Friday, December 17, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell - Don't Lobby?

So this afternoon we were sent a letter from our Synodical President notifying us that it looks like the Congress might, in a mad, lame duck flurry of activity, try to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." We were asked in this letter to basically contact our Congressional Representatives and Senators and ask them not to do this. The letter may be seen here.

Now, I will admit that this change in policy might have some impact upon Lutheran Chaplains serving in the military, but really, I don't know how much. Really, I don't. It's not as though the military has had a strict policy of demanding strict adherence to the 6th Commandments in all its shapes and forms - I don't think having homosexual behavior be added to the milieu of extra-martial sex that you can chat and brag about radically changes the the difficulties Chaplains face (I don't know, are chaplains allowed to warn against sex outside of marriage right now).

However, I do find that I am highly, highly uncomfortable with an appeal from an Church leader to lobby a specific way on a specific issue. If Matt Harrison as an individual, or you as an individual, or I as an individual want to lobby on an issue - fine. It is our job as individuals in our country to do such things.

But is it the Church's job? Is it my job as a pastor to encourage people to lobby on a specific issue in a certain way? This goes beyond my duty as a citizen to make my voice be heard by my representatives.

Keep in mind, this is simply a question of principal. Personally, I do not want Congress touching "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Frankly, I think it should be an internal issue within the military - if the Joint Chiefs determine that Don't Ask, Don't Tell should be rescinded, let them rescind it. If they think it should stay, let them keep it. Their job is to establish and maintain a well prepared fighting force - they can tend to that - I don't need to poke around in their job because I'm worried about societal issues. That's my opinion.

But does this mean that I, as a leader in the Church, should encourage people to lobby a specific way? Or what does it mean when the president of the LCMS tells me to lobby in a way that I don't quite agree with... I'm not worried about ensuring that Don't Ask - Don't Tell be maintained as a cultural barrier -- I'm much more worried about the fighting abilities of our troops and think that should be left to the Military.

Our world, our society, our culture doesn't always look the way we wish it to. Of course it doesn't, we are in a sinful world! I don't know how much the Church should be focused on trying to keep that world in order.

Now, I can see the Church lobbying that whatever happens, our clergy should not be hindered from speaking out that homosexuality is wrong -- because that is speaking to directly how our own clergy are handled, and that is something we have a direct interest in. But overall policy - eh, not so much.


Mary Jack said...

I was really surprised to receive the letter. Are chaplains really better equipped to be shepherds when their sheep can't even confess? (I know they "can" now but any sort of leak could ruin their careers.) That is a serious hindrance to bearing each other's burdens, as far as I can see.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I'm not sure to what extent Don't Ask, Don't Tell applies to the Confessional - I am fairly sure that Chaplains aren't required to report things (at least I would hope so!).

Mary Jack said...

I know, but from what I've heard military culture is very closed mouth. And while that's necessary in some ways, it also prevents some from getting the help that they need. I would not presume the confessional is immune in that.

Phillip said...

The question is, "Is this tolerance or approval of homosexuality?"

If this is tolerance, then it doesn't really matter whether or not Congress allows it. Sure it's better to let the military leaders decide, but that's not really the issue here. If the government seeks to tolerate homosexuality in the military, then we are free to oppose it as citizens regardless of our office.

If this is endorsement of homosexuality by the government, then the church certainly needs to fight this. If it is only toleration, then we are free as citizens to demand the government stops tolerating it, but we don't have to. We cannot however, not protest a government endorsement of sin. If President Harrison is right that this is government endorsement of homosexuality then we need to oppose it as a church. If he is wrong and this is only government toleration of homosexuality, then we don't have to oppose it, but I don't think President Harrison is out of bounds in asking pastors to oppose it.

Mike Baker said...

FYI, adultery is still technically a crime in the military that can be punished in a court trial.

Without expressing my too many of my personal views on this subject, I will say that I don't think that this ruling will change very much at all. It was never meant to be permenant and everyone knew that it was going to be repealed eventually.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


How, though, does the Church oppose the world and its falsehoods? By seeking majority rule and telling congressmen how to vote, or by simply proclaiming the truth? By teaching faithfully or by suggesting political policy?

The world is very evil. This includes America and even the institutions that we love and cherish, indeed, institutions that are intended to be blessings to us.

Anonymous said...

Comments 12, 14, and 15 over here -

show why this was a good letter and why this is important.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Anonymous - I am not debating here whether or not it is good for individuals to be for or against the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. My question is this - should it be the job of the Church to encourage and direct its members to lobby on political issues?

Of note I would reference Rossow saying, "7. Such statements as made by President Harrison are certainly desirable but they should take up very little of his or our time. This is not the proper work of the church but a helpful work." I simply question whether or not the Church SHOULD get involved in something that is not its proper work.

By what right do I tell someone how to approach a political issue? How do I as a Pastor instruct people to lobby? If someone doesn't think that repealing this is wrong, should they then be open to Church discipline? Or, if someone is free to ignore what I instruct, what business would I have telling them to do it in the first place?

My job is not to try to save the nation - it is to proclaim Christ. Speaking against sinful behavior is a preaching of the Law -- telling people to go lobby is... neither Law nor Gospel, so it isn't my job.

Phillip said...

Fr. Brown,

Paul used the Roman legal system to preach to Caesar. Who cares if we let the government help us. Certainly its actions do not determine the Church's on matters of faith, but it's certainly easier to preach that homosexuality is a sin when the government agrees with us than not. (Finland for example) We will rejoice to face persecution, but let the government help us. If the secular law reigns in gross immorality, it is easier for the church to speak the truth of God's Law, so that people will receive the Gospel. The Bible not the government will always rule the Church, but that's no reason to not desire the government to keep laws defending morality.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


You make a jump there. Paul used his rights as a citizen - again, I have no problem with any Christian using the rights he has been given. That's not the issue. Nor is the issue whether or not it is easier or better for the Church when laws are good.

The question is this - should a pastor tell his people what policies they should support?

That's it. That's my question. That's alone. Yes, it would be nice to have good, moral law - but should I as a Pastor tell people how they ought to lobby?

Simple as that? Should I as a pastor attempt to dictate policy? I say no.

Or let me put it this way. Adultery is a sin. Should I, therefore, as a Pastor, tell my people that they need to call their congressman and demand that they criminalize extra-martial sex, complete with fines and jail time. It would be a moral law - do I have any right to tell them that they need to support this policy? I say no.

Right now, this isn't about right, wrong, moral or immoral - simply lobbying.

Phillip said...

Fr. Brown,

If you don't like my Paul example, then how about this? Luther appealed to his Princes to protect the Church and the Word of God. If you want to call that one his right as a citizen or a special circumstance, well Walther wrote against Communism. If he can condemn a political philosophy as evil, then precedent in the LCMS is that pastors can do it.

Should a pastor tell his people what policies to support? -Two Considerations here:
That is a judgment call per policy. As a pastor, you are responsible for the proclamation of Law and Gospel and the proper administration of the Sacraments. If a government policy seeks to prevent this, oppose it with all your might. If a policy promotes instead of tolerates gross immorality, then I think you must oppose it as well. If a policy tolerates immorality and vice without approving of it, then it's none of the Church's concern. Feel free as a citizen to ask the government to bind the vice, but the government may have decided it would cause more harm than good to stop the vice. After all, God let Moses permit divorce, but this was not by any means approval of the sin.

Second, there is a proper place for it. It would be wrong to tell your congregation from the pulpit to oppose this, or to lobby for Roe v Wade to be overturned. Preach against homosexuality and abortion, but say lobby Congress or participate in the March for Life during Sunday School. Leave the government out of the pulpit, but it's not necessarily bad to let them in the building. If it will harm your congregation's faith then tell them to oppose it in a place other than the pulpit.

Do you need to tell them to demand the criminalization of adultery?
Well, it's actually still a felony in Oklahoma, but that's not really what you care about here. The issue on this question is toleration versus encouragement/ approval. If the government tolerates adultery, it's probably because it would be worse to try to stop it than to allow the vice. If the government says commit adultery, DON'T. If they say adultery is okay, proclaim the 6th Commandment. The government does not have to prevent all sin; it can't even stop all sinful actions, much less the desires. This is toleration versus endorsement of vice.

Is "Don't ask, don't tell" toleration or endorsement of homosexuality? Pr. Harrison says endorsement. I'm afraid he's right. But as for you, you have to decide that one.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


A few things.

1. I think the distinction between pulpit and outside of the pulpit is a bit overdone - I'm still speaking as Pastor in either. Do I have the right to say, "This is how you need to lobby." I'm dubious.

Also, while I might be afraid that this is an endorsement of homosexuality - it really is more a toleration. They won't get preferential treatment, there is no incentive to be gay and in the military. It simply won't be punished.

Again - even with telling people to defy immoral law - the focus there is upon obeying God, not seeking to change the laws of man.

Phillip said...

Fr. Brown,

I think you misunderstood my point on the pulpit distinction. I don't mean to say you have total license or don't speak as a pastor when not from the pulpit. My point here is that I would consider politics never okay from the pulpit. I consider there to be some, only some, circumstances where it is okay to discuss politics in the pastoral office outside of the pulpit. I keep this list very limited. This would include opposing government endorsement of sin because it requires/ encourages disobeying God. I hold the pulpit higher than Sunday School. I don't mean to make anything of this distinction, because both happen in both places, but in Sunday school, your primary goal is teaching, in the pulpit, you are explicitly speaking in the place of Christ. I don't want to go anywhere with that or get off topic, but that is the focus people see. Certainly in the few circumstances where it befits your office, it is only because to obey the government would be to go against God. I left that point assumed earlier, but probably should have said it outright. The extent of politics I mean to support here is summed up as "obey God rather than men." I apologize if I implied anything beyond that.

As to the issue of toleration, Pr. Harrison called it endorsement, "a move by the government to essentially affirm homosexual behavior" and "We believe the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy will sorely inhibit our military chaplains’ ability to call all sinners to repentance."
Whether or not he is correct de facto, since by his judgment it is endorsement he is compelled by conscience to oppose it. On the presumption it is endorsement, he did what was right. If his presumption is wrong, as you legitimately question, then it was his presumption not his actions that were wrong. I do not fault him if he misinterpreted the government's action.

If it is toleration, then I think as a pastor, you should reaffirm it is a sin, since your congregation might be confused by the government's actions. I think your response is determined by the extent to which you think it might harm your congregation.

Finally, I'm not sure your characterization of "this is how you should lobby" is completely fair. Certainly, you should not say, "vote for Joe Smith because he's a good Lutheran, or a defender of Biblical morality, etc." However, saying make clear to the government you oppose this, since we're a democracy and theoretically we are the government is useless if they don't know how. I think President Harrison is just trying to make sure people know how to let their representatives know their position.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Ah, I see the point. I have no problem discussing politics (I'll even mention political discord from the pulpit) -- I have no problem with a pastor feeling compelled to oppose a political policy.

What I have a problem is with a pastor saying, "This is the position you should have." Does a Lutheran have to be opposed to the repeal of DADT? I say no. Does thinking that DADT is bad policy automatically mean that you endorse homosexuality? I say no.

Therefore, while it is nice that a Pastor has these concerns - it goes too far to instruct people to contact their representative to lobby against it.

Of course, even if the government is considering something that directly endorses and encourages homosexuality, I still wouldn't be comfortable with telling people to lobby against it. I might say that you might want to let your congressman know how you feel - but I would never tell what people should think on something.

Phillip said...

Fr. Brown,

DADT is a poor example, but how would you respond to a theoretical law that required people to commit adultery?

Also, where do you draw the line in ethical disputes dividing the church? Nicaea set ethical requirements to be part of the church. A major issue was ELCA's ordination of openly homosexual clergy. Rome excommunicates for membership in Planned Parenthood. Where do you place the line between obeying the Second Table and not inside a church body? At what point does morality become a schismatic issue?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


I would preach that we, concerning a law that required adultery, must obey God, rather than man. I would likewise have no problem with remaining outside of fellowship with the ELCA, or even with Rome saying you can't be a member and work for an abortion providing organization.

But, I wouldn't tell people that they need to tell their congressman that they need to criminalize homosexuality, or even planned parenthood. Politics isn't necessarily about creating ideals moral. There is a difference between the way the Kingdoms of the left and right work. In democracy, things are not about right and wrong, but rather compromise, changing favors, and trying to protect specific interests. I'm not going to tell someone how they have to do that.