Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Shift in Tide on Don't Ask, Don't Tell

It is my personal and professional belief that allowing homosexuals to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the Senate Armed Services Committee, 02.02.2010

Mike Mullen has been serving in the military for 42 years. Earlier this week, he testified before a Senate committee, advocating for a lifting of the 16-year-old "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gays and lesbians in the armed forces. Mullen believes that the current policy conflicts with military values forcing gays to live in fear of being outed and that everyone serving in the military will adjust to a change in policy, citing his own long journey of transformed convictions: "I have served with homosexuals since 1968. There are a number of things cumulatively that get me to this position."

This is a huge break for the cause of justice. Of course, his words have a tinge of subjectivism that makes the issue sound like it just depends on one's opinion (his opening statement starts out "Speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief..."). And, of course, his words mean nothing unless something is actually done by the President and/or Congress to change the policy. But for now, we can revel in the signficance of the head of the joint chiefs saying this kind of thing. The last head of the joint chiefs, Peter Pace, simply brushed off the issue by calling homosexuality "immoral."

From the 'other side,' 12-term CA Congressman and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Duncan Hunter was interviewed on National Public Radio a few hours after Mullen testified and opened up with his summary of why he is against overturning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell:"

...I think that its bad for the cohesiveness and the unity of the military units, especially those that are in close combat, that are in close quarters in country right now. Its not the time to do it.

We prophetic Christians, as students of the history of civil rights in the US have heard these words--it's not the time to do it--over and over and over again. Martin Luther King responded (from jail!) to white moderates who pleaded with him to wait ("unwise and untimely") with the most profound letter in the history of our country. King's lament to these white moderate clergyman was that they represented the kind of Christianity that is "more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice."

Hunter was also asked about other countries who have successfully allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military. His response:

...the U.S. is not Canada and we're not Great Britain and I would argue that we have a superior military and a much larger military than any other country. Thats why were kind of the world's security force.

We should all be quite alarmed (but not surprised) by this brand of American exceptionalism being used to trump the basic observation that a more just policy is actually "working" in other countries very similiar to our own. The kind of logic that explains away gays and lesbians openly serving in the military by claiming we are excempt because we are the "world's security force" is delusional. Shouldn't we be committed to a higher standard of justice as the world's superpower? This is what the late Notre Dame professor of theology advocated for in his essay "Civil Religion in America":

The transcendence that counts is not a power from beyond that is now leashed to favor us, but the affirmation of values beyond our control to which we are committed, calling us to be ministers of peace and of justice above, beyond, and maybe even against our own interest. Ask not what God can do for America; ask what America owes humankind.

"Christian" Political leaders, like Hunter, who end every speech with God Bless America and claim to base their ethics on their interpretation of the Bible, should consider how America can start blessing others (shouldn't our national policies reflect the words of Jesus: love your neighbor as unto others as you would have them do unto you?), starting with some of the most vulnerable and marginalized citizens in our own country. The levees of justice are starting to break: "Let justice roll down like waters..."(Amos 5:24) Mullen recognizes it and is going with the flow. Hunter recognizes it and is doing whatever he can to keep justice at bay.
On a tangential side note, I'd like to point out the irony of this brand of "sexual" politics. The gigantic elephant in the room is not the homosexual problems of the military, but the heterosexual problems in the armed forces. According to CBS News, in 2008, there were 2,974 cases of rape and sexual assault reported in the military, with only 292 cases resulting in a military trial. In the CBS report, they interview Jessica, who enlisted in the army at 24 and was raped by a fellow soldier. She says, “You figure out how to turn the guy off, and become one of the guys. That’s your safety mechanism.” What a horrific way to live, especially when the "mechanism" does not work.

In 2004, as the athletic director at Capistrano Valley HS, I hired an openly gay man as the head coach of a boys sport. I told him I obviously expected the same type of professional boundaries from him that I expected from heterosexual head coaches in their conduct with opposite sex student-athletes. I knew the real problem was not with the gay coach, even though plenty of folks still falsely equate homosexuality with pedaphilia (etc). The far more serious concern on a high school campus has to do with young heterosexual male coaches and their female athletes. This, too, is where the US military should put its focus while extending equal opportunity (as well as dignity and respect) for gays and lesbians to live congruently, serving the country they love while openly and professionally expressing their sexual orientation.

--Theological Autopilot

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