WASHINGTON – As the Department of Defense transitions to an open military, active duty chaplains reported that they have long been counseling homosexual soldiers.
Army Chaplain Lt. Col. Carleton Birch said Wednesday that chaplains already have experience in counseling homosexual soldiers and will likely be able to adjust easily to an openly homosexual military.
"I've counseled homosexual soldiers when if I told anyone else that, they would get kicked out," shared Birch, an evangelical.
When asked if chaplains would be limited in their ability to serve soldiers following the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal, he said that no changes were necessary to protect chaplains' rights.
He maintained, "We've always been able to preach and teach" and anticipate little change in the future.
In December, President Barack Obama signed into law legislation repealing the 1993 ban on open homosexuality in the military. "Don't ask, don't tell" was ended after some Senate Republicans rallied with Democrats to pass a repeal during the lame duck session.
During the signing ceremony, Obama urged for swift implementation of the repeal.
In late January, Department of Defense officials announced that military training would begin in February. Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley also projected the repeal training and implementation will be completed within a year.
Lt. Col. Lisa H. Tice, a Reformed chaplain who serves in the personnel, budget and readiness division of the Air Force Office of the Chief of Chaplains, said that Tier 1, the first phase of the military training, is geared towards chaplains.
Tice said of counseling gays, "We don't see this as a big deal."
Navy Chaplain Capt. John H. Lea III said the trainings will be face-to-face seminars focused on situations and scenarios. According to Lea, who has been selected to conduct the trainings in his branch, the navy has not begun its trainings.
The Air Force, meanwhile, has begun its trainings. The trainings, according to Tice, are set up as a slideshow. Tice anticipates that there will be little conflict between chaplains and their beliefs.
"Ministering is about providing or providing for. I cannot minister to someone who is Muslim because that is not my faith. But I can provide for him [someone else who can minister to him in his faith.] This will be a 'providing/providing for' issue," expressed Tice.
She said that no air force chaplains have left the military over the DADT repeal.
However, Lea reported that one navy chaplain left because of the repeal. He said of the process, "As with all changes, there are going to be hiccups."
Retired Army Chaplain Brig. Gen. Douglas Lee told The Christian Post that he fears chaplains may feel pressured to compromise their religious beliefs in light of the new legislation.
As a retired chaplain, Lee mentors and encourages serving chaplains. He fears that America's chaplains will eventually be subjected to the same restrictions as their Canadian brothers.
"In Canada, they do not allow chaplains to preach [or] teach about homosexuality," Lee explained.
Birch said some army chaplains have also expressed trepidations about free speech. "It's a big deal and our chaplains have had a lot of concerns."
However, he believes that an open military is going to "strengthen and educate" chaplains and create an open environment for all soldiers to reach out to them.
Chaplains Birch, Lea and Tice broached the issue of homosexuality in the military during a panel discussion on Capitol Hill. They were joined by chaplains from other faith traditions, including Jewish and Muslim in sharing their thoughts on issues facing the chaplaincy today, particularly in the aftermath of the DADT repeal.
Lea is a Methodist chaplain. Lt. Cmdr. Abuhena Saifulislam, chaplain of the Marine Corps and Navy Chaplains Corps, represented the Islamic faith. Retired Army Reserves Chaplain Capt. Jerry Seidler, a Jewish rabbi, also participated.
Addressing other issues, the panelists mentioned how the modern chaplain respectfully cares for atheist or non-theist soldiers as well as soldiers of minority faiths such Buddhism or Baha'i.
Birch informed the audience that he would oblige to help them with their faith but would not withhold himself from helping a dying soldier or a soldier with no faith get right with God.
Lea, meanwhile, added that chaplains also act as "Nathan" – a prophet in the Bible who helps King David see the error of his ways for having one of his soldiers killed after he (David) had an affair with the soldier's wife. Chaplains, Lea explained, counsel military leaders to make wise, conscious decisions or correct a misstep.
The panel discussion, entitled "Current Topics Facing Today's Military Chaplains," was sponsored by the Interfaith Alliance and the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project.