Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ministry to all? Yes.

"The Royal Navy exists to function at sea. The Royal Naval Chaplaincy Service seeks to support the spiritual, moral and social well being of all personnel and their dependants. It has a unique role to play both in the front line and in support." (Royal Naval Chaplaincy Service.)

"The Chaplain is the friend and advisor of all on board." (Anon. A time-honoured Royal Navy understanding.)

Now that's a pretty serious and even ponderous opening to a post, but it stems not only from my experience and great love of naval chaplaincy and ministry, but also from the pivotal decision made today by the United States Senate to repeal the existing legislation that, whilst not prohibiting gay and lesbian individuals from serving in the armed forces of that country, shrouded the sexuality issues in condign ways that were tantamount to a game of hide and seek. My! That was a long sentence! Let's break it down. Keep it hidden and we won't seek. Give us a glimpse and we will act. (I nearly wrote "Show us a leg" but I know that would be open to innuendo!) Simply put, since the 1983 inception of the "Don't ask, don't tell" policies (under the guidance and approval of President William Jefferson Clinton, that great guardian of sexual morals) gay and lesbian military personnel have occupied a shadowy zone.

Hopefully, and now pending President Barack Hussein Obama's signature, that is history passed, but there is still concern with regard to some serving Chaplains within the American branches of the military. And these are those of the more fundamentalist evangelical groupings, of which (I am accurately informed) there are many within service chaplaincy. Their complaint is this: If gays and lesbians are allowed to serve openly (ie. Be themselves) in the branch of the military in which the plaintiff chaplain serves, and the Pentagon permits such diversity, then their Bible-based (sic) ministry, which does not accommodate such lifestyles, is compromised. Damn! Another long sentence. So, again, let's break it down. These padres don't like it because up until now they've had it two ways. First, a captive parish of existing Christian fundamentalists; and second, a target parish of vulnerable troops to which the same message could be delivered.

The reasoned answer to this, and one which is happily coming from the more balanced senior commanders, reflects the older rules and sentiments of the British Senior Service, the Royal Navy. You see, my somewhat pompous introduction was not without purpose. Given the news headlines it points to the fact that the military culture of the USA is joining that of its peers in Europe, and recognising the greatest value of all - that of the individual who volunteers to serve his or her country, and who is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in that cause. Regardless of anything more personal.

Of course the United Kingdom acquired this political and military wisdom ten or more years ago. But was that easy? Well yes, but before that change there were many nightmares. And on those I will write some more...

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