Group Connects Military Misconduct, Hostility to Religion

The Family Research Council wonders aloud if the recent epidemic of ethical failures in the US military is connected to the military’s own “hostility” to religion.

Recounting the list of recent moral failures by members of the military displayed through the media, the FRC’s Leanna Baumer noted the DoD’s responses: 

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a full review of the ethical training senior officers receive, with the report due last Friday. The Secretary of the Air Force has spoken of the need to address “systemic problems,” and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said that assessing character will be a larger part of the evaluation of military officers in the future.

Baumer accurately notes the military reflects the society from which it is drawn, and that society does not often display the character required for military service:

Honesty, sobriety, and sexual propriety are not often glorified in our culture at large. Instead, our culture lauds self-expression and immediate self-gratification.

In a self-focused culture, how can we shape an environment that demands honesty, fidelity, and honor, all characteristics demanding self-denial? In other words, how is an expectation of ethical and moral behavior to be cultivated and maintained?

She then notes that religion provides a foundation for just such cultivation of ethical and moral behavior — but, she notes, the military hasn’t been viewed as kind to religion recently:

Unfortunately, religious expression within the military has grown more difficult following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell…” In an effort to be accommodating to homosexual service members, religious opinions about the proper boundaries of sexual behavior have been constrained.

Yet religion strongly condemns infidelity, lying, and drunkenness — all problems highlighted in the latest military scandals. Moreover, the dominant religion practiced in the United States, Christianity, upholds the ideal of chastity, a demand for purity and restraint in sexual conduct.

A few public statements by the DoD seem to say the military might have brought some of this on itself by failing to emphasize moral and ethical character. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno reportedly said

“Sometimes in the past we’ve overlooked character issues because of competence and commitment.”

Similarly, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Marty Dempsey has said the DoD will now focus on “character” over “competence” — though Foreign Policy questioned whether the JCS was an “empty chair” because reaction to the scandals hasn’t, in their estimation, been aggressive or swift enough. An Associated Press report notes officers discharged for misconduct in the Army have “more than tripled in the past three years.”

It is true that “religion” isn’t perfect. It is also true that moral failures in the military are not new. Still, it is difficult to ignore the juxtaposition of an epidemic of non-combat related moral failures in a military that has, in the FRC’s assessment, “ostraciz[ed]” religious beliefs whose tenets address those very failures.

Asks the FRC:

Since we know that one of those tools for cultivating morality for many people has been religious faith, are we encouraging the “systemic problem” in our services by ostracizing the expression of moral beliefs rooted in religious faith?

Also at the Stars and Stripes.


One comment

  • I am ecstatic JD that you said “It is true that “religion” isn’t perfect. It is also true that moral failures in the military are not new”. But in this case its not difficult for me to ignore the FRC–I don’t think they can connect this epidemic to religious hostility. Several of these ethically challenged officers were recalled at one time or another as being “god fearing men” and still had lapses in judgment…they’re all human so to speak.

    Likewise it’s not logical to attempt a connection to the repeal of DADT either; there hasn’t been an “ethical failure” linked to homosexuality (that I know of) so we shouldn’t blame the less than 1% success on supposition. I already know that Christian’s find homosexuality morally unethical so roger that.