Coming Out as Inclusive.

Army, Chaplaincy, Open and Affirming

It would seem that a post about this would be completely unnecessary in the pluralistic world of the Army Chaplain Corps. It would seem that the directive to perform one’s own faith and provide for all the others would make such a statement redundant.

Only it’s not.

Somehow, this needs be said.

So, I am going to say it: I am a chaplain for ALL my Soldiers. All of them. The gay ones. The straight ones. The fat ones. The skinny ones. The conservative ones. The liberal ones. The religious ones. The non religious ones. The connected to church and the far away. The reason driven and the faith-based. The agnostic and the Christian. The pagan, the Muslim, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the whatever-you-happen-to-believe right now. Everyone I can think to mention and everyone else.

All means all.

This last summer, the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) voted to call all Disciples Congregations to be a welcoming people of grace to ALL God’s children. All is given as “race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, physical or mental ability, political stance or theological perspective.” Seems patently obvious but then, if we were all doing this already, such a statement would be unnecessary. This is my answer to that call.

A call given by my church but heard by me as a call from God.

I’ve been ministering in this way for well over two years now. I thought it sufficient to just ignore it and not really say anything. I thought it best to let people believe what they wanted about my ministry and be pleasantly surprised when they found out that I didn’t judge them (this is after they got the courage to come into the office for counseling). Over and over I heard my Soldiers, inmates, and family members vocalize that they didn’t expect me to be understanding. They would say something like, “frankly, I was worried about coming but you are different from other chaplains…” Still, I didn’t want to “put it all out there.”

“After all,” I reasoned, “if I make it too well known, I’ll just be labeled as the one who is “ok with the gays” and it’ll be all anyone thinks about when my name comes up. It’s just not that big a deal to me. I minister to everyone but surely, that’s a given.

Here’s the thing: I’ve met those with HIV because there was no safe place to identify as gay so they went to where they could and it was not safe. I have met those who ran from the church only to come to the Army for a sense of community and get rejected yet again. I’ve cried with those who finally say the words out loud, “I’m gay and I can’t tell anyone.” I’ve heard the stories about walking past the Chapel and in isolation, thinking about suicide but thinking there was no one inside who would help them.

It is not enough to just minister by word of mouth.

In a world where state legislators are literally passing laws that would allow them to refuse service to my fellow Soldiers (and everyone else) simply because of their orientation – it is not enough to be silent.

As a chaplain, I do not have a church to challenge with the Open and Affirming process, but I certainly can be exactly that – Open and Affirming.

I’m not saying this to be reactionary or a contrarian. I do not speak for anyone else but me.

I am saying this for the Soldier who is alone and thinks the world has rejected her because of who she is.

I am saying this for the Soldier walking by the chapel thinking that there is no one in there who can hear his pain and not judge him.

I am saying this for the spouse who, in shame, does not feel like he has anyone to turn to because of what he thinks about himself.

I am saying this for the parent whose gay child has just joined the Army and they are so worried that he’ll be abused for who he is.

I am saying this for the chaplains who also are “in the closet.” Truth is, they feel as I do but do not want to say it out loud and experience other chaplains reject them for interpreting Scripture differently from them.

I’m saying this for me. I’m saying this because if one of my children came out and was in the Army, I hope they would have a chaplain that would help them process what they are going through without judgment or condemnation.

I’m saying this for all those I have known, closeted and not, who have experienced great pain because the God they know and love is represented as doing the opposite.

From now on, this sign will hang on my door as a message to all the Soldiers, family members, and other chaplains I run across in my career – You are welcome.


29 thoughts on “Coming Out as Inclusive.

  1. You make it sound as though chaplains who understand Scripture to teach that homosexuality is sin refuse to minister in any way to, or even to “provide” for, gay Soldiers. I’ve NEVER seen that to be the case, or to even SEEM like they’re unapproachable because of what they believe.

    1. That’s the thing with the “hate the sin, love the sinner idea.” I’m not gay so I am not speaking from my experience but what some of my gay Soldiers have expressed to me. When something that is a part of one’s identity is called a sin, a person inherently feels rejected. I am saying that out loud so no one will have to wonder.

      1. Then that feeling is not based on approaching that chaplain but rather on refusing to approach that chaplain. Allowing the relationship would likely reveal a sense of love rather than rejection.

    2. So, to go by your logic, “never” must mean you have personally experienced every single instance of interaction with chaplains and can speak about them all because you have “never” heard of an interaction where someone has been denied services, whether it involves performing or providing. Those of us who are on the receiving end of the “I can’t serve you because you’re gay” rhetoric from chaplains know by experiece that it happens frequently.

      1. Heather, No, because I said “I’ve never seen it” you said it “happens all the time.” I was referring to what I’ve personally observed while you made a blanket statement.

  2. Daryl, speaking as a gay chaplain, that actually happens all the time and I have personally experienced it from the majority of military chaplains I have worked with.

  3. Excellent post, I agree with you: the phrase “Open and Affirming” includes both a noun – “Open” – and a verb – “Affirming.” As your post points out, it is simply not enough to just BE Open, one must also combine action with it – “Affirming.”

  4. Reblogged this on The Here and the Hereafter and commented:
    Thanks to Army Chaplain Jonathan R. Fisher for making this valuable point in his blog.

    Being “Open” to others (and their otherness) is simply not enough. “Open” by itself is a passive state. As Christians, whether we are in the pastorate or the laity, we are called to do more than merely be “Open.” Our faith calls us to action, meaning that we must not only be Open, but also Affirming. We cannot simply welcome those who come through our doors, but must also reach out to them beyond the doors of the sanctuaries we’ve defined for ourselves. We must affirm others for who and what they are, right where they are.

    Affirmation is not about accepting someone when they come into my territory, but rather about valuing and loving others right where they are even if they never step outside the limits of the space they have set for themselves.

    Affirmation is a declaration that everyone is a child of God, and therefore a valuable, wonderful person loved by God for exactly who they are right now; and that we are called to do the same.

    Being “Open” AND “Affirming” is not an easy thing to do, because it calls us to accept that we don’t have all the answers, and never will; and that we therefore must be willing to accept and value the presence of God in others, no matter how it is expressed, and no matter how challenging we may find those expressions to be.

  5. I will say, though, that I am grateful for chaplains who can, without reservation, receive, affirm and counsel gay Soldiers which enable us to be able to “provide” when we can’t “perform.”

    I would quickly add, however, that I (and every other chaplain I’ve discussed it with) would not fail to “perform” counseling gay Soldiers for issues unrelated to the promotion of same-sex relationships.

  6. As a former soldier, I can relate to the experience you heard about. I’ve wanted to bear my difficulties surrounding my sexuality to a chappy before, but never did because I heard about a buddy that got outed by his.

    I could’ve used a chappy like you. Keep on doing what you’re doing, Sir.

  7. No one but the most curmudgeony of atheists could be disgruntled by anything you’ve said. It’s head and shoulders above many others in your profession. I’m sure you want this to be as effective as possible.

    I would suggest a shortfall is that you’re mixing your personal beliefs with your statements of inclusion. You don’t have a strong personal statement that says where you’re coming from. You do say as a coup-de-grace: “I will extend the grace of God to you.” and that does speak to your personal beliefs and perspective, but you’ve presented it as if that’s the most inclusive thing you could say that would include everyone. That will run those atheists away from you and maybe those believers who believe in different gods or different grace than you.

    I know better, but right now, one could get the impression that atheists, jews, hindus can come to you for god’s grace, but not for help on their terms. Atheists can get god’s help but not references to humanists and other nontheists. That should be clear.

    It’s just too common that ‘everyone is welcome’ means ‘everyone is welcome to believe what I do, eventually.’ And that’s best done by inviting everyone in, not judging, being friends, but not offering service on their own terms.

    The work-around is to make sure you’re you in there somewhere and make sure that ‘inclusion’ you’re offering is not assimilation but support on their terms.

    1. Jason & Jonathan: I get affirming homomosexuality as Jonathan’s interpretation of Scripture, but aren’t there limits as to much of what Jason refers to? Isn’t Jonathan still a Christian chaplain which should still drive how and in whose name he ministers? Aren’t there still occassions when our “inclusiveness” can just go so far, which is why we have the mantra, “perform or provide”?

      (Jonathan, feel free to delete this comment, I don’t want to hijack your post with my comments, but do enjoy the conversation!).

  8. Reading SOME of the posts from other chaplains honestly warms my heart. As a gay soldier married to a Chaplain Candidate, we are fearful of what could possibly come of my wife’s career due to her being gay. I have personally had a chaplain treat my wife and I differently after learning that we were gay and her becoming a chaplain. It makes me feel as if all chaplains are that way. Reading these gives me hope that times are changing and soon any gay soldier will not fear speaking to a chaplain if there were a problem or just needed advice.

    Thank you.

  9. Thank you! as someone who has seen a wide range of chaplains, from one who was constantly drunk, to one who gave his sermons in front of the formation, with no “option out” to include a mini sermon on the evils of “that gay lifestyle of sin”, you, sir, are a welcome voice of reason. If you had been my chaplain, I may never have stopped going.

  10. Thank you. There are excellent chaplains and there are chaplains only excellent to some (yes, I know this after approaching them). It is so good to know you are there.

  11. As a chaplain who is soon retiring, you give me great hope for the future of the Army Chaplain Corps. I applaud your courage in standing boldly for your convictions in the face of certain suspicion (at best) or outright ostracization (at worst). Your soldiers are truly blessed to call you their chaplain.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s