Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: The Military Christian’s Perspective

The ongoing public debate over homosexuality and the US military (most often referred to as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) presents a unique conflict for Christians in the military.  There are those who believe homosexuality is morally wrong and must be prohibited at every possibility, and there are those who believe people have the freedom to do as they please in their private lives.  This situation has implications from both the Christian perspective and the military perspective (in isolation), though they must be integrated to form the military Christian’s perspective.  Each of these three is addressed individually below.

The Christian Perspective

The Christian faith considers homosexuality a sin, just as theft, adultery, murder, and lust are sins.  Still, Christianity does not condemn the person who expresses a homosexual preference.  In addition, while many people in this world are tempted to sin (as was Jesus during his incarnation), the temptation to participate in sinful conduct is not itself wrong.  Finally, man is a fallen creation and has a sinful nature; thus, succumbing to temptation and sinning are a common experience of many on this earth — even the stereotypically staunchest Christians.

For a Christian, it is disheartening to see the culture, government, and now military move to end opposition to immoral behavior.  This is a dramatic indicator of the direction of cultural morality in the United States:  Few other issues have so rapidly moved from socially unacceptable (even illegal), to permissible, and then to protected.

Consistent with the philosophy that society is best served when it is imbued with moral character, Christian citizens should advocate for moral conduct and against the acceptance of immoral conduct.  This includes opposing the acceptance in military service of those who choose a homosexual lifestyle.

Still, no mainstream Christian has ever suggested people with a homosexual preference be treated in any other way than with respect, love, and gentleness.  (To clarify, respecting a person who makes immoral choices does not mean a Christian should accept, advocate, or permit those immoral choices.)  Consistent with the Constitution, a Christian is free to believe (and express the belief) that homosexuality is wrong, but that bears no relation to a Christian’s Christ-like treatment of another person created in God’s image.  In addition, a Christian’s disagreement with an individual’s chosen behavior does not equate to mistreatment of that individual by Christians, despite melodramatic speculation to the contrary.

Christians should always treat all people with respect, love, and gentleness — even those with whom they theologically disagree.

It is worth noting, however, that the Christian reaction to homosexuality — calling the conduct wrong, while respecting the value of the person — may still be criticized or even punished by society.  It is not uncommon for homosexual advocates to call Christian beliefs “hate,” “bigotry,” or “homophobia.”  Given the direction of the American culture, it is unlikely such a reaction will abate in the future, and Christians must be prepared to stand by unpopular beliefs.

From a Christian perspective (in isolation), the acceptance of open homosexuals in the military service is a sad statement on the moral decline of American culture — and it should be opposed.

The Military Perspective

The treatment of “private” conduct in the US military is unique to the military’s structure, rules, and mission.  The military leadership has the ability to restrict conduct permissible in civilian society, and with a single edict it can permit conduct otherwise restricted.  The military is not a democracy, and military members are obligated not only to follow but also to actively support military rules and regulations.

Does the US military have the authority to ban or allow open service by homosexuals?  Consistent with the law, absolutely.  US law currently bans homosexual conduct in the military; should the law change, military members would be required to obey and uphold those policies.

The concept of military regulations is important to this discussion because military policies govern many facets of life some may consider the purview of “morality.”  (In fact, “moral character” is still a requirement for entry into military service.)  For example, living (in a marital sense) with a person who is not one’s spouse is still restricted in the military, despite its common acceptance in the modern culture.  Military policies also permit conduct religions might find immoral — including contrary religions.  Worshipping another god or no god at all would certainly be sin the military not only allows, but protects.  There is a significant difference, however.

The Christian faith acknowledges choice in belief — a person must choose to accept or reject the Gospel; their decision cannot be made for them.  In a manner of speaking, the New Testament Christians were the first advocates for religious freedom, believing each person has the freedom to choose — even the freedom to choose to be wrong.  Thus, the active support by the US government of non-Christians in military service is not inconsistent with the tenets of the Christian faith.

Notably, the exercise of religious freedom in the military is mutual.  Any military member is free to believe and express the belief any other religion is “wrong.”  While respectful treatment is required, military policies do not obligate a military member to acknowledge, support, or advocate the truth claims of other beliefs.  A military officer is responsible for protecting the religious freedom and free exercise of his subordinates, and he retains those freedoms himself.

On the other hand, religious freedom and the proactive support of homosexuality are potentially mutually exclusive.  If the exercise of one’s faith includes the belief homosexual conduct is wrong, and homosexual conduct is a protected class, then either religious freedom must be restricted or the protection of homosexual conduct modified.  To simplify, the statements “homosexuality is evil” and “it’s illegal to say homosexuality is evil” cannot co-exist; one or the other must be supported by the leadership, and the other must fail.

This controversy has the potential to present a conflict between personal conduct and the religious liberty of a majority of servicemembers for the first time in the US military’s history.

Still, from a military perspective (in isolation), the military retains the authority to set its policies, and they must be obeyed — whether they ban or permit service by open homosexuals.

The Military Christian’s Perspective

A variety of Christian responses have been suggested to the plan to repeal DADT, and they vary from supporting it wholeheartedly to outright disobedience.  Some have suggested litigation to assert the Constitutional protection of religious freedom; others have indicated Christians should resign from the military rather than support an immoral policy.

When considering the military Christian’s perspective in responses to conflicting military policies on sexual conduct (or any other military policy seemingly in conflict with the Christian faith), there are some important points.  First, wanton disobedience to military authorities is not generally an acceptable course of action.  As noted in Christian Fighter Pilot is not an Oxymoron:

There are too many Biblical examples of God’s people living in ungodly conditions — without either rebelling or surrendering — to advocate disobeying those in authority.  An American [military Christian] is neither Peter nor John, and the military is not the Sanhedrin ordering him not to speak the name of Christ — yet (Acts 4). A Christian must live within the rules of those in authority so long as they are not contrary to God’s Word (Hebrews 13:17, Acts 4). Ultimately, though, only God can say that one course of action is more just than the other.

The second half of the quote is significant.  While the mere repeal of DADT has a primarily passive impact on the military Christian, the policies implementing it may not be so indirect.  Depending on the specific policies enacted, there may be circumstances when a Christian is required to take an action or position inconsistent with his faith.

Should a military Christian publicly oppose the proposed repeal?  The military leadership has already made it abundantly clear such opposition is not acceptable.  While Christian tenets encourage participation in the culture, they do not necessarily demand such participation.  In that regard, a Christian is not explicitly obligated by his faith to publicly oppose the repeal.  If a Christian feels compelled by his faith to speak out against the change while in the military, he should be willing to accept the repercussions, which might include official sanction or dismissal.

Should a military Christian quit the military?  Despite the occasional feeling of nostalgia, the military environment has never been completely reconciled to the Christian faith.  Long before DADT became a four letter acronym, Christians in the military struggled with a culture they may have considered challenging, even hostile, to the Christian faith.  However, nowhere in the Bible does God or His inspired speaker direct His followers to leave their professional roles, whether as government officials, hated tax collectors, or members of the occupying Roman military.  In fact, the opposite encouragement is given: to remain where they are.

While it is possible a military Christian may experience a direct moral conflict as a result of changes to DADT, it is also possible a military Christian may never experience such a conflict.  Despite reservations about what the future may hold, Christians should not preemptively abandon the military in anticipation of what may come.

Resigning from the military over the potential conflict of policies with the Christian faith is not a commendable course of action.  Granted, some will sincerely feel it is inconsistent with their faith to serve in an organization supporting what they believe to be immoral conduct; those people must act in accordance with their beliefs.  For most people, however, such dramatic recourse should not be taken to avoid what might be a future conflict.  For perspective, consider that Christians are commanded to “go into” the world — they cannot be salt in it if they abandon it in the face of perceived difficulty.

What about specific policies implementing DADT repeal?  Each policy — none of which have yet been publicized — will have to be addressed on its own merits.  Even then, the appropriate response to a specific policy may vary by person and situation, as there are legitimate reasons for different responses to moral challenges to the faith.  (Compare and contrast the Biblical stories of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with Naaman the Aramean, for example.)

It is possible the military will enact policies to minimize the moral challenges of DADT repeal to the Christian faith.  It is also possible polices will be put in place that are, passively or proactively, a direct conflict with the Christian faith.  Should the latter occur, as with Nebuchadnezzar and Naaman, each person will have to prayerfully consider their ability to continue under those policies without compromising their faith.

Notably, few if any policies will likely be explicit, proactive support of immoral conduct.  For example, should a policy demand respect and fair treatment regardless of sexual preference, Christians would likely be first in line to support such an environment even absent a specific policy.

Still, there may be one significant avenue for recourse if a military Christian is confronted with a professional conflict with his faith: a request for religious accommodation.

Though most often associated with getting time off for religious observances, the military has long had a system in place for general religious accommodation (see DoDD 1300.17), even when such accommodation might otherwise be construed as discrimination.  For example, in the late 1990s a Christian Air Force officer sought and was granted religious accommodation preventing him from being assigned to an alert crew with female officers.  In another example, it is generally accepted that military physicians are granted accommodation when they are not required to participate in procedures that violate their consciences, including abortion or the dispensing of controversial “emergency contraceptives.”  Religious accommodation is not guaranteed, and it is predicated on mission accomplishment.  Still, there may be unique cases in which a conflict between faith and military requirements may be resolved through religious accommodation.

How should a military Christian respond to policies accepting open homosexuals?  The most reasonable course of action is for Christians to continue to serve with excellence, courage, and moral leadership in the military.  When opportunities are given, they should make their opinions known, but they should not agitate unnecessarily or preemptively act based on potential outcomes.

By the same token, military Christians must not compromise their faith — even as they are ”in the world” to be a light to the world.  To the extent they are able to maintain the integrity of their faith — something only they, in concert with the Holy Spirit, can ascertain – Christians should continue to serve in the military with excellence, even in the face of spiritual challenges.

In the unlikely instance a military Christian is required to affirm the virtues of a homosexual preference, a Christian may have to take a defiant moral stand.  If they are placed in a position in which they are forced to choose to obey God or man, Christians must obey God.

Conclusion, and Encouragement

From a Christian perspective, the decision to repeal laws banning military service by open homosexuals has the result of normalizing immoral behavior.  Such an outcome is disheartening, but it is not an unforeseeable result in a fallen world.  From a military perspective, Christian officers must obey and support the policies instituted by military leadership; the current controversy represents the first time policies may conflict with a majority of sincerely held religious beliefs, so its future is uncertain.  For the military Christian, the as-yet undefined future policies may present a unique challenge to the integration of faith and profession.

The challenges of living a life for Christ in what is perceived to be an “immoral” environment demand, more than ever, the fellowship of believers.  Military Christians should rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer, the counsel of Chaplains, the guidance of fellow military Christians, and the advice of leaders in the faith, particularly those with military experience.  Many para-church groups, like Officers’ Christian Fellowship, the Navigators, Campus Crusade’s Military Ministry, and other related military ministries are staffed with members who can provide unique insight from both Christian and military perspectives.

Ultimately, even if the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” fails, the culture within the military — indeed, within the United States — will be forever altered.  While the conflict and even potential hostility of the culture will certainly present a challenge for the military Christian, it is likewise an opportunity to demonstrate the love and power of the Christian faith.  The coming changes may present a unique opportunity in history to impact the world and stand for Christ.  It will by no means be easy, but God has commanded His followers go into the world, and He will equip them for the task to which He calls them.

Pray without ceasing, and walk by faith.  When you feel challenged in your attempts to persevere as a servant of Christ, serving in the military, consider: Who knows but that you have come to this position for such a time as this?

87 replies to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: The Military Christian’s Perspective

  1. Martin Cummins

    Guys, I come from a military family including a father that flew 35 missions over germany in the 8th AF during WWII, and have overwhelming respect for what you do.

    However, I think that when, as Christian service member, there are greater paradoxes and tests to the faith to ponder than all the hand wringing over DADT. Gays have been in the military since the beginning of armed conflict, and allowing them to admit that fact does not change the fact that they take the same risk as straight service members and are due the same respect.

    But more to the fact, if you are looking for difficult moral areas confronting the Christian warrior, what about killing civilians, especially in wars of choice, which much, much evidence shows the Iraq conflict to have been. I do not envy the psyche of the Christian soldier who must weigh his obligation to follow orders and the chain of command against the teachings of Christ in those areas, and I’m certain that it goes on alone in the quiet of night. But something as trivial and political as DADT to draw all this attention from the Evangelical Military types (I suspect partially because it raises so much money for conservative political groups) and zero focus on the innocent lives lost makes me question whether some real picking and choosing has been going on in adhering to the lessons of Christ.

    A sincere than you for your service.

  2. Mike

    It is incorrect to state that ‘the Christian faith considers homosexuality a sin.’ While many Christian people, traditions, and denominations do believe that, there are plenty who don’t, and even entire denominations such as the United Church of Christ.

    For a more interesting perspective on gays serving openly in the military, I suggest reading a column written by Christian theologian Stanley Hauerwas in the 1990s during the original struggle over DADT: ‘Why Gays (As a Group) Are Morally Superior to Christians (As a Group).

    http://books.google.com/books?id=9ELaPH5QaaAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

  3. Dealer

    Martin,

    The United States military has shown great restraint in the killing of innocent life. That’s not to say we haven’t made mistakes, but what other country develops, fields and employs smaller munitions that cost more money in order to decrease civilian impact?

    Mike,
    perhaps a more accurate statement would be ‘Biblical evidence says homosexual acts are sinful.’ Interesting read on the link though.

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  5. Owen

    “To simplify, the statements “homosexuality is evil” and “it’s illegal to say homosexuality is evil” cannot co-exist”

    I served for six years in the United States Army over half that time as an NCO. During my entire six year enlistment there was never an occasion where the morality of homosexuality, or the morality of any sexual behavior for that matter, became a topic of interest or discussion. Never once during the 3-1/2 years serving as an NCO directly responsible for soldiers serving under me did any of the soldiers sexual behaviors become a topic of discussion.

    Soldiers who had issues with personal relationships, like their marriages, were provided both the opportunity and time to work with the Chaplin’s office to get the help they needed to work these problems through in order that they may return to the unit and focus on the tasks at hand.

    In the United States Army, the responsibility of the leader is mission accomplishment. Obviously, I don’t know what goes on in the Air Force, especially the Officer Corps, but I suspect you need to focus more on the mission and less on the personal lives and “morality” of those serving along side you.

  6. JD

    Owen,

    Ethics and morality are indicators of character. Character permeates all aspects of one’s life; it is not modular because of “privacy.”

    I suspect you need to focus more on the mission and less on the personal lives and “morality” of those serving along side you.

    It seems the military you served largely disagrees with you, including the Marines and the Army. The morality of individuals is critical to the mission, not irrelevant as you would suggest. To dismiss its importance is to invite folly, tragedy, or conduct even areligious people recognize as morally repugnant.

  7. Dealer

    Owen,

    Perhaps a different example can highlight where morality plays a direct factor to military effectiveness:

    Imagine a situation where an enlisted aircrew member who is mission-critical tells his pilot-in-command about a personal concern immediately prior to flying a combat mission. The personal concern deals with moral decisions of a sexual nature and the aircrew requests advice from said trusted superior. It’s not a topic of interest, nor was it a public conversation, but it was discussed.

    I will admit that these situations are relatively rare, however they do exist and for the officer to dismiss them would certainly directly impact the aircrew’s ability to focus on the immediate issue and destroys the enlisted’s trust for that officer personally and all officers in general.

  8. msaved

    @Mike Mike you’re wrong
    Christianity does consider Homosexuality a sin.
    Leviticus calls it an abomination in the eys of God Romans 1:26 says that those that practice it will not see the kingdom of God. Galations 5
    1 Corinthians 6:9 again shall not see the kingdom of heaven.
    So how can you say that Christianity supports homosexuality. You are leading these people into hell. God says his wrath is upon them. They need to repent and accept Jesus.
    The Churches that accept Sodomites are not Christian churches. They have no business using his name. They are Apostate dead good for nothing except supporting their father Satan. . They are Christian in name only. They do not adhere to the teachings of the Bible. True Christians believe tha the Bible is the only authority by which we live. It is the inerrant word of God 2Timothy 3:16

  9. Dealer

    msaved,

    I would like to add one point to your post: Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost. While your post accurately describes the ‘truth’ aspect of God, I would like to also add the ‘grace’ and ‘mercy’ aspect.

  10. Joe

    @Mike
    No you would have that wrong as with the perspective. Scripture is VERY clear on this, it is and will always be a sin. Any Church or so called Christian who says anything contrary, isn’t holding tightly to Christ. I would suggest reading Revelation and how Christ saw the 7 Churches of Asia minor. Just because they claim HIM, doesn’t mean they are of HIM.

  11. Joe

    Joe :
    @Mike
    No you would have that wrong as with the perspective. Scripture is VERY clear on this, it is and will always be a sin. Any Church or so called Christian who says anything contrary, isn’t holding tightly to Christ. I would suggest reading Revelation and how Christ saw the 7 Churches of Asia minor. Just because they claim HIM, doesn’t mean they are of HIM.

    And link with q&a about it to include scripture ref.

    http://bible.org/article/homosexuality-christian-perspective

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  13. skinner city cyclist

    All this nattering as to whether Christianity has a problem with homosexuality is beside the point of the DADT repeal. We live in a secular nation (if you haven’t done so yourself, you can listen to John Boehner read the constitution January 6). Unless you can come up with some kind of secular reason for excluding gays, you have no ground to stand on. Gay people have been defending this country since 1775. If you are in the military and don’t like it, get over it, get used to it, or get the hell out.

  14. Zekef15

    DADT repeal is a symptom of a larger problem. The basic issue is right vs wrong (morals or values or ethics are synonyms). Everyone appeals to these basic concepts to justify behavior. Then everyone tries to bend, break or redfine them. Even in DoD’s statements justifying DADT repeal the mention core values as a reason. The live and let live mentality (also called tolerance) sidesteps this issue by stating that there’s either there’s no such as right vs wrong or majority rules (might makes right). The christian position is that transcendant values exist (regardless of anyone’s opinion) and we should pay attention to them. BTW, every major moral/religious structure since the beginning of time has called homosexual behavior wrong.

  15. Tim Kelly

    r.t.f. Gospels. There are zero reported instances of Jesus condemning homosexuality and about ten million instances of him condemning armed violence or subtly critiquing nationalism. The only thing un-Christian about the idea of gay people in the military is the “in the military” part.

  16. Jerome McCollom

    At one time there was strong opposition to African Americans in the military. In fact, it was considered un-godly and un-Christian for them to be intergrated and have positions of authority. Virtually nobody holds that view today, of course. While some might have religious opposition to gays and gay rights, the U.S. government and the U.S. military are not in anyway whatsoever an arm of any church or religion. The policies of the military and the government are not enacted to reflect any religious position.

    I don’t agree at all with evangelical or fundamentalist Christian beliefs but as U.S. citizens and members of the military, they have the right to be respected as well as anyone else in the military. Gays are U.S. citizens who have served in our military since probably Lexington and Concord.

  17. DB

    All of this talk about DADT and gays in the military is ridiculous. Christians believe in a sky god who cares about every tiny thing they do. How is THAT allowed? How can a fighter pilot (or any military officer, frankly) surrender any part of their reason and rationale like is required of the religious? Listen, the Abrahamic god is a jerk… he commands genocide, allows incest—involving the holiest man in Sodom nonetheless! He’s both merciful and just. Those are opposites, by the way. Christians believe praying to their god will make him change his mind on things. Not exactly all-knowing.

    The Bible was written 2,000 years ago by uneducated tribesman in the Middle East. It is the self-contradictory tale of a blood cult and nothing else. Inspired? Hardly. Abortion, the oppression of women, mass genocide, eternal punishment, jealousy and on and on. The Bible is morally repugnant. And yet you serve in the US military killing those of another religion. I would prefer my military officers be rationalists and not self-delusional devotees of an unoriginal religious order. It smacks in the face of intelligence.

  18. Dealer

    DB,

    Perhaps you would feel more comfortable in a place where there is no religion: North Korea perhaps?

  19. cc

    @DB
    You’re so right. As an ex-fundamentalist I feel sorry for people like the readers here who appear intelligent but hold irrational beliefs in God. It really sucks that they don’t see the message of love in their holy book but only hate.

  20. Pete

    @DB

    Always the same speech. Someone wrote the Template and the rest of the “freethinkers” always go for it like an army of robots.

    The Koreans (for example) they dont want them around…they are not Christian.

    The irony is that the only societies that are accepting homosexuality are societies with a christian background and yet, the more those societies give the more the homosexuals want. Perhaps some people are right about Christianity when they say it makes us too docile…

  21. Dealer

    Don,

    I was taking your point to the logical extreme. if you want to treat everyone equally regardless of their actions (i.e. total tolerance) then you get communism (at least in theory). America was founded on individual responsibility. Yes, you can do whatever you want, but you will have to reap the consequences of your decisions. Yes you should get equal opportunity, but not equal results. What ever happened to standing on principle?

  22. Donalbain

    So, when someone is in favour of legal equality, then that is communism? And then you talk about the founding principles of the USA? Do you have any idea how stupid that is? Really, why don’t you go and read the first 14 words of the American declaration of independence? But in the mean time, thank you for demonstrating how weak the bigots’ position is.

  23. Donalbain

    Anyone was able to marry someone of the same race. What is the next bigot argument?

  24. JD

    Race is not comparable to behavior. What’s the next illegitimate analogy?

    In re: your decision to resort to name calling in the last two comments: You do realize “bigot” means to be intolerant of others’ views, right? How tolerant are you of those with whom you disagree? You might think twice about throwing stones.

  25. Donalbain

    Sexuality is NOT behaviour. I am tolerant of bigots. I do not think , for instance, that bigots should be prevented from marrying the consenting adult who loves them and with whom they spend their lives. I do not think that it should be legal to fire a bigot for being a bigot. I do not think it should be legal to evict a person from their home because they are a bigot. I do not believe that it should be acceptable to deny a bigot the right to visit their dying loved one in hospital. I do not believe it should be legal for a bigot to be arrested for being a bigot.

  26. Dealer

    Don,

    The deepest disagree we have is not over rights and freedoms. It’s over your absurd belief that sexuality is not behavior. What else is it? If the person you choose to sleep with is not a conscious decision, then what is? Do you now also support incest and polygamy since they are “NOT behaviour”?

    Out of curiosity, when was the last time a homosexual person was arrested for being homosexual?

  27. Donalbain

    Of course sexuality is not behaviour. Two people who havely very different sexualities can both behave in the same way.

  28. JD

    And that fascinating revelation, ladies and gentlemen, is an excellent place to end this discussion. Feel free to comment on other articles on this topic available more recently.

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