Thursday, July 5, 2012

Met. Jonah prescient on Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal

Two years ago Metropolitan Jonah, primate of the OCA, wrote a letter to the Armed Forces Chaplains Board wherein he said (PDF available here):

The main way an Orthodox priest might minister to someone who embraces a “gay” identity and engages in homosexual activity is to call him or her to repent, to change his or her lifestyle, to renounce the “gay identity” and to embrace a Christian lifestyle of chastity. The call to repentance is a call to healing, to forgiveness and to transformation. It is the core teaching of the Church for anyone caught in sin.

If our chaplains were in any way forced to minister the sacraments to those involved
in such activity; or forced to teach that such behavior is either good or acceptable, or prohibited from denouncing such behavior as sinful and self-destructive, it would
create an impediment to their service in the military. If such an attitude were
regarded as “prejudice” or the denunciation of homosexuality as “hate language,” or
the like, we would be forced to pull out our chaplains from military service...
His words at the time were called inflammatory and reactionary by many Orthodox in America. At the time I commented that I thought his words pointed to a rather logical outcome of the reverse in the military's response to gays in the armed forces. In the below story and in other recent articles I've read the current vibe is "Get with the times or get out of the way."

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 20, 2012 ( - Although the U.S. Military fight and die to uphold freedom, high-level military chaplains report they are increasingly being denied freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. There is also alarm about the negative effects on troop morale over the undoing of the 237-years’ practice of providing traditional religious support for U.S. soldiers.

“We were promised that we would see no change - very little change,” says Col. Ron Crews, alluding to a two-star officer’s assurance that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would not impede the ministry of military chaplains. That promise, he says, has not been kept.

Col. Crews, executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, was speaking at a panel along with military chaplains and religious freedom activists during the 2012 National Religious Freedom Conference in Washington D.C on May 24.

The panelists agreed that the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and other policies have made it difficult, if not a punishable offense, for military chaplains to read passages of Leviticus, pray aloud in the name of God at a soldier’s funeral, or preside over traditional services.

Col. Crews recounted an interchange in 2010 between Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a military chaplain. While Adm. Mullen was briefing the troops on what the repeal might look like, the chaplain asked if those with “biblical views that homosexuality is a sin [would] still be protected to express those views?”

Adm. Mullen reportedly responded, “Chaplain, if you can’t get in line with this policy, resign your commission.”
Another chaplain’s promotion was unexpectedly rescinded, said the colonel. The reason: forwarding an email sent by a fellow chaplain that was critical of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Due to this action he was told he would need to be “more closely supervised.”

Yet another chaplain wished for his chapel to be considered “sacred space” and not used to officiate same-sex marriages. He was told that despite his wishes, his chapel would be “sexual neutral territory.”

After Chaplain (Major General) Douglas Carver, the U.S. Army’s Chief Chaplain, called for a day of prayer and fasting “in keeping with your religious traditions,” the Military Religious Foundation (MRF) “wanted him fired,” said Col. Jacob Goldstein, a panelist and senior U.S. Army Jewish chaplain. He added that despite the MRF’s claims that this was offensive to Jewish people, “this fasting follows in our tradition.”

Chaplains are not the only ones feeling pressure. Veteran’s Affairs officials told veteran honor guards that mentioning God in prayer was not acceptable. It took a Temporary Restraining Order from U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes and four months of litigation for the name of God to again be permissible.

Four months was not soon enough to prevent heartbreak to the widows of the fallen. Lisa Ward, the widow of a war veteran, made a promise to her husband - in the event of his death, he would receive the full burial ritual. But arriving to bury her husband and fulfill her promise, she was told the full burial ritual was against federal government regulations. The ritual mentioned God.

“I can’t redo my husband’s funeral,” she said with tears in her eyes.

One federal official, speaking on behalf of the Houston National Cemetery, said that prayers must be “inclusive.” Another asked a veteran to submit his public prayers in writing for approval. Finally, a judge ruled, “In this country, we don’t tell our pastors how to pray.”

But these legal victories do little to reassure believers. Kelly Shackelford, a panelist at the National Religious Freedom Conference and president and CEO of Liberty Institute, said, “The speed at which we are falling is much quicker than I have ever seen,” referring to the amount of religious freedom complaints that his office receives.

Shackelford’s office is the largest non-profit law firm in America, which deals solely with defending religious liberty. Still, there are too many cases for his office to handle. Over a period of ten years, he says he has experienced the most change in the past year and a half.

More religious freedom complaints are piling up. But Shackelford said that his office can’t provide any help unless people are willing to take a stand and work through a litigation process. He ended his talk declaring, “We need to stand in a Christ-like manner, but whether we stand or not is not an option.”

Military chaplains have received a stipend for their military duties since the U.S. military’s founding. General George Washington commenting on this practice said, “It is necessary that we provide them [the military] with a spiritual substance.”

For 237 years it has been considered essential to provide U.S. troops with moral and spiritual counsel. Gen. Major Carver sought to demonstrate this importance by recounting of a soldier’s experience.

A young private was aboard the torpedo-hit USAT Dorchester on February 3, 1943. Surrounded by the dead and debris, the vessel sinking lower, he later said of the event, “I could hear the chaplains preaching courage, their voices were the only thing that gave me hope and kept me going.”

Video and DVD are available here.


  1. I cannot believe that any Orthodox Christian would find Metropolitan Jonah's comments "inflammatory and reactionary." They are nothing more than a statement of the universally accepted teaching of the Orthodox Church. We have allowed a very small minority to force its will on the majority. No one with any sense advocates persecuting homosexuals, but homosexuals do not have a right to persecute those who still believe in Biblical morality. Yet that is what is happening.

    Fr. John W. Morris

  2. "We have allowed a very small minority to force its will on the majority."

    Amen! Amen! Amen!

  3. We have, at least in theory, religious freedom in this country. That doesn't mean that you remove God from the chaplaincy because someone's twisted morality has been forced on all of us and that doesn't mean that you deny their right to bury their dead as they see fit because it happens to be a federal cemetery.
    God grant our country leaders with moral conviction!

  4. I would add may God raise up a moral electorate who are guided by Christian principles to vote for men and women who resonate with the same conviction! I believe that C J Roberts said it well when he stated in his recent declaration that it is not the job of the courts to protect the electorate from the actions of those for whom they have voted.

  5. The he-goat from the West is the USA, in the exact geographical area of Media and Persia, and many days after Daniel lived. Those who follow after this beast, are beasters, not Christians. Authentic Christianity need not provide a subordinated ministry to those who believe the lie that they fight for freedom. They fight for a corporate fascism, which is destroying true freedom in this country as fast as it can. Authentic Christian should be guided to not go to arms to kill for the he-goat and help destroy freedom here. This work of darkness has no place for the works of light, pull your chaplains, as the cause by which they justly ministered no longer exists.