Conservative columnist and over-syndicated radio blowhard Cal Thomas doesn't live around here, so he may not have seen our summary dismemberment of the suddenly fashionable "chaplain's argument" against the repeal of don't ask, don't tell. But there he is, on the opinion page of our once-respectable daily, the Sun Sentinel, acting like it means something. So let's go over it again -- this time, in detail.
As explicated by Thomas, the "chaplain's argument" goes like this: "Will chaplains be disciplined if they counsel someone who is gay that they can change and be forgiven, just as heterosexuals who engage in sex outside of marriage can also repent and discover a new path? This proposed change in the law has a more 'fundamentalist' tone than fundamentalism. Submit, or else."
It would take a moving company to unpack all of the assumptions in those few sentences. Notably, that the right to proselytize is somehow threatened by the repeal of don't ask,
don't tell. Or that, if it is, then the right to proselytize on the job somehow trumps a service member's right to copulate with whom and what he pleases in his spare time. But I am primarily concerned with the even-nuttier assumption that the armed forces have never, until this moment, considered enlisting soldiers who have committed so grievous a sin as gay sex against the sodomy-obsessed, vengeful god of the Protestants. Which is wrong. Our armed forces are bursting
with sinners, and they haven't harmed the chaplaincy one bit. (As
to the damage done by the chaplaincy against the armed forces? That's another,
much sadder story.)
A large majority of the armed forces are Protestant. There is a large Catholic contingent as well. Jews are scarce, and Muslims are scarcer. The chaplaincy reflects this. There wasn't a Muslim chaplain in the American armed forces until 1993, and the Air Force didn't get its first until earlier this decade.
The overwhelming majority of the armed forces' chaplaincy is comprised of Protestant Christians, the majority of whom are Baptist. Doctrinaire Christians of most Protestant denominations, Baptists included, believe that everyone but they and their co-believers are going to hell, where they shall spend eternity in a lake of fire. They believe this, and preach it, even though a whopping 20 percent of armed forces consists of self-identified nonbelievers. Which means that by the standards of Christian dogma, a full one-fifth of the armed forces is comprised of men and woman whose very existence constitutes a far greater sin than sodomy. And the chaplaincy gets along just fine.
Though they proselytize. I spoke to one pro-atheism activist and Air Force veteran of several decades -- United States Air Force Academy, class of '69 -- who was raised in a "relatively mild" Methodist church. "Imagine my shock at the United States Air Force Academy," he said, "age 18 and vulnerable as shit, when I came up against a Baptist preacher who knew that if he did not save my soul, and the soul of every other cadet in what was then mandatory chapel, we were all damned."
The situation has not changed appreciably, least
of all at the USAF. There, evangelicals are cocks of the walk, proselytizing with impunity and bullying those who fail to accept Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior. We must assume that the defenders of the chaplaincy believe the relatively small number of gay service members who will come out of the closet after don't ask, don't tell's repeal pose a greater danger to our uniformed clerics' freedom of religion than the several hundred thousand
enlisted heathens already tolerating the chaplains' unwelcome
ministrations. These homosexuals must be mighty warriors indeed.