The Obama administration’s decision to allow openly transgender people to serve in the U.S. military has been classified by Southern Baptist leaders with military ties as “deluded,” “disastrous” and a step toward self-inflicted “national weakness.”
Military chaplains endorsed by the North American Mission Board (NAMB), along with other Christian chaplains, appear to be “in the crosshairs of this new policy,” NAMB executive director of chaplaincy Douglas Carver told Baptist Press (BP), noting religious liberty concerns.
The new policy was announced June 30 by Defense Secretary Ash Carter as the culmination of a year-long study process, The Washington Post reported. Beginning immediately, service members can no longer involuntarily be separated from the military solely because they are transgender, the reversal of a longstanding ban.
The policy still allows the military to reject prospective recruits with gender dysphoria – the condition of not feeling at home in one’s body in terms of gender. But individuals who have been “treated” for gender dysphoria with gender reassignment surgery and/or hormone therapy may serve if declared “stable” for at least 18 months by a military physician, the Military Times reported.
In some cases, hormone therapy and certain forms of transition surgery may be deemed “medically necessary” and paid for with government funds, the Times reported. The new policy does not require that a soldier’s anatomy correspond to his or her gender designation in the military’s official records.
Carter said at a news conference, “Our mission is to defend this country, and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman or Marine who can best accomplish the mission.”
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Daniel Heimbach, former deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower, told BP the Pentagon’s decision is “disastrous but comes as no surprise.”
“It is just the most recent step taken in our nation’s rapid descent into a state of social deconstruction and national weakness,” Heimbach, senior professor of Christian ethics, said in written comments. “This decision to affirm gender confusion will destroy unit cohesion and render the good order and discipline essential to U.S. military success that much harder to achieve.
“Our political leaders have lost their moral bearings and now military leaders are forgetting their national security mission,” Heimbach said. “And most sadly of all, we are as a nation doing this to ourselves. This is a time to speak the truth in love and to remember that security, whether military or spiritual, ultimately comes from the hand of God.”
Mark Coppenger, a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and retired Army officer, said lifting the ban imperils “decency” and “military readiness.”
“Last week I visited the Tuskegee Airmen museum in Alabama [which commemorates the contributions of African American airmen in World War II] and thanked God that President Truman integrated the armed forces in 1948,” Coppenger told BP in written comments. “That was ‘social engineering’ for the sake of both decency and military readiness. President Obama’s push for homosexual and transgender integration/normalization in the ranks is a very different sort of social engineering – this time for the sake of indecency and at the expense of military readiness.
“On that same trip, I visited my old Infantry School at Fort Benning [Ga.], where I was again impressed by the bearing of those who’ve entered upon the profession of arms,” said Coppenger, professor of Christian apologetics. “The makers of [the hit ‘70s and ‘80s television series] M*A*S*H thought it hip, cute and edgy to offer up a cross-dressing Cpl. Klinger for our amusement. Anyone who thinks that would be militarily helpful in real life is deluded, even willfully so.”
Ashley Payne, pastor of Skyline Baptist Church in Killeen, Texas, where virtually everyone has ties with nearby Fort Hood Army post, said the new policy has left Skyline members with serious questions.
Some Christian military members, Payne told BP, have expressed concern that “If I’m asked … about my belief systems while I’m in the uniform and I tell them, ‘My belief systems do not believe [transgenderism] is a moral lifestyle,’ I could be brought up on accusations of being bigoted.”
Payne, a former Army chaplain who deployed twice to Iraq, added, “You’ve got a lot of guys that are wondering, ‘Is this time for me to close my career … before this gets bad?’“ He also said the “Spartan and mass” living conditions in combat could become awkward if people who are classified as the same gender but have opposite anatomies are quartered together.
Chaplains under fire?
NAMB’s Carver, a retired major general and former Army chief of chaplains, said in written comments he is “concerned regarding the short timeframe given by the Department of Defense for senior military leadership and other stakeholders, such as denominational endorsers of military chaplains, to fully discuss the impact of this policy decision.”
Carver cited specific concern for Southern Baptist military chaplains and requested prayer for them.
Among Carver’s unanswered questions regarding the new policy: “What role will our military chaplains play in the education and implementation of this new policy? What protections are in place for our chaplains who freely express their religious convictions in opposition to gender transition and sex reassignment therapy/surgery? Can our chaplains co-pastor a military congregation with a transgender chaplain? What are the implications of a military chaplain whose biblical counseling approach advises a service member away from making a decision regarding becoming transgender?”
Carver additionally wondered whether “military medical providers, opposed as a matter of their religious beliefs to performing or providing gender transition or cross-sex hormone therapy,” will be “protected from discrimination or military discipline.”
Over the next 90 days, senior military leaders will draft a detailed implementation plan, the Times reported.
Pentagon-commissioned research found there are about 2,500 transgender service members among the military’s 1.3 million active-duty troops, The Post reported, approximately 0.1 percent of the force.
A 2014 Southern Baptist Convention resolution “on transgender identity” “affirm[ed] God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” The resolution “regard[ed] our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn[ed] acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.”
The resolution stated additionally, “We invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel.