Ever since the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell," there has been a non-stop effort by Christian fundamentalists to undermine the effect of the repeal. Coalitions have been formed to futilely continue to fight this fight that they already lost, members of Congress have introduced legislation aimed at weakening the protections and equality granted to LGB service members by the repeal, and a slew of stories of chaplains and other service members being persecuted for their Christian beliefs regarding homosexuality have been concocted and highly publicized.
One of the most often heard arguments from the anti-gay religious organizations, coalitions, congress members, and media outlets regarding LGB service members being allowed to serve openly, and now being allowed to get married, is that Christian chaplains are being forced to violate their beliefs and promote the so-called "gay agenda." A particular argument that is constantly made is that in a post-DADT and post-DOMA military, chaplains can't adhere to the beliefs and guidelines of their endorsing agency.
In order to serve in the military, a chaplain must have an endorsement from a recognized ecclesiastical endorsing agency - the religious organization for their faith or denomination that verifies their credentials, etc., and endorses them as being suitable to serve in the military as a chaplain of their faith or denomination. A military chaplain not only has to follow military regulations, but also whatever rules are imposed upon them by their endorsing agency, which means adhering to the religious beliefs and positions of that endorsing agency.
Much has been said by those opposed to gays in the military and same-sex marriage about chaplains allegedly being forced to violate the rules and religious beliefs of their ecclesiastical endorsing agencies, but there is another belief held by many of the anti-gay, and sometimes blatantly homophobic, endorsing agencies and their chaplains that hasn't gotten nearly as much attention -- they are also opposed to women serving in combat.
Last Friday's graduation of the first two female Army Rangers led a number of people to contact the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). Why? Because of the invocation delivered at the graduation by Chaplain (Maj.) Mark Winton, the chaplain for the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade. Chaplain Winton not only delivered an exclusively Christian prayer, but made a point of making a statement by proclaiming at the beginning of it: "I will be praying in Jesus' name." Chaplain Winton's entire prayer can be heard in this video clip from PBS Newshour's live stream of the graduation:
MRFF has known for a long time about the Christian proselytizing by chaplains that goes on during Ranger training. It is an openly stated strategy of many chaplains to prey upon service members when they are worn down by rigorous training, and training doesn't get more rigorous than Ranger training, making this an optimum "mission field" for chaplains who view soldiers worn down by the training's extreme demands like deprivation of food and sleep as particularly "ripe for the harvest." Think I'm exaggerating? Just watch this video of one former Ranger School chaplain (at the 2:50 mark) explain that his "goal is to meet them when they're at their absolute worst, when they're coldest and the most tired and the most hungry that they're gonna be, because the more difficult the circumstances, the more receptive the average person becomes to issues of faith."
After receiving a number of emails about Chaplain Winton's prayer, MRFF did a little checking on this chaplain, which turned up what we expected it would, such as his testimony on the website of his endorsing agency, the Presbyterian and Reformed Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel (PRCCMP), in which he said:
There is fruitful ministry happening both in our training before coming overseas and while we are in combat. This is my last deployment with this battalion, so I'm praying that God will really use the relationships that have been built here to help advance the cause of Christ. Before this deployment we conducted a Bible Study Seminar to encourage and equip soldiers to intentionally get into God's Word during their deployment. Many churches helped facilitate this seminar and it is encouraging to see the guys follow through.
So, Chaplain Winton is obviously one of the many military chaplains who think their job as a military chaplain is "to help advance the cause of Christ." No big surprise there.
We next looked at Winton's endorsing agency, the PRCCMP, which is the endorsing agency for all of the military chaplains from six different Presbyterian denominations.
This is what the PRCCMP says in its current "Chaplains' Manual," last revised in February 2015, about women serving in combat:
In recent years, the major churches making up the membership of the Presbyterian and Reformed Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel (PRCCMP) have in their senior deliberative bodies (General Assemblies and Synod) passed resolutions concerning the use of women as military combatants in the Armed Forces of the United States. Since this was the first formal response of our churches to the evolving policy and practice of female integration into all areas of the U. S. military, the result has been discussion and dialogue in many circles with a commensurate number of questions and concerns as to the practical meaning of these resolutions for members of these respective church bodies.
These are some excerpts from the "Declarations of the Synod/Assemblies" of the PRCCMP's member denominations that follow (emphasis added):
From the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America:
That, while recognizing the right and duty that women have to self-defense, which may involve physical violence (Judges 9:53), it is our conviction that Biblical teaching does not give warrant to employ women for military combat.
From the Orthodox Presbyterian Church:
That the 68th GA declares that the use of women in military combat is both contrary to nature and inconsistent with the Word of God.
From the Presbyterian Church in America:
1. Acknowledging that the child in the womb is "a person covered by Divine protection"
(Statement on Abortion, Sixth General Assembly); and that women of childbearing age often carry unborn children while remaining unaware of their child's existence; and that principles of just war require the minimization of the loss of life -- particularly innocent civilians; the PCA declares that any policy which intentionally places in harms way as military combatants women who are, or might be, carrying a child in their womb, is a violation of God's Moral Law.
2. This Assembly declares it to be the biblical duty of man to defend woman and therefore condemns the use of women as military combatants, as well as any conscription of women into the Armed Services of the United States.
3. Therefore be it resolved that the Thirtieth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America adopts the above as pastoral counsel for the good of the members, the officers, and especially the military chaplains of the Presbyterian Church in America.
The PRCCMP Chaplains' Manual then says of these above declarations from its member denominations:
These declarations provide authority for PRCCMP chaplains who counsel or advise other military members regarding the use of women in combat.
It also says:
These declarations do not require a PRCCMP chaplain, who is biblically counseling a military member who has a problem of conscience with women in combat, to advise resignation. Neither do they require a chaplain who has a problem of conscience with women as military combatants to resign.
Yes, the PRCCMP doesn't "require a chaplain who has a problem of conscience with women as military combatants to resign." They can just continue to serve as chaplains in a military that is moving forward and just graduated its first two female Army Rangers with no problem at all, right? Sure! That's gonna work out real well -- military chaplains like Chaplain Winton, who not only delivered his "I will be praying in Jesus' name" prayer at the graduation of those first two female Army Rangers, but is endorsed by an endorsing agency that holds the views that it is "the biblical duty of man to defend woman" and "women in military combat is both contrary to nature and inconsistent with the Word of God!"