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Chaplains Speak Out on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal

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I am heartened whenever I hear about an individual or a group of people who use their credibility and voice to speak up for something, to put their necks out for a cause bigger than themselves.

Sometimes this is called “being an ally,” sometimes it’s called advocacy, sometimes it’s just simply doing what’s right. It’s easier to not speak up, and most of the time people don’t look much beyond their own interests.

But when it does happen, I think it’s a modern manifestation of the bodhisattva ideal.

Last week, I attended the annual conference of the Association of Professional Chaplains in Dallas, TX. I was there on behalf of the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program. I don’t consider myself a chaplain, at least not in the traditional sense, so this was not my “tribe,” so to speak. Even so, I enjoyed meeting people and learning more about this profession.

Earlier in the week, I had mentioned to a student in our program that I had been following a couple of news stories this past year that involved chaplains and I was surprised and disappointed that the APC didn’t seem to have expressed an opinion on them. One was the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the other was the growing presence of Muslim chaplains on college campuses and other settings.

In both cases, fear-based fundamentalists grabbed on to these events and turned them into an opportunity to spread their distorted points of view. [Distorted in my opinion, anyway.] In the case of gays serving openly in the military, the position was that chaplains were having their rights violated. In the case of Muslim chaplains, well, there wasn’t anything remotely close to a rational objection… the responses were racist, pure and simple.

Here was the perfect opportunity for a professional body of chaplains to refute these destructive beliefs. And yet I hadn’t seen anything in the media. Well, it turns out I was wrong. The APC actually did make a statement on DADT, and I was told that APC president David Johnson also spoke out in strong support of Muslim chaplains.

It may be that the APC needs some more savvy media help to get these statements better press coverage, but I am gratified to know that at least they put this out.

So in the interest of helping to spread the word, I’ll share the statement on DADT with you here:

November 4, 2010

The largest organization of professional chaplains in the United States, in a statement issued today, says that the beliefs of a faith group about homosexuality do not preclude a chaplain from serving “both God and the U.S. armed forces,” as claimed by some retired military chaplains who do not want the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy revoked.

Association of Professional Chaplains President, Rev. Dr. David Johnson, D.Min. BCC, says, “All board certified chaplains (BCC) must abide by our Code of Ethics, which requires serving people without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Our Code further prohibits chaplains from imposing doctrinal positions or spiritual practices on those they serve.”

Chaplain Valerie Storms, M.Div. BCC, president-elect, says, “Chaplaincy is grounded in the common belief in the dignity of every person and the ability of each person to experience the presence of a loving Creator in a time of crisis, hardship or circumstances that bring them into the presence of a chaplain. We do not work as promoters of a particular faith tradition but as ministers of hope to all in need.”

About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

4 responses »

  1. “the ability of each person to experience the presence of a loving Creator in a time of crisis, hardship or circumstances that bring them into the presence of a chaplain.”

    Not much room for non-theists.

  2. Pam, yes, that’s true.

    The APC is made up predominantly of Christian chaplains, as is most of the population of the U.S. I think it’s not easy for many Christians to wrap their minds around the idea of people being spiritual/religious without necessarily having “God” in the picture. At the APC conference I just attended, my guess is that at least 90% of the 750 attendees were from Christian/Catholic denominations, and a lot of the language from the podium was framed in the language of theistic religions.

    I see this as a learning curve. As one of the few Buddhist chaplains attending the APC conference, I got a chance along with a couple of others of ‘us’ to explain to some of the presenters that some of their language was exclusionary. But I think that this conversation has to come about in the context of relationship… I believe we need to build bridges across differences before we tear them down.

    So I choose to be appreciative of this effort by APC to address one injustice in our society (homophobia) rather than focus on the theistic issue. That’s just my approach — I understand others might think differently about this.

  3. Hi Maia,

    I love your posts and I love your blog! Thanks for bringing this to us.

    When it comes to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — I’d like to add a few words, if that’s okay. Service members (including military chaplains) are currently being trained on the new policy, which includes that: you can’t be asked if you are a homosexual while going into the military, you can’t be discharged for being homosexual while in the military, you can’t ask for different assignments because you don’t want to serve with a homosexual, and under no circumstances is open discrimination due to sexual orientation allowed while you are in uniform. (Homosexuals, however, can’t claim dependents or get married — yet.) This law is enforceable because when in uniform, servicemembers have a duty not to question laws or make their political opinions known. Instead, they carry out those laws and orders; this is what they knowingly sign up for. (It also means that whatever actions they take within the law and their orders, the fault of their actions always lies squarely with the voters for making them.)

    As a navy wife with three children and a husband who has served for fifteen years, I find that my role often is to be a middleman between civilians and servicemembers because I’m both a voter and someone who is not in uniform, but rather I support a service member. So I would like to share my experience about the military community’s attitude concerning homosexual service members. I want to share my experience precisely because I have constantly heard friends, family and acquaintances give countless generalized stereotypes — sometimes particularly vicious stereotypes about service members.

    My first experience is that servicemembers have knowingly served with homosexuals for decades — and the majority are not bothered by it at all. Service members already know that it has never hindered the mission or their work. My second experience is that at the town hall meeting in a large navy community, an Admiral’s wife spoke openly against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — after which time, another navy wife stood up and spoke for full and equal rights for all homosexuals within the armed forces — and this navy wife was given a standing ovation by the entire large crowd. Privately, I’ve known a large number of male service members who have for years and years — when not in uniform — talked about how they have no problem with homosexuals serving in the military.

    My other experience, having established a meditation group on a naval base for more than two years, is that service members have extremely different backgrounds, come in all different colors, political ideologies, and sexual orientations. Interestingly, the armed forces provides the only place where discrimination of beliefs or prostelyzing by a chaplain or lay leader is punishable by job termination. Therefore, chaplains and lay leaders in the military are given heavy training on how to accept other faith groups.

    I do so wish that these military policies and training manuals would be learned from by faith groups and organizations like the APC. Now that I am back in civilian life, I am shocked to find so much more of a trend towards exclusion and ‘my way is the only way’ among all faith groups, Buddhist and Christian alike. Civilian life, ironically, is culture shock because of it’s lack of training in how to be open to diversity.

    In gassho.

  4. Pingback: Chaplains Speak Out on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal |

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