So a recent link was posted about Nancy Pelosi and a lack of a provision to protect chaplains from having to perform gay marriages. The comments then got into what exactly a chaplain does or doesn’t do, and what rites/rituals they perform for members of their command.
First of all, a chaplain ministers to his or her unit, regardless of the religious belief of either the chaplain or the soldier. What this means in practice is that I minister to the needs of my soldiers, whether they are Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, etc. There are many ways to minister – counseling, enduring hardships, conducting services, and so on. Most of them do not involve discussing my religious beliefs, and I always ask what the soldier’s religious background is before I bring mine to bear on the topic at hand.
That said, I would not be qualified to conduct last rites for a Catholic soldier who was dying – rather, I would make every effort to have a priest available who could do so. Same goes for a Muslim or a Jew — I’m simply not qualified to perform their rituals, nor am I trained to do so. If a qualified person *wasn’t* available, I would do whatever I could within the limits of *my* faith to provide comfort and ease their transition from this life.
In regards to this whole marriage thing, I think it’s really a non-issue. I mean, chaplains can’t be forced to marry *anyone* – gay or not. My commander can’t (and certainly wouldn’t) give me an order to conduct a marriage ceremony for a soldier. I know many chaplains who require couples who wish to get married to go through pre-marital counseling first; if they can’t/won’t/don’t then they refuse to perform the ceremony. If the couple wants to get married that badly on their own, they can go to the justice of the peace.
Whether or not the bill expressly allows a chaplain an “out” in regards to gay marriage, a chaplain’s role is already clearly stated in AR 165-1, Ch. 3-2, para. b. To wit:
(5) Chaplain participation in marriage preparations and ceremonies is in keeping with individual conscience and distinctive faith requirements.
(6) Chaplains will not be required to perform a religious role in…other events if doing so would be in variance with the tenets or practices of their faith. Chaplains will make every effort to provide for required ministrations which they cannot personally perform.
Another thing to keep in mind here is that chaplains don’t just serve the military services – they are responsible (and accountable) to their endorsing agency. So for me, I am endorsed by the Baptist General Conference – if my conduct were to fall afoul of their doctrine, they could pull my military endorsement. Were that to happen, I would be kicked out of the military because I could no longer function as a chaplain. So to push this gay marriage thing on chaplains would result in several potential outcomes:
- The various services simply ignore the lack of “protection” and allow their chaplains to continue to perform – or not perform – marriages according to the dictates of their faith and in accordance with current Army/Navy/Air Force doctrine.
- The services require chaplains to perform gay marriages which are contrary to many chaplain’s beliefs, and the chaplains refuse to do so, resulting in either the resignation or court-martial of the chaplain for failure to obey a lawful order. End result: the chaplain is kicked out of the military.
- The services require chaplains to perform gay marriages which are contrary to many chaplain’s beliefs, and the and the chaplain bows to the pressure and performs the services, resulting in their credentials being pulled by their respective endorsing agency. End result: the chaplain is kicked out of the military.
So I see this whole Nancy Pelosi thing as a red herring designed to boost her credibility with her gay constituency while having no real impact on the military services in general and on chaplains in particular. The vast, vast majority of chaplains I’ve met in my 23 years in the military are from predominantly conservative Protestant or Catholic traditions. Most of them excel at what they do, and their commanders recognize the value they bring to their units. I can’t imagine that any battalion, brigade or division commander would want to deal with the flak (not to mention the decrease in morale) that would inevitably result from firing a string of chaplains whose sole transgression is that they refused to compromise their religious beliefs by performing a gay marriage.