Chaplains Praise Post-DADT Military, Criticize Fellow Chaplains

In a Unitarian Universalist article entitled “End of DOMA brings new openness for military chaplains,” a chaplain and his endorser recently spoke about the ability to be “more open” now that DADT has been repealed:

[Unitarian Universalist] chaplains are now able to more easily support soldiers who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual and to help provide services for them and their families…

“The big difference is in my ability to be much more open myself about what my stance is,” said Chaplain (Captain) George Tyger, an active duty UU military chaplain. “As a UU minister, I represent the Unitarian Universalist Association in the military. Before DADT went down, I had to tiptoe around the issue, and now I don’t. I can say, ‘This is how I feel; I’m 100 percent affirming.’”

It’s an interesting highlight in an era in which most people seem to assume military chaplains universally have a problem with homosexuality.

By the same token, its no small irony that while a “100% affirming” military chaplain now has the confidence to boldly proclaim his support for homosexuality, non-affirming chaplains have reportedly had their confidence in their ability to proclaim their views undermined. In fact, at least one chaplain was allegedly declared a “bigot” by a military commander for his religious views on homosexuality — without apparent repercussion to the commander from the military.

The UU endorser, the Rev. Sarah Lammert, has previously been highlighted for her “endorsement” of a homosexual advocacy article declaring military chaplains endangered the lives of their troops if they didn’t pray ‘correctly.’ She weighed in here to imply, incorrectly, that her peer endorsers at the Southern Baptist Convention had abandoned support for “pluralism” in the face of DADT repeal when they issued their recent guidance:

Though the guidelines given by the Southern Baptists specifically indicate support for the military chaplains’ pluralistic approach, they also forbid Southern Baptist chaplains from “conducting a service jointly with a chaplain, contractor, or volunteer who personally practices or affirms a homosexual lifestyle or such conduct.”

“That level of restriction throws a monkey wrench in the whole pluralistic cooperative sense of the chaplains,” the Rev. Sarah Lammert said.

Her assertion is nonsensical. “Pluralism” does not require participating in an affirming way with a chaplain with theologically disparate beliefs. That’s why there is no expectation in the military that an Islamic chaplain will “conduct a service jointly” with a Jewish leader nor that a Christian chaplain will affirm the theological tenets of Buddhism. The SBC hasn’t needed to state that, however, because it is both intuitively obvious and also specifically addressed by military regulations, which state that chaplains are not required to participate in events contrary to their sending religious endorser.  It’s not a monkey wrench; it’s military policy.

A refusal to conduct a religious service jointly with someone who “personally practices or affirms a homosexual lifestyle” is no more a “monkey wrench” than a Methodist refusing to conduct a joint service with someone who “affirms” the revelations of Joseph Smith. At no time has any chaplain been required, under any circumstances or interpretation of “pluralism,” to conduct religious services with someone who holds contrary theological beliefs.

As a chaplain endorser, Lammert must know this — yet she seems to ignore it, apparently because the issue is associated with homosexuality. She seems to try to lay an implication of misconduct, or at least “difficulty,” at the feet of SBC chaplains, and it seems her chaplains are following her lead. Chaplain (Capt) David Pyle, quoted in the article, is almost hostile toward his peers — and oddly self-centered [emphasis added]:

“These endorsers come out and say that their people are not allowed to be part of an event that includes gay couples, and that means I get this panicky phone call from senior chaplains who say, would I put aside what I’m doing and facilitate these events?” Pyle said. “I still have a problem with Strong Bonds and these chaplains. I’m not going to be your answer to this problem. The answer to chaplains who can’t serve LGB people is not to overwork chaplains who can.”

What Chaplain Pyle fails to acknowledge is that the conflict over homosexuality is an issue of theology. Consider for a moment if a Jewish chaplain said the equivalent thing — that the solution to not having enough Jewish chaplains was “not to overwork the chaplains who” are Jewish.

Chaplain Pyle dismisses the only practical solution to “this problem” of an all-inclusive Strong Bonds requiring “affirming” chaplains — a solution already embraced by the Air Force. As with other issues of theology in the military, chaplains can lead marriage enrichment events of people of like theology.  Rather than make every event include a theology affirming homosexuality, which would “tax” Chaplain Pyle, do so only when that theology is requested.  Given demographics, Pyle’s workload should drop dramatically.  Problem solved.

Chaplain Tyger derisively calls this arrangement — which the military he serves is already using — “separate but equal.”  It’s as “separate but equal” as having a Catholic service and a Protestant service in the same military chapel.

Unitarian Universalists say they “embrace diversity of background and belief,” and “encourage people to seek their own spiritual path.”  It is with great irony, then, that the comments from Chaplain Tyger, Chaplain Pyle, and Rev Lammert are made with an obvious omission.  Missing from the UU article is a tolerant — and pluralistic — tone toward chaplains who have theological beliefs contrary to their own.


One comment

  • Priscilla Parker

    This is a pretty difficult situation to sort out. Strong Bonds is conducted through Chaplains at the unit level. While I understand this helps with unit cohesion, it would be more beneficial if it was centralized, meaning it’s done on rotation at the installation level. Each Chaplain on post could lead one of these retreats maybe 2X a year instead of monthly or quartery.

    Plus, not every unit participates in the program so by centralizing it to the Chaplaincy instead of the unit, you open up the door for service members that are assigned to a unit that doesn’t currently participate in the program to attend the event. It’s also a way to alleviate this issue or at least a start. I know two Chaplains at Bragg who are able to lead a Strong Bonds event but one can’t because the Command in the unit he’s assigned to hasn’t approved of the units participation and the I’m not sure about the other. This wouldn’t be an issue if the Chief of Chaplains oversaw the program. To me, if the CoC had the ability to delegate this through rotation, he could more readily schedule say 3 SB retreats a
    month, depending on how many Chaplains there are and them ensure that at least quarterly there is a Chaplain who is authorized to hold these events for LGB service members and their families and by extension, having at an installation level would allow any LGB couple in the post to participate.

    I don’t think Rev. Lammert was making statements and deliberately omitting anything. This is all new and it can be frustrating and overwhelming and begins to feel more about bureaucracy than about helping service members. I’ve talked with a handful of Chaplains at length about this and it’s a sore spot. Some feel they are being singled out and have to walk on egg shells around the issue.