Should Every Military Chaplain’s Office be an LGBT Safe Zone?
US Army Chaplain (Maj) George Tyger recently highlighted his office door at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, noting he now had a “bigger sign”:
Highlighting the reference to the LGBT “safe zone” sign, Tom Carpenter’s Forum on the Military Chaplaincy reposted Tyger’s photo with a seemingly simple question:
Isn’t this the way every chaplain’s office should proclaim: “All are welcome and safe”?
It’s an interesting question worth discussing — though the discussion first depends on a shared understanding of what those words mean.
First, the sign itself: The “Safe Zone” sign contains the following text:
I am an Ally. This is a safe zone. I am understanding, non-judgmental, and willing to provide an atmosphere of acceptance and assistance for members of the LGBT Community.
The Safe Zone construct is a product of the LGBT movement. The Gay Alliance, for example, explains what a Safe Zone is:
A safe zone or a safe space is a confidential place where all people can bring their authentic selves and feel safe, welcome and included…The LGBTQ Academy SafeZone programs aim to increase the awareness, knowledge, and skills for individuals and address the challenges that exist when one wants to advocate for their LGBTQ peers, family members, friends, coworkers and for themselves.
Next, the Human Rights Campaign (a pro-homosexual advocacy group) explains what an “ally” is:
An “ally” is a term used to describe someone who is supportive of LGBT people.
The HRC describes being “supportive” as “acceptance,” telling homosexuals they are “welcome,” and advocating for LGBT causes.
It seems fair to conclude the “Safe Zone” sign is being used to indicate a pro-homosexual environment.
Next, to the part of Tom Carpenter’s question about whether every chaplain’s office should be “welcom[ing] and safe”: “Safe” traditionally means to be protected from harm, and “welcoming” indicates hospitality and courtesy.
It is likely most chaplains would intend their offices be places where their troops are protected from harm and are received with hospitality.
But is a “Safe Zone” sign the method to communicate that message?
The problem, of course, is that contrary to the implications of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, being pro-LGBT is not a position that is ‘welcoming to all.’ The Safe Zone sign sends the same message to traditional, mainstream Christian troops as a sign that says “Romans 1:26-27” sends to progressive, LGBT-supporting troops. It sends the message that on a divisive social and theological topic, the chaplain has not only planted a flag and picked a side, but finds that advocacy to be so important he is willing to advertise it even to the detriment of his ministry to his troops.
The direct answer to Tom Carpenter’s question, then, is no, chaplains shouldn’t — and can’t — proclaim “welcome and safe[ty]” for all with that sign. In fact, no chaplain’s office can proclaim (and sincerely mean) “all are welcome and safe” with that sign, because the sign itself indicates the chaplain has staked — and will defend — an ideological position. Those who do not support the same ideological position as the chaplain may not “feel” welcome.
Safe Zone Tolerance
Should Chaplain Tyger be allowed to post that sign, then? Absolutely. Chaplain Tyger is a Unitarian Universalist — a denomination loosely associated with Christianity that essentially says one can believe anything (or nothing). His endorser would not only sanction such a sign but would likely aggressively defend it as essential to the practice of their ministry.
Chaplains are representatives of their sending faith groups. Thus, Chaplain Tyger can represent the pro-homosexual viewpoint of his sending denomination, even if it negatively impacts his ability to serve his troops.
To support Chaplain Tyger’s religious liberty to promote that religious worldview is not “pluralism.” Pluralism would acknowledge the validity or truth claim of Chaplain Tyger’s view on homosexuality. Rather than pluralism, supporting his right to his viewpoint is tolerance, or the recognition of his right to believe something different. Put another way, support of tolerance is the defense of his right to be wrong.
Notably, a truly tolerant environment would naturally support the expression of opposing viewpoints. A truly tolerant culture would support not only a pro-homosexual religious viewpoint, but also the pro-heterosexual religious viewpoint. Put another way, would Chaplain Tyger and Tom Carpenter’s Forum on the Military Chaplaincy support a chaplain posting a sign that promoted the “other” viewpoint — to wit, a pro-traditional family, defense of marriage, morality-based religious viewpoint?
That question has already been answered. Chaplain Tyger has previously said the military religious culture is in the mess its in because progressive faith groups have allowed mainstream, traditional faith groups to dominate the chaplaincy. Similarly, Tom Carpenter has supported a post-DADT purge of the military chaplaincy, saying chaplains that do not agree with his homosexuality need to “return to civilian life.”
The US Navy has also answered that question in its handling of Chaplain Wes Modder — whom it chose to fire, investigate, and threaten to discharge. The Navy did not defend his right to hold or express his religious worldview, nor did it educate its Sailors who inappropriately demanded his punishment for the same.
Tolerance, it would seem, only flows in one direction.
To return to the original question, because military chaplains by their very nature represent a particular viewpoint, it is likely — if not a near certainty — that some troops would almost always feel less than “welcome” speaking with them, even if the chaplains themselves made a sincere effort to be little more than a listening ear. That’s not a fault of the chaplaincy; its simply a product of the reasonably created system.
In truth, the simplest way to help an Airman, Marine, Soldier, or Sailor know whether they will “feel” welcome and accepted is for a chaplain to publicize the faith group he represents. For those that care, and for those who may not feel accepted based on the beliefs of the chaplain, simply knowing the chaplain is a Unitarian Universalist, Methodist, Southern Baptist, Assembly of God, etc., will provide them with the information they need to know if that person shares their worldview and values, and thus is someone they would go to for advice on their worldview and values.
In other words, every chaplain’s office should be a “safe zone” — that is, a safe zone for the worldview, values, and religious faith they represent — even if such views are offensive to others. (In fact, their offense to others would increase the need for such a “safe zone.”)
Unfortunately, based on the prior discussion, it seems likely a few “progressives” wouldn’t support — and many might even attack — “safe zones” for traditional, conservative religious views that advocate a theology they don’t like.
Which group is supposed to be the “tolerant” one again?