US Navy Chaplain’s Career Threatened over Homosexuality

In an incident that homosexual advocates claimed would never occur, US Navy Chaplain (LtCmdr) Wes Modder has been removed from his duties — and threatened with dismissal from the military — because his religious beliefs conflict with homosexuality:

A chaplain who once ministered to Navy SEALs could be thrown out of the military after he was accused of failing “to show tolerance and respect” in private counseling sessions in regards to issues pertaining to faith, marriage and sexuality, specifically homosexuality and pre-marital sex, according to documents obtained exclusively by Fox News.

Lt. Commander Wes Modder, who is endorsed by the Assemblies of God, has also been accused of being unable to “function in the diverse and pluralistic environment” of the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in Goose Creek, S.C.

Chaplain Modder had been at NNTC since April. Around November, a new assistant started working in the office: 

Modder said the young officer had only been working with him for about a month and would constantly pepper him with questions pertaining to homosexuality. He had no idea that the officer was in fact gay – and married to another man.

The article refers to the Navy Lieutenant (Junior Grade) as a “chaplain’s assistant,” though its unclear if that is accurate. Official “chaplain’s assistants” in the Navy are generally enlisted Religious Program Specialists (RP) — not officers. Regardless, after about a month of “pepper[ing] him with questions,” the Lt(JG) filed a complaint against the chaplain with Equal Opportunity.

on Dec. 6…an assistant in his office showed up to work with a pair of Equal Opportunity representatives and a five-page complaint documenting grievances against the chaplain.

The lieutenant junior grade officer went on to detail concerns about [Modder’s] views on “same-sex relationships/marriages, homosexuality, [and] pre-marital sex.”

After a Commander Directed Investigation, which closed near the end of January, Chaplain Modder was served with a “Letter of Detachment” (PDF), essentially a removal for cause.  Among the charges:

He told another student that homosexuality was wrong.

He insinuated that he had the ability to “save” gay people.

In his response, coordinated with his legal representation Mike Berry of the Liberty Institute, Chaplain Modder “categorically denie[d]” that he initiated any conversations about marriage or human sexuality; his statements were responses to others’ inquiries or in the context of counseling.  In that regard, Chaplain Modder asserted the allegations were “simply untrue or are gross mischaracterizations of what actually occurred.” He also described how he explained his role when he conducted counseling, making clear everyone he counseled knew his worldview:

Chaplain Modder…explains to them that when he conducts counseling, his role is to listen to the individual, and should they ask questions, he is compelled by his faith to answer from a biblical worldview, consistent with the tenets of his endorsing denomination.

The Navy Captain’s response to the complaints is problematic for several reasons.

First, the Navy has done a significant about face in its assessment of Chaplain Modder.  Just weeks before the EO complaint, Chaplain Modder received an outstanding performance review, including the highest-level recommendation of “early promote” — written by the same officer who now says Chaplain Modder’s performance is so “substandard” that he should be removed from the promotion list altogether and should show cause to remain in the Navy. As the chaplain’s response states,

it is inconceivable that Chaplain Modder could substantially depart from the high standards he established over nineteen-plus years, in multiple commands, both afloat and ashore, within a matter of weeks.

Second, the Navy’s letter makes serious allegations of “discrimination” — but also reveals yet again either ignorance or an intentional attempt to redefine the word. While every allegation against Chaplain Modder involves a verbal statement on his part, the Navy’s letter says

On multiple occasions he discriminated against students who were of different faiths and backgrounds.

Despite the seriousness of that allegation, the Navy’s letter lists no acts of discrimination. Disagreement with another person’s conduct, beliefs, or worldview does not constitute “discrimination,” and any military officer — especially one advised by JAGs and EO staff — should be able to articulate this correctly.

Third, there is a significant issue in the fact the complaints came from private counseling sessions.  To be clear, it is entirely inappropriate for a military officer to wander around a unit and volunteer his views on marriage and sexuality. That is a very different situation than a Sailor seeking out a chaplain for private counseling, knowing full well what that chaplain’s beliefs are.  In this case, the details of that counseling are now public — or, more accurately, enough details to indict the Chaplain are public.  More troubling, however, is the “coincidence” that multiple complaints came from (apparently) the assistant and “private” counseling sessions in such short succession.

The fact that so many complaints were generated against Chaplain Modder over such a short time — from private counseling sessions — after nearly two decades of service culminating in stellar performance reviews — hints of a coordinated effort.

Orchestrated or not, the effort should have failed:  Fourth, the Navy’s letter directly contradicts the Department of Defense guidance to date on chaplains in the post-DADT repeal environment.  When the policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed, one of the specific examples used about the post-repeal environment was a Chaplain’s religious role and rights:

Does repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell affect the religious rights of chaplains?

No…In the context of their religious ministry, chaplains are not required to take actions that are inconsistent with their religious beliefs (e.g., altering the content of sermons or religious counseling, sharing a pulpit with other chaplains, or modifying forms of prayer or worship).

The reason this was a “Frequently Asked Question” during repeal was because it was a common concern among troops of faith that they would incur negative repercussions because homosexuality was now permissible. In response, the DoD made clear that its official position was that no negative repercussions would occur; in fact, it made clear that chaplains could continue to express their beliefs, even if they were on “socially controversial” topics.  Further, the DoD explicitly said

regulations also recognize that chaplains minister to members in accordance with, and without compromising, the tenets of their faith.

This DoD guidance was so “reassuring” that any attempts to discuss such outcomes were dismissed out of hand as mere fear-mongering.

Now, a US Navy chaplain has experienced the very repercussions the Department of Defense said wouldn’t occur.

Did the Navy Captain err in taking action against the chaplain?

Did the policy change, such that action against the chaplain is now permissible?

Or was this type of situation — chaplains being punished for expressing their faith, even tenets consistent with their ecclesiastical endorsers — a foregone conclusion?

The outcome of this situation bears watching.

Also at the Military Times, the Stars and Stripes, and Christian Today.

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One comment

  • Another aspect of this case to consider is the inclusion of EO personnel into the mix. Recommendations of the reversal of DADT advised not to place sexual orientation “alongside race, color, religion, sex, and national origin as a class eligible for various diversity programs, tracking initiatives, and the
    Military Equal Opportunity program COMPLAINT RESOLUTION PROCESS”. In fact, actual implementation guidance of the reversal of DADT specifically specified sexual orientation is NOT a protected class.

    It’s fascinating that, seemingly, service cultures have bestowed “protected class” status to sexual orientation though it’s NOT regulatory . Therein lies the devil of the details…if “protected class” isn’t defined/limited…any and all disagreement of [NAME YOUR TOPIC/VIEWPOINT/BELIEF] becomes definable as discrimination. This is why this type of problem is occurring…because appointed leaders have the discretion to determine their own definition of discrimination.

    Since sexual orientation isn’t a “protected class” … there can be NO finding of unlawful DISCRIMINATION. At most, but still an overreach, the Captain could have classified the Chaplain’s actions as “harassment” or “abuse”. To argue otherwise would be to argue absurdity akin to post-superbowl, New England Patriot loving Sailors discriminated, in-masse, against fellow Sailor Seahawk fans because they verbally expressed just how the Seahawks sucked for not running the ball across the goal line. It is important to note, in this case, facts are not entirely clear as to the specifics of the involvement of EO personnel and the “investigation” was classified as “command directed” vice but EO involvement here is dubious IMHO.

    I’m left to wonder if the Captain sees while he chastised the Chaplain for the inability “function in the diverse and pluralistic environment” it’s actually the complainants that have proven themselves to be unable to ““function in the diverse and pluralistic environment”. By his own admission, they had beef with his views. Riddle me this Batman…How shocking is it, really, that a Charismatic Pentecostal Assemblies of God clergyman would have a disfavorable view of sex out of wedlock, cohabitation and homosexuality.

    The repeal of DADT called for services to view sexual orientation thru a “neutral” lens. Any Service leader [commander] that takes a position that service members that verbally express opinions against same-sex marriage/homosexuality DISCRIMINATE have taken an affirmative (a.k.a “pro”) stance and violates “Neutrality”. If leaders allow members to espouse their acceptance of same-sex marriage/homosexuality neutrality dictates those that have differing viewpoints be allowed to express their alternative views. There can be no Justice otherwise.

    Further, and rather ironically, in the context of moral belief on sexual orientation, there can be NO “diverse and pluralistic” environment if everyone is forced to collectively view the subject in the same way. Said another way, the Captain himself is guilty of the inability “function in the diverse and pluralistic environment” for his own intolerance of the Chaplain views/beliefs. Held to his own standard, His own argument impeaches himself before the end of his own sentence.

    At best the Navy has perpetrated an gross injustice…at worst its instituted a “religious test” of it’s Chaplains and is now in the business of determining the “appropriate” view/religious beliefs on same-sex marriage/homosexuality it’s Chaplains are authorized to espouse.

    Thru my God-given constitutionally protected first amendment right I express my opinion above, which BTW is solely mine, and does not necessarily represent the views/official positions of any government, military, or religious organization.

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