2nd VIEW: Military chaplains weathering 'front wave' of culture shift

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Originally posted August 13, 2013

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) -- "We are proud of you. You are heroes to Southern Baptists."

Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, spoke those words to about 55 Southern Baptist senior military chaplains from across the armed services during a conference call that included Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Doug Carver, the retired Army major general who leads NAMB's chaplaincy efforts.

"We wanted to hear from them about the challenges they are facing in their ministry and ways we can better help and support them in the important work they are doing," Ezell said after the session on Thursday, Aug. 8.

Recent months have brought challenges on many fronts as chaplains face navigating their ministry in light of the military's repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the U.S. Supreme Court's abolishment of the Defense of Marriage Act and other religious freedom issues facing chaplains and members of the military.

The decisions and changes mean chaplains might be asked to perform marriages for same-sex couples as well as counseling, marriage retreats and funerals. There are also concerns about whether military chaplains will be able to quote certain Scripture passages without facing disciplinary action for offending homosexuals.

"Those of you serving in the military are at the front wave of what we are eventually going to be facing all over this country," Moore told the chaplains. "You are going to be dealing with some things that every community in the United States will be dealing with in a few short years."

The NAMB chaplaincy team that Carver leads regularly communicates with the 1,434 Southern Baptist chaplains who serve the U.S. military around the globe.

"For the last few months we have dealt with numerous issues regarding religious liberty," Carver said. "To date and to the best of my knowledge in all three components of the services, we have had no chaplains who have left as a result of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell or the Defense of Marriage Act and we have none who have been charged or punished as a result of their beliefs."

One call participant stated that current Department of Defense policy protects religious freedom for chaplains, but the concern is that individual commanders may enact policies that conflict with or reach beyond DOD policy.

"All of us have different situations with the people we are working with," Carver said. "If you have conflicts that occur, we would like the opportunity to know about it so we can walk through that with you."

Ezell said NAMB has been and will continue to work closely with Moore and the ERLC to be proactive on these issues.

"We will have your back with every ounce within us to support and defend you every step of the way," Ezell said. "We are going to work hand in hand with those who are engaged in these types of issues every day."

Moore compared what today's chaplains are facing to the challenges the apostle Paul faced during the time of the first-century church. Paul sought to exercise his rights as a Roman citizen not for the sake of his own well-being but for the precedents being set. He recounted Paul's stay in a Roman prison as recorded in Acts chapter 16.

"Paul is not seeking his rights, but he knows his response to this has implications for everybody else. Remember to recognize you are really in the same place," Moore told the chaplains. "You are making decisions that will have an influence for the next 300 years to come. We need to know what is going on so that you are not standing alone. We are going to work with NAMB legislatively and culturally and we will be educating Southern Baptists so that the people in our churches will know."


Mike Ebert writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).