Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Some thoughts about "Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell"

I got a letter today from a group that works with PCA (and other) chaplains in the military, and I didn't like what I read-- but, I gather, not for the same reasons as many pastors who read it.

Let me say this first: I am thoroughly grateful for the work and ministry of our military chaplains; I have the deepest respect for those who serve in the military in general; and I have no desire to see any of these (and perhaps especially chaplains) to be caused hardship or difficulty in their work or ministry.

The aforementioned letter addressed the soon-coming repeal of the "Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell" (DADT) policy that has been the practice of our military with regard to homosexuals for about 28 years. (Before 1982, there was open practice of discharging anyone who admitted to being gay-- or in some cases who was simply thought to be gay-- even if there had not been any homosexual act discovered or committed.) DADT, which was a compromise from the start, essentially says that military leaders are not allowed to ask anyone if they are a homosexual, those who are homosexuals are not allowed to tell that they are, and a minimum of a certain level of conduct is required before an investigation about someone's homosexuality may ensue.

In May of this year, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate both attached amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (that determines the approval of the budget for all of national defense-- you can bet this is an important bill) that move to repeal the DADT policy. All of the votes to repeal are not to take effect until the receipt a report from the U.S. Department of Defense (and certified by the Defense Secretary, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the President) stating that repeal of the DADT policy would not adversely affect military effectiveness.

Now, in the letter I keep referring to, the following points were made regarding the result of the repeal of this policy (claims in bold, my responses following each):

It would redefine the word "immoral" for the military and legitimize homosexual behavior.

Not any more than has already taken place in our culture, and not in any way that threatens the authority of Scripture. We are already living in a world that generally thinks of homosexual behavior as mainstream, morally-acceptable, and probably based on genetic heredity. This law doesn't suddenly change that-- in the military or otherwise. We lost the battle on that front a generation or two ago, for the most part. Nevertheless, that doesn't remove the authority of Scripture from the world, nor does it undermine its place.

People often throw around the word "morality" as if it is a static, fixed concept, but it isn't. Morality is the fruit of ethics, which is itself a product of worldview. Which is to say, no two Americans can safely assume that anyone else they come in contact with shares their morality, because few of them have actually reflected on their worldview, and fewer still understand the way that their worldview shapes their ethics and morality. (This isn't to say that there aren't like-minded people; only that we cannot assume that someone is like-minded simply because of some other commonality, even if that common ground is something like attending church together.)

The word "immoral" is redefined by everyone, all the time. The repeal of this law will have little or no affect on that.

It would allow an open-ended definition of "open homosexuality"

The word they are looking for is "arbitrary"-- and again, that's already in place.

When I was in college, a friend went to basic training for a few months. When he came back, he told me about his bunk-mate (we'll call him "Ben"), who was engaged to be married to a great girl that the guy had been dating since early in high school (my friend met her, and thought she was great). Ben was never a very athletic guy, and he didn't have the sort of zeal for guns and swagger that some in the military possess; he was a little nerdy, was small-framed and unimpressive physically, and was terrified of the Drill Sargent, but he wanted to get the computer training that the military could provide him. Ben was dismissed from basic training, and there was little reason offered-- but my friend suspected that he had bumped up against an arbitrary definition of the kind of "open homosexuality" prohibited by DADT: someone in the chain of command had determined that Ben's conduct felt a little to effeminate, not quite "manly" enough, and Ben had been "outed" inadvertently by his lack of certain qualities.

In other words, the arbitrary definition is already there, and I don't see how repealing DADT will make it any better or worse.

There's a meta-issue surrounding especially these first two points: definitions of morality and open homosexuality in the matter that DADT offers them (to the extent that it does) are really only with regard to behavior. Insisting that we keep these policies in place is perfectly fine if what we are looking for is the external façade of someone's idea of biblical morality. In other words, if all we want is "whitewashed tombs" (Matthew 23:27), by all means let's insist on keeping DADT. While we're at it, let's renew the call for the 10 Commandments to be posted in our courthouses, and mandatory prayer to be held in our public schools.

But we're not called to preach a legalistic, external pharisaism to our world; we're called to proclaim the Gospel, which is not just a change of clothes but a change of identity. If anything, DADT gives us (and our chaplains) a false sense of accomplishment because we've conveniently created a method for hiding sin.

It would open the door to make any kind of speech against a homosexual lifestyle a matter of "hate speech" and "civil rights violations"

Now we're getting to the heart of the matter: a fear of litigation and legal repercussions for preaching the message of the Bible. This is a valid and real threat-- not only in the military, but in a country that has embraced the idea of "hate speech" and that declares that the only sort of accountability that can be exercised or ethics taught is the one that says, "you can't hold anyone accountable or call anything else a sin." The threat of restricting hate-speech in my pulpit is just as likely as it is in the military.

There's a certain extent to which I simply don't care about that. And I'll say more in response to the last point.

It would curb evangelical chaplains' bold preaching when covering such sins

No it wouldn't-- or rather, it shouldn't. If a chaplain (or any pastor) is told, "do not preach what the Bible teaches about ___ or you will face the penalty of ___" they should stand ready to face that penalty. There are PCA pastors fighting racism, greed, and other sins common to our culture whose congregations have told them to stop or face termination-- and they should keep on preaching against those sins. Scripture and church history are full of those who were told not to preach or face beheading, being burned at the stake, being impaled, being crucified-- and they rightly kept on preaching.

When we are ordained as PCA pastors, we are asked to take the following vow (among others):
"Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace and unity of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account?"

No amount of potential court action should curtail the preaching of the Gospel. If a PCA chaplain's bold preaching of the Truth is curbed by the repeal of the DADT policy, he should be brought up on charges for abandoning his ordination vows. Period.

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