That was the topic of a workshop led by Dr. Gerry Breshears, professor of theology (Western Seminary, Portland, Oregon) at the NWCB Men’s Roundup at Camp Tadmor, Oregon Sep. 11-13. Gerry urged attendees; pastors, chaplains, elders, and laymen, to use positive statements when discussing marriage in today’s world; because negative statements only inspire defensiveness which prevents meaningful dialogue. His definition: “Marriage: The publicly pledged, permanent, exclusive, covenantal union of one man and one woman.” (Genesis 1:27-31) More information on this topic and related issues can be found at www.breshears.net and http://1drv.ms/ZaJaCs. Dr. Breshears’ workshop was one of several that I and other CB chaplains attended during this action-packed weekend.
Winning in the Court of Public Opinion: Same-sex Marriage (What to Say and How to Say it: Public Affairs 101 for Military Chaplains)
As the dust settles on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) 26 June 2015 decision on OBERGEFELL v. HODGES, legalizing same sex marriage, many military chaplains are asking questions on how this landmark (earthshattering?) case impacts their ministry. Following is a summary of positive statements, supporting facts, and frequently asked questions (FAQs) that are based on the First Amendment, current DOD regulations, and recent Constitutional protections added under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 (NDAA’14), and previously affirmed by the 1986 case of Katcoff v. Marsh (Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit). Review these statements and keep this sheet handy when asked your opinion in public or in private. Remember: It is more effective to state your position in positive terms, than what you are against. Negative statements tend to evoke a defensive response and shut down meaningful dialogue, preventing effective communication. Now, more than ever, a positive Christian voice needs to be heard. Be sure to clear all public media interviews with your Public Affairs Office prior to granting interviews as a military chaplain.
- Central Issue: No one should be required to deny their faith in order to serve in the Armed Forces. A. Supporting Statements:
- No American, especially those serving in the armed forces, should be forced to abandon their religious beliefs.
- Chaplains and service members shouldn’t be denied the very constitutional freedoms they have volunteered to defend and are willing to die for.
- Military policy should center on what best protects our nation and the freedoms that service members volunteer to defend…and are willing to die for…to preserve these freedoms for all Americans.
- Supporting Facts:
- The First Amendment guarantees religious freedom for every American – including military chaplains.
- Our government was formed to be freedom’s greatest defender, not its greatest threat. Military chaplains don’t surrender their constitutionally protected First Amendment rights and abandon their religious beliefs:
- When they join the military
- When the Judicial Branch of Government “creates” a new constitutional right (same-sex marriage)
- When the Executive and Legislative Branches of Government create policies in response to partisan demands from a vocal minority
- When chaplains are muzzled and prevented from sharing the full counsel of their faith, the spiritual health and well-being of service members will suffer.
- Forcing military chaplains to abandon their religious beliefs threatens the spiritual support they provide to Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and Airmen, and defeats the purpose of the chaplaincy.
- Military chaplains are called upon to perform or provide, (provide or provide for, i.e. facilitate) for every service member regardless of their faith background or orientation.
- The military chaplaincy is mandated by the US Constitution, as confirmed by the 1986 case of Katcoff v. Marsh heard by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
- Moving “Forward on Marriage:”
When asked your opinion on the 26 June 2015 decision on OBERGEFELL v. HODGES, legalizing same sex marriage, you may consider the following response:
The news from the Supreme Court was bad. Even so, this decision doesn’t end society’s discussion about the future of marriage and laws affecting the family. The Court’s decision demands that we:
- Continue to promote a view of marriage that prioritizes children’s needs over adults’ desires,
- Affirm the right of every child to know and be raised by both their mother and father,
- Promote a legal framework that values lifelong marriages and discourages divorce, and
- Promote the truth that the union of a man and a woman is the only objective definition of marriage that produces human flourishing.
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and Proposed Responses:Question: Now that the SCOTUS has ruled there is a fundamental right to same-sex marriage under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, will you perform same-sex ceremonies for gay service members?Answer: This question comes up frequently when people don’t have all the information about established law and policy.Here’s what you need to know:
- Chaplains aren’t required to officiate at any ceremony that is counter to their religious or personal beliefs. This is consistent with established law and policy.
- Chaplains provide for religious support to help service members find someone who can meet his or her spiritual needs, and they provide religious support.
- In this case, I can’t perform a same-sex wedding ceremony, but I will direct them to someone who can.
Question: Now that SCOTUS has ruled there is a fundamental right to same-sex marriage under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, will you provide premarital and marital counseling to gay service members? Marriage retreats?
Answer: Approaches to counseling vary, case by case, but there’s never a case where a homosexual service member’s requests are ignored.
- It’s important to remember that Chaplains provide for religious support and will help a service member find someone who can meet his or her spiritual needs.
- Some chaplains will provide counseling to homosexual partners but make it clear at the outset that their counseling and pastoral care are based on a certain biblical and doctrinal perspective. Other chaplains will refer homosexual individuals to someone who can help with their specific needs.
- The bottom line is that chaplains provide and provide for religious support.
Question: Now that SCOUTUS has ruled there is a fundamental right to same-sex marriage under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, is there a conflict between your oath of office (to support and defend the Constitution) and your religious beliefs?
Answer: No, not at all.
- The First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion for all Americans, including Chaplains.
- Chaplains shouldn’t be denied the very constitutional freedoms they have volunteered to defend and are willing to die for.
- The Supreme Court reiterated this guarantee in its recent marriage decision. “The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection…” This includes Chaplains.