Air Force Issues Guidance on Chaplains, Homosexuals

The Air Force Chaplaincy recently issued guidance (PDF) on how chaplains should handle a variety of situations regarding homosexuals and chaplains whose theologies do not allow them to support that lifestyle:

Wing Chaplains, talk with the chaplains under your supervision so that you are clear on what each chaplain’s endorser’s expectations are regarding ministry to same-gender couples.  Honor those expectations and do not ask a chaplain to do anything contrary to his or her endorsement.

The Air Force appears to be the first service to explain how to handle marriage retreats where a homosexual couple may attend.  Speaking to the Air Force “MarriageCare” retreats:

When you advertise a MC retreat, announce the chaplain who will be leading the event and the chaplain’s endorser.  If the chaplain is permitted to train same-gender couples in a MC event, then you may register all eligible married couples.  However, if the chaplain is not permitted to train same-gender couples in a MC event, be prepared to offer…a MC event at another base or at a later date to a same-gender married couple.

If a same-gender married couple will be attending a MC event, make this known to the other couples as they register.  If those couples choose not to register for thise event, be prepared to offer them…a MC event at another base or at a later date.

In short, the Air Force Chief of Chaplains, MajGen Howard Stendahl, has recognized that many religious couples will have religious reservations attending a marriage retreat with same-gender couples, and is commendably attempting to find a solution that will still allow the retreats to take place for everyone.  This is notable since homosexual couples are presumably a substantial minority (less than one half percent of the military, according to Archbishop Broglio), and a retreat for an entire community could otherwise be canceled over one homosexual.

The Air Force guidance follows the publication of the Southern Baptist Convention’s new guidance to its chaplains, which was apparently only the first and most public group to clarify its guidance to chaplains regarding their conduct in a “post-DADT” military.  Though mischaracterized, as usual, by atheist activist Jason Torpy, the policy simply and explicitly stated what was already in place.

In fact, the SBC itself specifically responded to Torpy and others’ criticisms, noting the irony that what the Baptist church is supporting is — the separation of church and state, which is something Torpy and those of his ilk normally harp upon when it suits their agenda.

Other denominations have now issued similar guidance. For example, Grace Churches International, led by retired Chaplain (Col) Ron Crews, issued essentially the same policy (PDF). Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, endorser for the US military’s Catholic chaplains, issued a policy reportedly because “many chaplains” had asked for guidance.  The Catholic policy reads:

No Catholic priest or deacon can be obliged to assist at a “Strong Bonds” or other “Marriage Retreat”, if that gathering is also open to couples of the same gender.  A priest who is asked to counsel non-Catholic parties in a same-gendered relationship will direct them to a chaplain who is able to assist.  Catholic parties will, of course, be encouraged by the priest to strive to live by the teaching of the Gospel.

Participation in retirements, changes of command, and promotion ceremonies is possible, as long as the priest is not required to acknowledge or approve of a “spouse” of the same gender.

The Religion News Service inaccurately reported this as the Catholic Church “barring service” to homosexuals.  In fact, the opposite is true:  Catholics are free to serve homosexuals, consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church:

If non-Catholic individuals in a same-sex relationship ask a chaplain for counseling, they will be referred to a chaplain of another faith who can help them. If Catholic individuals in such as relationship ask for counseling, they “will, of course, be encouraged by the priest to strive to live by the teaching of the Gospel.”

As the Catholic teaching of the Gospel is in opposition to homosexuality, that would likely characterize such counseling.

While denominations that already support homosexuality would not seemingly need to update their policies after DADT repeal, some of their endorsers also issued updates.  For example, Sarah Lammert of the Unitarian Universalists issued a new statement expressing tolerance for homosexuality (PDF):

While working cooperatively with other Chaplains I expect that any services, retreats or other events you participate in will support our faith’s long standing practice of affirming LGBT people.

Lammert seems to imply, though, that her “expectation” is that UU chaplains would not participate in a military event that excluded homosexuals, as that would not “support [the] practice of affirming LGBT people.”

For its part, the military — again, commendably — seems to be content to continue the policy of acknowledging chaplains are obligated to their sending ecclesiastical organizations.  This doesn’t sit well with Torpy, who calls the policies “anti-gay” and the Air Force application “separate but equal.”

Also at the Military Times.