Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: The Military Christian’s Perspective
The ongoing public debate over homosexuality and the US military (most often referred to as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) presents a unique conflict for Christians in the military. There are those who believe homosexuality is morally wrong and must be prohibited at every possibility, and there are those who believe people have the freedom to do as they please in their private lives. This situation has implications from both the Christian perspective and the military perspective (in isolation), though they must be integrated to form the military Christian’s perspective. Each of these three is addressed individually below.
The Christian Perspective
The Christian faith considers homosexuality a sin, just as theft, adultery, murder, and lust are sins. Still, Christianity does not condemn the person who expresses a homosexual preference. In addition, while many people in this world are tempted to sin (as was Jesus during his incarnation), the temptation to participate in sinful conduct is not itself wrong. Finally, man is a fallen creation and has a sinful nature; thus, succumbing to temptation and sinning are a common experience of many on this earth — even the stereotypically staunchest Christians.
For a Christian, it is disheartening to see the culture, government, and now military move to end opposition to immoral behavior. This is a dramatic indicator of the direction of cultural morality in the United States: Few other issues have so rapidly moved from socially unacceptable (even illegal), to permissible, and then to protected.
Consistent with the philosophy that society is best served when it is imbued with moral character, Christian citizens should advocate for moral conduct and against the acceptance of immoral conduct. This includes opposing the acceptance in military service of those who choose a homosexual lifestyle.
Still, no mainstream Christian has ever suggested people with a homosexual preference be treated in any other way than with respect, love, and gentleness. (To clarify, respecting a person who makes immoral choices does not mean a Christian should accept, advocate, or permit those immoral choices.) Consistent with the Constitution, a Christian is free to believe (and express the belief) that homosexuality is wrong, but that bears no relation to a Christian’s Christ-like treatment of another person created in God’s image. In addition, a Christian’s disagreement with an individual’s chosen behavior does not equate to mistreatment of that individual by Christians, despite melodramatic speculation to the contrary.
Christians should always treat all people with respect, love, and gentleness — even those with whom they theologically disagree.
It is worth noting, however, that the Christian reaction to homosexuality — calling the conduct wrong, while respecting the value of the person — may still be criticized or even punished by society. It is not uncommon for homosexual advocates to call Christian beliefs “hate,” “bigotry,” or “homophobia.” Given the direction of the American culture, it is unlikely such a reaction will abate in the future, and Christians must be prepared to stand by unpopular beliefs.
From a Christian perspective (in isolation), the acceptance of open homosexuals in the military service is a sad statement on the moral decline of American culture — and it should be opposed.
The Military Perspective
The treatment of “private” conduct in the US military is unique to the military’s structure, rules, and mission. The military leadership has the ability to restrict conduct permissible in civilian society, and with a single edict it can permit conduct otherwise restricted. The military is not a democracy, and military members are obligated not only to follow but also to actively support military rules and regulations.
Does the US military have the authority to ban or allow open service by homosexuals? Consistent with the law, absolutely. US law currently bans homosexual conduct in the military; should the law change, military members would be required to obey and uphold those policies.
The concept of military regulations is important to this discussion because military policies govern many facets of life some may consider the purview of “morality.” (In fact, “moral character” is still a requirement for entry into military service.) For example, living (in a marital sense) with a person who is not one’s spouse is still restricted in the military, despite its common acceptance in the modern culture. Military policies also permit conduct religions might find immoral — including contrary religions. Worshipping another god or no god at all would certainly be sin the military not only allows, but protects. There is a significant difference, however.
The Christian faith acknowledges choice in belief — a person must choose to accept or reject the Gospel; their decision cannot be made for them. In a manner of speaking, the New Testament Christians were the first advocates for religious freedom, believing each person has the freedom to choose — even the freedom to choose to be wrong. Thus, the active support by the US government of non-Christians in military service is not inconsistent with the tenets of the Christian faith.
Notably, the exercise of religious freedom in the military is mutual. Any military member is free to believe and express the belief any other religion is “wrong.” While respectful treatment is required, military policies do not obligate a military member to acknowledge, support, or advocate the truth claims of other beliefs. A military officer is responsible for protecting the religious freedom and free exercise of his subordinates, and he retains those freedoms himself.
On the other hand, religious freedom and the proactive support of homosexuality are potentially mutually exclusive. If the exercise of one’s faith includes the belief homosexual conduct is wrong, and homosexual conduct is a protected class, then either religious freedom must be restricted or the protection of homosexual conduct modified. To simplify, the statements “homosexuality is evil” and “it’s illegal to say homosexuality is evil” cannot co-exist; one or the other must be supported by the leadership, and the other must fail.
This controversy has the potential to present a conflict between personal conduct and the religious liberty of a majority of servicemembers for the first time in the US military’s history.
Still, from a military perspective (in isolation), the military retains the authority to set its policies, and they must be obeyed — whether they ban or permit service by open homosexuals.
The Military Christian’s Perspective
A variety of Christian responses have been suggested to the plan to repeal DADT, and they vary from supporting it wholeheartedly to outright disobedience. Some have suggested litigation to assert the Constitutional protection of religious freedom; others have indicated Christians should resign from the military rather than support an immoral policy.
When considering the military Christian’s perspective in responses to conflicting military policies on sexual conduct (or any other military policy seemingly in conflict with the Christian faith), there are some important points. First, wanton disobedience to military authorities is not generally an acceptable course of action. As noted in Christian Fighter Pilot is not an Oxymoron:
There are too many Biblical examples of God’s people living in ungodly conditions — without either rebelling or surrendering — to advocate disobeying those in authority. An American [military Christian] is neither Peter nor John, and the military is not the Sanhedrin ordering him not to speak the name of Christ — yet (Acts 4). A Christian must live within the rules of those in authority so long as they are not contrary to God’s Word (Hebrews 13:17, Acts 4). Ultimately, though, only God can say that one course of action is more just than the other.
The second half of the quote is significant. While the mere repeal of DADT has a primarily passive impact on the military Christian, the policies implementing it may not be so indirect. Depending on the specific policies enacted, there may be circumstances when a Christian is required to take an action or position inconsistent with his faith.
Should a military Christian publicly oppose the proposed repeal? The military leadership has already made it abundantly clear such opposition is not acceptable. While Christian tenets encourage participation in the culture, they do not necessarily demand such participation. In that regard, a Christian is not explicitly obligated by his faith to publicly oppose the repeal. If a Christian feels compelled by his faith to speak out against the change while in the military, he should be willing to accept the repercussions, which might include official sanction or dismissal.
Should a military Christian quit the military? Despite the occasional feeling of nostalgia, the military environment has never been completely reconciled to the Christian faith. Long before DADT became a four letter acronym, Christians in the military struggled with a culture they may have considered challenging, even hostile, to the Christian faith. However, nowhere in the Bible does God or His inspired speaker direct His followers to leave their professional roles, whether as government officials, hated tax collectors, or members of the occupying Roman military. In fact, the opposite encouragement is given: to remain where they are.
While it is possible a military Christian may experience a direct moral conflict as a result of changes to DADT, it is also possible a military Christian may never experience such a conflict. Despite reservations about what the future may hold, Christians should not preemptively abandon the military in anticipation of what may come.
Resigning from the military over the potential conflict of policies with the Christian faith is not a commendable course of action. Granted, some will sincerely feel it is inconsistent with their faith to serve in an organization supporting what they believe to be immoral conduct; those people must act in accordance with their beliefs. For most people, however, such dramatic recourse should not be taken to avoid what might be a future conflict. For perspective, consider that Christians are commanded to “go into” the world — they cannot be salt in it if they abandon it in the face of perceived difficulty.
What about specific policies implementing DADT repeal? Each policy — none of which have yet been publicized — will have to be addressed on its own merits. Even then, the appropriate response to a specific policy may vary by person and situation, as there are legitimate reasons for different responses to moral challenges to the faith. (Compare and contrast the Biblical stories of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with Naaman the Aramean, for example.)
It is possible the military will enact policies to minimize the moral challenges of DADT repeal to the Christian faith. It is also possible polices will be put in place that are, passively or proactively, a direct conflict with the Christian faith. Should the latter occur, as with Nebuchadnezzar and Naaman, each person will have to prayerfully consider their ability to continue under those policies without compromising their faith.
Notably, few if any policies will likely be explicit, proactive support of immoral conduct. For example, should a policy demand respect and fair treatment regardless of sexual preference, Christians would likely be first in line to support such an environment even absent a specific policy.
Still, there may be one significant avenue for recourse if a military Christian is confronted with a professional conflict with his faith: a request for religious accommodation.
Though most often associated with getting time off for religious observances, the military has long had a system in place for general religious accommodation (see DoDD 1300.17), even when such accommodation might otherwise be construed as discrimination. For example, in the late 1990s a Christian Air Force officer sought and was granted religious accommodation preventing him from being assigned to an alert crew with female officers. In another example, it is generally accepted that military physicians are granted accommodation when they are not required to participate in procedures that violate their consciences, including abortion or the dispensing of controversial “emergency contraceptives.” Religious accommodation is not guaranteed, and it is predicated on mission accomplishment. Still, there may be unique cases in which a conflict between faith and military requirements may be resolved through religious accommodation.
How should a military Christian respond to policies accepting open homosexuals? The most reasonable course of action is for Christians to continue to serve with excellence, courage, and moral leadership in the military. When opportunities are given, they should make their opinions known, but they should not agitate unnecessarily or preemptively act based on potential outcomes.
By the same token, military Christians must not compromise their faith — even as they are “in the world” to be a light to the world. To the extent they are able to maintain the integrity of their faith — something only they, in concert with the Holy Spirit, can ascertain — Christians should continue to serve in the military with excellence, even in the face of spiritual challenges.
In the unlikely instance a military Christian is required to affirm the virtues of a homosexual preference, a Christian may have to take a defiant moral stand. If they are placed in a position in which they are forced to choose to obey God or man, Christians must obey God.
Conclusion, and Encouragement
From a Christian perspective, the decision to repeal laws banning military service by open homosexuals has the result of normalizing immoral behavior. Such an outcome is disheartening, but it is not an unforeseeable result in a fallen world. From a military perspective, Christian officers must obey and support the policies instituted by military leadership; the current controversy represents the first time policies may conflict with a majority of sincerely held religious beliefs, so its future is uncertain. For the military Christian, the as-yet undefined future policies may present a unique challenge to the integration of faith and profession.
The challenges of living a life for Christ in what is perceived to be an “immoral” environment demand, more than ever, the fellowship of believers. Military Christians should rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer, the counsel of Chaplains, the guidance of fellow military Christians, and the advice of leaders in the faith, particularly those with military experience. Many para-church groups, like Officers’ Christian Fellowship, the Navigators, Campus Crusade’s Military Ministry, and other related military ministries are staffed with members who can provide unique insight from both Christian and military perspectives.
Ultimately, even if the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” fails, the culture within the military — indeed, within the United States — will be forever altered. While the conflict and even potential hostility of the culture will certainly present a challenge for the military Christian, it is likewise an opportunity to demonstrate the love and power of the Christian faith. The coming changes may present a unique opportunity in history to impact the world and stand for Christ. It will by no means be easy, but God has commanded His followers go into the world, and He will equip them for the task to which He calls them.
Pray without ceasing, and walk by faith. When you feel challenged in your attempts to persevere as a servant of Christ, serving in the military, consider: Who knows but that you have come to this position for such a time as this?