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.