Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is gone. Openly gay men and women are now allowed to enlist and serve in the U.S. military. And life and ministry go on as usual for EFCA Chaplain Phillip Wright at the Pentagon.
“There’s been a lot of speculation and hyperventilating, but the sky didn’t fall,” Wright says about Sept. 20, 2011—the day DADT was repealed. Wright serves as advisor to Chaplain Major General Don Rutherford, Chief of Chaplains. That means a ministry to 23,000 officers, enlisted personnel and contractors who serve with the Army at the Pentagon.

While no longer sole chaplain to a unit, Wright still ministers in a variety of ways nearly every day. “When people know you’re a chaplain,” he says, “it’s surprising what they’ll ask you.”

Wright has served as an EFCA chaplain for 25 years, even being deployed to Afghanistan for a year. He also holds an M.Div. degree from Talbot School of Theology, was endorsed and commissioned as a chaplain by First EFC in Fullerton, Calif., and calls himself an “orthodox Evangelical Free Church member.”

Prior to Sept. 20, one aspect of Wright’s role was to educate chaplains worldwide about “the changing ground in front of them.” In other words, how to carry out their duties after DADT was repealed.

Wright’s advice? Carry on the tradition begun in 1775 under General George Washington: Continue to serve soldiers with dignity and respect. Continue to teach, preach and counsel according to the dictates of your ecclesiastical endorsement. You are still a moral agent, a moral advisor to the command.

The only immediate change brought by the repeal, he says, is that soldiers can no longer be discharged for being homosexual. Christian chaplains are, and will continue to be, free to minister to the troops according to the dictates of their endorsing body.

As always, counseling sessions are confidential. If a soldier comes to a chaplain to discuss a struggle with sexual orientation, Wright says, the chaplain may work with that soldier himself, or find another possible counseling source for that soldier.

Military personnel face the same array of temptations that civilians do: pornography, adultery, stealing, etc. Military chaplains address those issues in the same manner that any other pastor would—with care, with wisdom and with clarity on the teachings of Scripture.

Yet chaplains like Wright (and like Colt Randles—read about his experience taking soldiers through basic training) obviously face new territory ahead since Sept. 20.

Chaplain Roy Bebee, director of EFCA Chaplain Ministries, has a cautious eye on that future.1 Bebee is concerned that “incremental change” in requirements for chaplains will come forward, as test cases, in the post-DADT military world.

Also, the fundamental problem with the removal of DADT, according to Bebee, is that the military has classified homosexual behavior as an amoral issue, while “we (the EFCA) say it’s a moral issue.” The military continues to define adultery as a moral issue, a punishable offense, Bebee says. But not homosexuality.

Still, Wright is hopeful—both for the ministry opportunities faced by chaplains every day and for the freedom given them to engage in that ministry.

“The Army [or any other branch of the military] won’t ask you to do something that violates your conscience, the tenets of your faith or your ordination vow,” says Wright, for whom the Bible is the basis for all his counseling and service.

“It’s a tremendous privilege and honor,” he says, “to serve both God and country.”

1 Learn more about Chaplain Roy Bebee’s role as chaplain to the EFCA chaplains here. And to learn more about the role and prayer needs of EFCA military chaplains, visit the EFCA website.

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