be “disinvited” from future association with the military?  Will the Andrews Chaplains, who say they are sworn to support the President, feel that they cannot preach against homosexuality, even if that position is consistent with their theological tenets?  How will average men and women in the military be treated if they voice moral opposition to a military policy supporting homosexuality?

The Chaplain’s office decision has generated Congressional interest, with US Representative Trent Franks saying

the rank-and-file of the United States military is far more in line with the views of Tony Perkins than they will ever be of the views of President Barack Obama.

Both men have valid points.  Support for homosexuals serving openly in the US military is not universal within the military itself.  It is also a far more complex question than some would like to admit.