Tom Carpenter, Forum on the Military Chaplaincy Blind to own Bigotry
Tom Carpenter of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy was called out several months ago for his hypocrisy: Carpenter had joined Michael “Mikey” Weinstein in criticizing Air Force Chaplain Dondi Costin for attending an event in uniform, while Tom Carpenter had shared a stage with a uniformed chaplain under similar circumstances just a couple of months prior.
Hypocrisy, though, is often understood to be ‘holding others to a standard to which one does not hold himself.’
A more accurate word for what Tom Carpenter and his FOMC have displayed would be “bigotry” — or “intolerant devotion to one’s own opinions and prejudices,” in one definition.
You see, it wasn’t merely that Carpenter hosted one uniformed chaplain while criticizing another. His actual issue was the religious ideologies of the chaplains and the events they attended. Carpenter and the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy support tolerance for everyone — except those who do not hold the same religious beliefs they do.
And they recently made it quite clear.
Last weekend a pastor asked a sincere question on the FOMC Facebook page regarding a reference Carpenter made to “chaplains who are prevented by their ecclesiastical endorsers from supporting all service members and their families”:
I am interested in knowing what you mean by “support all service members and their families”?…Is it in relation to not, say, baptizing an infant because they don’t believe in it AND then not finding another chaplain to serve them?
Is it about a Druid or Buddhist coming to the chaplain and not being directed to someone who is a able to provide worship or spiritual guidance? Is it about not counseling them?…
It’s an excellent question — and one Carpenter managed to completely avoid answering:
You are quite correct that “perform or provide” is the standard that allows chaplains to remain true to the tenants of their particular faith, and still carry out their duty to assist service members in achieving free exercise of religion.
One particularly problem are specific “guidelines” from some ecclesiastical endorsers preventing their chaplains from counseling LGBT service members or their families without condemning them. These chaplains are also prevented from participating in any command functions such as the Army’s Strong Bond program in which LGBT married couples are present.
They are also prohibited from participating in any religious service in which another chaplain from an LGBT affirming faith group (UCC, Episcopal, ELCA etc) is taking part. These chaplains cannot have an LGBT organist, choir member or assistant. The impact on unit morale and discipline should be self evident.
First, note that Carpenter (correctly) says the standard should be “perform or provide,” but then lists only examples of performing counseling, retreats, or other religions’ services. He isn’t even being consistent in his own argument.
Second, note Carpenter completely — and likely intentionally — ignored the sole religious example offered by the commenter: infant baptism. While there are others like it, it provides a fascinating example upon which Carpenter’s argument ultimately stands or falls.
Troop: Chaplain, can you baptize my new baby?
Chaplain: I’m sorry, but as a [X] I believe in adult baptism by immersion. I can talk to you about that, or you can talk to Chaplain [X] whose denomination performs infant baptisms.
Is that failing to “support all service members”? If the FOMC would assert that it is, their issue is with the US military, because that’s how the DoD chaplaincy is supposed to work. Presumably, though, given that Carpenter conceded to “perform or provide,” the FOMC would think this exchange was appropriate and acceptable.
A chaplain whose theology does not support the religious needs of the service member can refer them to someone who does.
Now try this:
Troop: Chaplain, do you have some time for marriage counseling?
Chaplain: Sure, when can your husband come in?
Troop: Wife, not husband.
Chaplain: I’m sorry, but as a [X] I believe marriage is reserved as a holy union between a man and a woman. I can talk to you about that, or you can talk to Chaplain [X] whose denomination’s theology is more in line with yours.
In Tom Carpenter’s tolerant opinion, this second chaplain is a bigoted homophobe who should be disqualified from military service because of his inability to “support all service members.”
The fact is the second example is no different than the first. A Muslim chaplain is not required to perform a religious service with a Catholic chaplain. A Jewish chaplain is not required to provide non-Jewish religious counseling to a Wiccan. And so on.
No chaplain is required or even expected to support a theology contrary to their own — and this standard is protected by law and military regulation. A chaplain in that situation simply refers the service member on to someone who can meet their needs. That is the “perform or provide” Tom Carpenter concedes is the standard — and Carpenter implies he supports it, unless he doesn’t like the theology of the chaplains in question.
Tom Carpenter’s issue isn’t a Christian chaplain’s failure to perform or provide — in fact, he provides zero situations in which that’s been an actual issue. (For example, Tom Carpenter, the Forum, and the MRFF have been actively attacking Chaplain Sonny Hernandez and demanding the Air Force sanction him — and their attacks are failing because they cannot cite an instance in which Hernandez has ever failed to “perform or provide”, the very standard Carpenter says protects chaplains.)
Tom Carpenter’s issue is with the theology of those chaplains, not their actual performance of their duties. Tom Carpenter and the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy don’t agree with the religious beliefs of those chaplains — and therefore they think those chaplains are disqualified from serving in the US military, simply because of what they believe.
That’s bigotry, plain and simple.
Just as Mikey Weinstein says he supports religious freedom while admitting he founded his MRFF to fight Christians, Tom Carpenter and his Forum claim to support tolerance and inclusion in the chaplaincy while simultaneously demonstrating intolerance and prejudice.
Worse, when Carpenter is asked sincere questions by those trying to understand his position, he doesn’t directly address the question asked and can’t seem to articulate a consistent defense of his position.
In short, how is a chaplain who, consistent with his theology, declines to perform an infant baptism different from a chaplain who, consistent with his theology, declines to perform affirmative counseling for homosexuals?
Here’s your chance, Tom. Help us understand how a conservative Christian chaplain who has non-LGBT affirming religious beliefs but still “performs or provides” fails to “support all service members”, as you portray them. We’ll even put up your explanation as its own article, and Forum supporters can comment at their leisure.
Ball is in your court.