WASHINGTON – Military chaplains cannot be forced to do something in opposition to their theology, but they may have problems with being accused of "hate speech" for teaching what scripture says about homosexuality, Barry Black, the U.S. Senate Chaplain and a former military chaplain, told a Heritage Foundation audience Monday. He also said he does not believe that the occasions where military chaplains are expected to pray inclusive prayers is a serious problem.
The military directives make clear, Black said, that military chaplains cannot be forced to do something they are opposed to doctrinally. He added, though, that some military chaplains may find themselves in a bind because of the scripture passages that describe homosexual behavior as a sin.
"I can see many military chaplains having some problems because, to teach the passages of Paul with exegetical integrity would mean being accused of engaging in hate speech. So, this is a challenge that I think we're going to have to deal with going forward," Black said.
Black's remarks were in response to a question about presiding over same-sex marriage ceremonies after his speech called, "Bridging the Religious and Secular Divide." In the speech, he encouraged Christians to bring their faith into the workplace by being "salt and light" and by witnessing without words. By being ethically congruent and focusing on one's actions, Black said, Christians can make a difference in their workplaces without using words. Quoting Francis of Assisi, Black said, "preach the gospel everywhere you go, when necessary use words."
During the question and answer session, Black was also asked whether military chaplains should be allowed to pray in the name of Jesus. Black explained that he has prayed thousands of times in the name of Jesus in his 30 years as a military chaplain. There were only certain occasions when he found it appropriate to say a prayer that would be inclusive of other faiths.
Black provided two examples. First, if a Muslim marine were killed and he was saying a public prayer, he would use more inclusive language out of respect. Second, if he were praying over an intercom on a ship full of sailors of different religious backgrounds, he would pray a more inclusive prayer. In that situation, one cannot avoid listening to the prayer, so Black thought it important to be respectful of everyone's beliefs.
"The times when military chaplains are told not to pray in the name of Jesus are few and far between," Black explained. "I don't see it as a serious problem."
Black served as the Navy's Chief of Chaplains in his last military position before becoming the Senate's 62nd chaplain. His most recent book is Blessing of Adversity: Finding Your God-given Purpose in Life's Troubles (2011). A video of his talk can be viewed on The Heritage Foundation website.