Religious leaders are disagreeing on how involved military chaplains can be in ceremonies for same-sex marriages or civil unions after the Associated Press reported that Air Force colonel Timothy Wagoner attended one on June 23.
A chaplain for 20 years, Wagoner did not officiate but was quoted as “supporting the community” by attending the ceremony, which took place at the chapel he oversees. Wagoner serves the Southern Baptists, a denomination that does not condone same-sex relationships.
Military chaplains are allowed to perform same-sex marriages after the Department of Defense issued its guidance in September 2011, but only in states where the weddings are legal. And chaplains don't have to participate in or officiate a ceremony if it violates their religious beliefs.
But in May, House Republicans voted to add a ban on same-sex marriages at military facilities to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2013, which includes a 1.7% annual pay raise for troops. The bill is awaiting a vote in the Democrat-led Senate.
In response to the AP article, the Southern Baptist Convention contacted Wagoner for an explanation, according to the Southern Baptist Press. Wagoner confirmed that like the religion he serves, he does not support same-sex marriage and said the article misrepresented why he was at the ceremony.
The chaplaincy office of the North American Mission Board also emailed all of its chaplains to reiterate the Southern Baptists’s stance against same-sex marriage and civil unions. About 1,450 military chaplains are endorsed by the mission board.
"It's a vague environment out there, especially as our chaplains promote and defend the whole counsel of God in a post-'don't ask, don't tell' military environment," said Douglas Carver, the mission board’s executive director for chaplaincy. "Our chaplains are navigating through unchartered waters, where the cultural values of the military increasingly conflict with the traditional values and beliefs of Southern Baptists."
But not everyone in the chaplaincy community agrees with the Southern Baptist Convention’s response. On Sunday, the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, led by retired chaplains of various faiths, spoke out against the SBC in a news release.
"The action of Douglas Carver on behalf of the Southern Baptists is pure intimidation, intended to send a message to all chaplains endorsed by this denomination," said Tom Carpenter, a former marine, an elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and cochair of the forum. "We need to call these folks out for their divisive and bullying tactics. They’re trying to drive a wedge between service members, and that’s unacceptable."
Col. Paul Dodd, a retired Army chaplain and co-chair of the forum, and Lt. Col. Henry Roberson, a 30-year Catholic Army chaplain, echoed Carpenter’s sentiments.
The forum worked to fight DADT for several years and is "committed to free and diverse religious expression."