WASHINGTON (BP)--The careers of many if not most military chaplains will end if the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy against open homosexual service is overturned, more than 40 retired military chaplains contend in an April 28 letter to President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
"By raising homosexual behavior to the same protected status as [race] ... the armed forces will cast the sincerely held religious beliefs of many chaplains and Service members as rank bigotry comparable to racism."
-- Retired chaplains
The letter warned that reversing the policy will negatively impact religious freedom and could even affect military readiness and troop levels because the military would be marginalizing "deeply held" religious beliefs.
Military chaplains, the retired chaplains said, "are integral to maintaining high morale."
"Marginalizing a large group of chaplains, then, will unavoidably harm readiness by diminishing morale," the letter said. "Similarly, making orthodox Christians -- both chaplains and servicemen -- into second-class Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, or Marines whose sincerely held religious beliefs are comparable to racism cannot help recruitment or retention."
Obama and Gates have stated their support for overturning Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but at least half of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have expressed reservations about its possible reversal, which would require action by Congress.
Changing the policy, the letter said, could influence everything in the chaplaincy, from what a chaplain can say in a sermon to what he can say in a counseling session. The retired chaplains, the letter said, are "deeply concerned" that the changes would threaten the religious liberty of chaplains and service members.
If the policy is changed, chaplains who don't conform would "run the risk of career-ending accusations of insubordination and discrimination," the letter said.
Keith Travis, team leader of the chaplaincy evangelism team at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, signed the letter. A former chaplain in the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Reserves, he said the chaplaincy "as we know it today hangs in the balance."
"It's a critical juncture at this point for ministry and chaplaincy," Travis told Baptist Press. "There are secondary and tertiary effects if this policy is overturned that will take place that people are not thinking about and they don't even see at this point."
Travis added, "It could limit our chaplains on what they could preach. Can they even preach about sin? Can homosexuality be called sin?" Read More