The Naked Public Square, Part One: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Dr. Clark Carlton · March 21, 2011
Clark begins a series on the place of the American Orthodox Church in the public square by examining the issue of gays in the military.
This week’s topic is: The Naked Public Square, Part 1—Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
I had intended to do a follow up to my last podcast to be entitled “Ecclesiological Nestorianism”, and I still intend to do it. I received some very thoughtful emails which I did not have a chance to answer but would like to address in the podcast. However, I suffered a hard drive crash and lost most of my recent podcasts.
The other thing that is requiring a bit of rearrangement of my podcast schedule is the recent kerfuffle in the OCA. I have no comment to make on said kerfuffle, except to say that I rejoice that Metropolitan Jonah is our Metropolitan, and I’m sure that everyone in the Diocese of the South joins me in wishing him many years.
However, the kerfuffle has raised the issue of the place of the Orthodox Church in the American public square and, in particular, the role of bishops in speaking out on controversial subjects. I’d like to spend the next two or three podcasts exploring this topic, and I shall do so topically; that is, I shall dedicate a podcast to a particular controversial subject. I intend to get to abortion at some point, and I have a feeling that one is going to make some of y’all madder than a wet hen. But today’s topic is the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.
I’ve just learned that last year Metropolitan Jonah sent a letter to the Armed Forces Chaplains Board concerning the position of the Orthodox Church on the possible revision of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. In this letter, the Metropolitan outlines clearly, and I would add compassionately, the Orthodox teaching on human sexuality and states in no uncertain terms that no Orthodox chaplain can pretend that homosexual behavior or the gay lifestyle as anything other than sin which requires repentance. He went on to say that, should matters progress to the point where the Church’s position would be considered “hate speech” or where chaplains would be required to give the sacraments to unrepentant persons, then the Church would have to pull its chaplains from military service.
It must be noted that the Metropolitan is responsible for most of the chaplains serving in the U.S. military. So, in writing this letter, he was simply doing his pastoral duty, and, I would add, he did it very well. What follows, therefore, is in no way a criticism of the Metropolitan or his letter. Rather, my criticism is directed more broadly at the Church’s response to this issue and others like it. My question is, “Why this particular issue and why now?”
Certainly, official approbation of homosexuality is contrary to the unanimous teaching of the Orthodox Church. And, by the way, I hate the term homosexuality. It’s an invention of the 19th century. Neither Ancient Greek nor Latin has any such word. My point is: The U.S. military has serious problems, and a few queens in camo is among the least of them.
Where was the opposition of the Church to women serving in combat operations? Yes, I know, technically women don’t serve in combat roles, but we all know they do, and there have been a number of female casualties. I know this is going to get me in trouble, but it needs to be said. Men and women are equal before God, but he gave us very different physical structures. Our brains are wired differently. And more importantly, it remains an irrefutable fact of nature that women bear children and men do not. Thus, women are far, far too important to be put in the line of fire. The bottom line is this: Only a nation of cowards and moral pygmies would send their women to fight for them.
Then there is the fact that the last time the United States actually declared war on another nation was 1941. This means that every U.S. war since World War II—Korea, Vietnam, Gulf 1, Gulf 2, and now, apparently, Gulf 3 (Libya and beyond)—has been conducted without a Congressional Declaration of War. Oh, and don’t bring up those absurd War Powers resolutions. They are void on their face. Fiduciary duties are non-delegatable. Congress must either declare war or not. It does not have the option to give the decision to a third party—be it the President or anyone else.
Every member of the U.S. Armed Forces takes an oath to “support and defend the Constitution”. How, then, do we square this oath with actively participating in aggressive wars that are, by a strict reading of the Constitution, illegal on their face. Surely, obedience to the orders of one’s superiors is conditioned on the fundamental constitutionality of those orders. Where, for example, was the outcry when the draft evader from Arkansas launched his unprovoked attack by [imposing] NATO charter as well as the U.S. Constitution on our Serbian brethren for the benefit of the Al Qaeda-backed Kosovo Liberation Army? Yes, there was some vocal opposition, but I don’t recall anyone threatening to pull Orthodox chaplains, or even suggesting that Orthodox youth might think twice about a military career.
Where was the outcry when the not-quite-active-duty guardsman and faux-Texan launched a legal war on two sovereign countries, citing fabricated evidence about Weapons of Mass Destruction? Where was the outcry when the military was caught red-handed torturing prisoners? Does that not put us on the very same level as those we denounce? Where was the outcry as the indigenous Christian population of Iraq was driven from their homes as a direct result of U.S. policy in that part of the world? Just as importantly, where was the outcry as it became known that corporations such as Halliburton and Bechtel made hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in profits from these wars? Does this not suggest the real motivations behind these foreign adventures?
It would be nice to think of the U.S. military as a tight knit company of honorable men, guilelessly serving their country. In such a context, it would make perfect sense for the military to respect and embody the sexual mores of the American people. In that context, it would make perfect sense for the military to take a strong stand against homosexual practice. But let’s be honest—that boat sailed a long time ago.
To what extent is the U.S. military anything more than the armed branch of U.S.A., Inc.? Though, here, I would have to add that, in Iraq, much of the military’s actual work was farmed out for-profit contractors like Blackwater. Even the military brass in Iraq were protected by private security—not their own men. What on earth does that tell us about the modern military?
While I deplore the continual degradation of public morals as much as anyone else, and, while I especially deplore the cult of toleration that tells us that we must accept every conceivable deviation from traditional life and that we are “fobs” of one sort or another for not being tolerant, I cannot help but feel that we have joined the play toward the end of Act 3 and that there is really nothing much we can do about the plot at this point. The Metropolitan himself noted that the problem of active homosexuals in the military is “itself a result of the degradation of our social fabric”. If you’ll let me switch metaphors in mid-stream, complaining about homosexuals in the military now is a bit like fretting over the rash but being unwilling or unable to address the syphilis that caused it.
Perhaps what we really need is a serious and thoughtful debate about whether or not it is still possible for an Orthodox Christian—or any American for that matter—to serve honorably in the United States military. The Metropolitan has stated that he wants to see Church life in America decentralized, so that dioceses and parishes can be empowered to make a real impact on their communities. And I agree wholeheartedly.
The question arises, however—and this is the question that no one wants to ask, but it must be asked, and it must be carefully considered—whether we simply need to disengage—that is to say secede spiritually, morally, intellectually, culturally, and (where possible) economically from this artificial construct Thomas Hobbes rightly named Leviathan—so that we can effectively re-engage at the level of our neighborhoods, towns, and states.
The public square should not, must not, be naked of a vocal Orthodox presence. But that begs the question: Which square?—the one on Main Street or the one in Washington, D.C.? Since the one in D.C. is wholly owned and operated by corporate America, no less than Times Square, I would suggest that we turn our attention wholly toward Main Street.
I’ll continue this theme in the next podcast and explain why you will not find me at one of those Right to Life marches on the Federal Mall. In the meantime, I’ll be lining my inbox with asbestos!
And now may our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, through the intercessions of St. Innocent of Alaska and the blessed Elder Sophrony and all the saints, have mercy on us and grant us a rich entrance into his eternal kingdom.