The commutation of a former U.S. soldier’s espionage sentence has caused some to ask whether the reduced prison term is related to the inmate’s transgender identity.
Screen capture from USA Today
“It made sense to commute a part of” Bradley Manning’s prison sentence, President Obama said Jan. 18.
The commutation also prompted Douglas Carver, the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) executive director of chaplaincy, to underscore the need for U.S. military chaplains “to engage all people with the gospel of Jesus Christ, regardless of their gender identity.”
President Obama announced Jan. 17 that Bradley Manning’s sentence would be commuted from 35 years to the seven years he has already served. He is slated for release May 17, The New York Times reported.
Manning, then a low-level Army intelligence analyst in Iraq, was arrested in 2010 and pled guilty in 2013 to 10 charges related to releasing classified information through the WikiLeaks organization.
After sentencing, Manning announced he was transgender and stated he wanted to be called Chelsea, The Times reported. Held in a men’s military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Manning has been provided with cross-sex hormones and allowed to wear women’s undergarments and light cosmetics.
The military has not permitted Manning to see a surgeon about gender reassignment surgery, according to The Times.
“Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence,” Obama said according to USA Today. “Given she went to trial and due process was carried out, that she took responsibility for her crime, that the sentence that she received was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received – and that she had served a significant amount of time – it made sense to commute a part of her sentence.”
Ron Crews, executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, told Baptist Press (BP) the commutation is “extremely disappointing on several levels.
Chaplain Alliance is an organization of chaplain endorsers that counts NAMB among its “allied organizations.”
Manning’s alleged crime resulted in “lives … put at risk by the releasing of secret information,” said Crews, who served 28 years as a U.S. Army chaplain.
While Crews doesn’t know whether Manning’s transgenderism “played into this decision,” he said the commutation seems consistent with the administration’s promotion of “radical social agendas in the military.”
“This administration has been using the military as a pawn to promote” lifestyles like transgenderism, Crews said. “I don’t know if [gender identity] played a role in this decision, but I would not be surprised.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, the Family Research Council’s executive vice president, said Obama “chose political correctness over our national security” in commuting Manning’s sentence.
The president’s action was “unjust,” Boykin said, and Manning’s gender transition an illegitimate expense to cover with tax dollars.
“Since his imprisonment, Manning has demanded the U.S. Army force taxpayers to pay for his gender transition – even as veterans report finding it difficult to obtain medical services at VA clinics,” Boykin said in a statement. “What a sad commentary on this administration when an act of treason entitles you to better care than most of the men and women who have honorably served this country.”
Carver, retired U.S. Army chief of chaplains, told BP “today’s increasingly secular culture” necessitates readiness by Christian pastors and chaplains to apply biblical teaching to a range of struggles among military personnel.
“Individuals who struggle with their gender identity or sexual orientation often seek counsel from a trusted chaplain or pastor, especially if they know they will be treated with dignity and kindness,” Carver said in written comments. “When Southern Baptist chaplains and pastors provide pastoral care to transgenders, they are not condoning or approving of an individual’s sexual orientation, behavior or lifestyle that contradicts biblical teachings.
“Rather, they are simply engaging in a conversational relationship in order to understand a person’s religious or spiritual needs and either to provide a Christian perspective on gender identity issues, or refer the person to an appropriate helping agency,” Carver said.
NAMB “expects all endorsed Southern Baptist chaplains to treat everyone with Christ-centered dignity, honor and respect while advising their institutional leadership in its responsibility to ensure the free exercise of religion of every individual under their supervisory care.”
A 2016 study by the Rand Corporation concluded that 1,320-6,630 of America’s 1.3 million military service members are transgender, Carver noted.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said compassion for such individuals should not obscure the need for justice in criminal sentencing.
“Major media reported two suicide attempts in recent months by Manning,” Mohler said Jan. 18 in his podcast The Briefing, “and of course that should lead to our sympathy and concern and the realization that … we are dealing with someone here who is horribly troubled.
“But that does not add up to the president’s commutation of the sentence,” Mohler said. “The reason for that is quite simple. In a sane and adequate system of justice, crimes are punished because of the moral action that is taken” by a convicted criminal.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)