On the day that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) was repealed, Airman Randy Phillips, an OutServe member, posted a video of himself on YouTube "coming out" to his father. At home in Alabama, Phillips' father responded with unconditional love.
The same day, he posted a second video "coming out" to his mother. She did not take the news as well. She talked about how God created Adam and Eve, male and female, and voiced concern about her son's "spiritual well-being."
Airman Phillips' story is familiar for those struggling to reconcile personal integrity and religious upbringing. "Coming out" is seldom easy and is far more complex for many who have grown up in conservative households and churches. America has a strong and enduring religious heritage which can be traced back to pilgrim founders and puritan values.
LGBT service members and civilians alike, who have been raised in traditional communities of faith, have long experienced the sting of rejection by members of the clergy and by those who should love them most - their families and friends. Religion is often cited to justify hate crimes, bullying and bigotry. It forms the rationale for reparative therapy or transformational ministries (the pseudo-science of changing one's sexual orientation).
Though the practice is now debunked by every major medical and mental health association in America, groups such as the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), many socially conservative churches, and some Christian therapists continue to promote interventions to "repair" homosexuals. This animus has left many LGBT people estranged from their religious roots.
The armed services have traditionally reflected the society they are sworn to defend. However, with the elimination of the draft, the military has moved to the political and cultural right, and so has the military chaplaincy. Today, partially as a result of a determined effort by some evangelical groups, chaplains endorsed by socially conservative denominations are in the majority within the military. Consequently, they exerted a significant and negative influence in the long and laborious journey to repeal DADT.
In 1993, when President Clinton tried to lift the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly, military chaplains led the opposition within the Pentagon working group. The same was true last year when the Comprehensive Review Working Group was conducting its investigation on the repeal of DADT. The chiefs of chaplains from the Army, Navy and Air Force, all from conservative denominations, were unanimous in their opposition to repeal. Their civilian allies from the Center for Military Readiness, Family Research Council, Alliance Defense Fund, Focus on the Family, Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty, and many denominational endorsers lobbied Congress to keep DADT and filed numerous documents opposing repeal with the Pentagon.
During the mandatory training before repeal was fully implemented, many members of OutServe reported open resistance from some of their fellow service members, including military chaplains. Often, offensive remarks were couched in religious terms, such as "my deeply held religious beliefs," "the Bible says," and "this is an issue of Christian morality."
Against this backdrop, many LGBT service members have turned their backs on religion altogether. They have experienced faith used as a weapon by those who shame and shun LGBT people, who promote an agenda regarding gays as second-class citizens. Why would a gay service member even consider going to a military chaplain for support and guidance?
What about the right to religious liberty and access to welcoming and affirming military chaplains? And how can one find a safe and trusting environment on an installation where religious needs can be met?