Baptists Update Chaplain Guidance Post-DADT Repeal

Several news reports over the past few months note that faced with growing concerns from its chaplains, the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board — which sends chaplains to the US military — has updated its guidance in light of the repeal of DADT and the open service of homosexuals in the US military:

“Our chaplains want to uphold the authority and relevancy of Scripture while continuing to serve in a very diverse setting,” said Doug Carver, the retired Army major general who leads NAMB’s chaplaincy efforts. “We believe these updated guidelines will help them do that while still sharing the love and the hope of Christ with everyone.”

In short, SBC chaplains must conduct every part of their ministry in accordance with the Christian faith — which reflects the “historic, natural and biblical view of marriage…”  The specificity and clarity was praised by retired Chaplain (Col) Ron Crews of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty.

The guidelines also seem to specifically call out marriage retreats, like the US Army’s Strong Bonds:

NAMB-endorsed chaplains will not…offer any kind of relationship training or retreat, on or off of a military installation, that would give the appearance of accepting the homosexual lifestyle or sexual wrongdoing…

It’s only a matter of time before that gets tested.

In response to these guidelines, Tom Carpenter of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy — which advocated for the repeal of DADT — claimed, without basis, that this was all a plan on the part of the SBC to engineer a “crisis” with the intent of “subverting good order and discipline.”  He also claimed SBC chaplains are now essentially incapable of being chaplains:

Southern Baptist chaplains cannot participate in joint religious services with anyone who is LGB, or is affirming of LGB service members and their families. This means Southern Baptist chaplains may not participate in worship with other chaplains, contractors or volunteers who are endorsed by the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, Unitarian Universalists, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Disciples of Christ and other major faith groups-even other Baptists!

What about chaplain assistants, music directors, organists, members of the chapel choir, youth of the chapel, wedding coordinators and others in the pluralistic and multi-cultural military community? Will they be excluded as well? If they are LGB, or LGB affirming, will the Southern Baptist chaplains refuse to participate in any religious service or ceremony with them?

First, Carpenter’s statement is false, though whether Carpenter is intentionally misrepresenting the SBC position is unclear.  The SBC statement said SBC chaplains may not conduct [emphasis added]

a service jointly with a chaplain, contractor or volunteer who personally practices or affirms a homosexual lifestyle or such conduct.

Thus, it does not categorically prohibit SBC chaplains from working with certain denominations, as Carpenter claims, especially since some of those denominations don’t even have official, denomination-wide policies on homosexuality.

More importantly, the policy is no different than that which would govern a chaplain’s conduct if it might “give the appearance of accepting” any other non-Christian tenet.  For example, surely Carpenter wouldn’t suggest that a Christian chaplain be required to perform services with a Muslim or Jewish chaplain.  Would he?

Carpenter later doubled down, saying his “opponents” know the military chaplaincy is the key to future issues of morality, and the SBC issued “guidelines…about how to discriminate.”

Former military/current atheist Jason Torpy tried to light the fuse under that test himself, in a bit repeated at Raw Story.  Torpy claimed the SBC was ordering its own chaplains to violate US military regulations.  He provided no evidence for his claim, simply choosing to mischaracterize what the SBC said [emphasis original]:

The new policy of the SBC says chaplains must refuse service to certain military personnel and their legally-recognized family members

This is really a catch-22 for current SBC chaplains. They must defy military regulations and their duties or defy their denomination…

Contrary to Torpy’s machinations and false dichotomy, the policy says no such thing.  In fact, aside from being explicitly worded, the policy is no different than what SBC chaplains — or any other denomination’s chaplains — would be expected to do when confronted by a situation contrary to their theological beliefs.  (Unfortunately, that fact is obscured by headlines implying the SBC is only now “barring” its chaplains from appearing to support or approve of the homosexual lifestyle.)

This isn’t the first time Torpy has misrepresented something to advance his position.  It also isn’t the first time he’s welcomed the negative impact of social policies on religious freedom in the US military.

For Torpy, though, who loves to hate certain religious beliefs, creating a strawman of Southern Baptist beliefs — and then holding that strawman up for derision — supports his goals of atheism in the US military.  How?  You’ll have to ask him that.