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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.”

Solidarity and Indra’s Net

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Tibetan Mandala of Indra's Net, from

Today I’m thinking about Indra’s Net, mutuality, interconnection, and solidarity.

It all got started from something I posted on my personal Facebook page this morning, after digesting yesterday’s news that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed on the same day that the DREAM Act was defeated.

I posted this:

So gays and lesbians now have the right to fight and kill but not to love and marry… I’m confused. Should we celebrate?

In a short amount of time, there were 27 comments following that status post. Into the mix, I had included a comment from Nichola Torbett, a friend who used to work at Tikkun and now runs Seminary of the Streets. Of everything I’ve seen over the past day, I thought Nichola’s observation was the most insightful, as well as poignant. She noted that it’s not a coincidence that the DREAM Act failed to pass on the same day the Senate repealed DADT and wrote:

Ultimately, the repeal of DADT is far less disruptive to the status quo and the dominant worldview that must be maintained in order for inequality to continue. It’s much easier and clearly self-serving to let more people join the armed corps who secure and maintain compliance with American dominance than it is to start allowing chinks in who has access to the spoils of that dominance.

Wow, talk about speaking truth to power. That, I thought, really got to the heart of the matter.

However, almost none of the other commenters seemed to be on the same page. Some people thought that it was important to celebrate this step toward equal rights for LGBT people, that every step is important. Others minimized the connection between the two issues, noting that there are so many variables involved in Congressional procedures that it’s impossible to draw a parallel like that. Some referred to the very long struggle that Blacks went through (and are still going through) for civil rights.

While the commenters were respectful and I agreed with a lot of what they said, I also felt like I detected a whiff of impatience and disdain for what Nichola and I were pointing towards… a kind of “don’t be negative… let’s be grateful for what we’ve got” tone.

I realize that I’m conflating two issues here so it may be difficult to see where this is going. First, there’s the issue of gays in the military and how exactly this repeal is related to progress toward the goal of equality. I’m actually not so charged up about that… I truly do feel confused about what to think about it, just as I said in the original Facebook post. It’s kind of like the “good news, bad news” Taoist parable.

But the second issue has to do with how connected we are to each others’ struggles, and this is the one that I am feeling more passionate about. These two issues — DADT and the DREAM Act are tied together, for the reasons that Nichola so eloquently stated. Even if they have taken different legislative paths to come to yesterday’s conclusion, there is a link here. When I learned yesterday that the DREAM Act had died, I felt unable to be in any kind of celebratory mood over the DADT repeal.

I can’t really put it any better than Martin Luther King, Jr., once did — “None of us are free until all of us are free.”

The DREAM Act, which stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act,  has been winding its way through Congress since 2001 and has been defeated and re-worked several times to address concerns. The bill itself was pretty simple. It would have provided qualifying undocumented youth for a way to be eligible for a 6-year long conditional path to citizenship that would have required completion of a college degree or two years of military service. It would have changed for the better the lives of thousands of young people who, through no fault of their own, came to this country without documentation. Now, at the mercy of the virulently anti-immigrant tone of this country, the bill went down in flames, to quote Fox News.

So what’s the Buddhist link here? Joanna Macy describes Indra’s Net like this:

In that vision of reality from the Hua Yen scriptures of Buddhism, the jewel at each node of the net reflects all the others — sarvasattva, all beings — and catches its own reflection in them too, back and forth, in an ongoing display of our interconnectedness.

We as gays and lesbians are not separate from immigrants to this country, are not separate from the unemployed and working poor, are not separate from the disabled… and so on and so forth. (And even though it feels obvious to me, I might as well say it here — we as Buddhists are not separate from Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other non-Buddhists.)

A number of years ago, I became familiar with the work of Jobs for Justice and was really impressed by one of their practices. Members of this labor organizing group make this pledge:

During the next year, I will be there at least five times for someone else’s fight, as well as my own. If enough of us are there, we’ll all start winning.

How much are we there for each other? How much have I, as a lesbian woman, shown up for the struggles that my immigrant neighbors face? And vice versa? What does solidarity really mean to us, as Buddhists, as human beings?

We’ve got a ways, to go, I think… and we can change it all in a heartbeat as well.


Today, I also came across these two quotes (from Twitter) from Lt. Dan Choi:

We must deport the fear-mongering and bigoted mindsets of undeserved privilege #DreamAct

‎”Our dreams and realities are inextricably linked. I support the DREAM Act because the American promise is for ALL.”

I think Lt. Choi’s words are a perfect end to this post; he exemplifies exactly what I’m trying to describe… here is an Asian American gay man who was kicked out of the military under the DADT law, speaking out for the rights of immigrants. He gets my vote for bodhisattva of the day.


If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to visit my other website: The Liberated Life Project — a personal transformation blog with a social conscience.

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