Friday, December 10, 2010

Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Today is Human Rights Day, about which I posted on December 10 last year. (I encourage you to read, or re-read, that posting.)
In this country, the human rights of most people are recognized to a fairly high degree. But there is one segment of our society which does not enjoy the dignity afforded to most people. Those are the gay/lesbian people in our midst. The latest issue of Intelligence Report, published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, states, “Homosexuals are far more likely than any other minority group in the United States to be victimized by violent hate crime” (p. 29). (You can find a link to that issue here.)
In particular, the rights of gay/lesbian people in this country are being violated by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Since 1993, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) has been the official policy of the DoD, restricting the military from efforts to discover or reveal closeted gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members or applicants, while barring those who are openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual from military service.
It is long past time for DADT to be repealed, for it is clearly discriminatory against gay/lesbian persons. And repeal may, in fact, happen before long. On September 9, U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips ruled that the DoD’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is unconstitutional.
Then on October 12, Judge Phillips issued a permanent worldwide injunction ordering the military immediately to “suspend and discontinue any investigation, or discharge, separation, or other proceeding, that may have been commenced” under “don't ask, don't tell.” But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stayed the injunction pending appeal.
It looked as if DADT would be repealed this month, but after the procedural vote in the Senate yesterday, that now looks doubtful. The GNP (Grand “No” Party) has again kept important legislation from passing.
As important as repeal of the DADT policy is, though, I am mainly interested in the DADT policy being changed in our churches. While conservative churches tend to be openly opposed to gay/lesbian persons, moderate churches, such as the one I am a member of, are more like to have an unwritten “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. That is, nothing negative is said, but neither is there the openness for practicing gays/lesbians to be honest at church about their sexual orientation.
A few months ago June and I joined the Kansas City Coalition for Welcoming Ministries, and we have attended most of the monthly meetings over the last few months. Only a few people gather. Some are “straight” and some are gay/lesbian; some are clergy and some are lay Christians. Several denominations are represented: Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Community of Christ, and Baptist.
The stated purpose of the KCCoalition is “. . . anticipating (and working toward) a time when all faith communities in the metropolitan Kansas City area will respect and welcome all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” Is that too much to ask?
Surely it is better than the don’t ask, don’t tell stance of many churches now. 


  1. Great post! I couldn't agree more.

  2. A Thinking Friend who is older than I sent these comments by e-mail:

    "I agree with you fully, Leroy. This injustice parallels closely the practice of segregation we have struggled to end since 1954. Churches should take the lead in ending it. Sadly, they will lag well behind the rest of society."

  3. The Christian argument for gay rights does not fit on a bumper sticker, which makes it too long to go far. Most homophobic scriptures can be disarmed by careful analysis. Some, however, require a second level, which involves the same painful scrutiny that undid the arguments in favor of slavery. Some Bible verses simply have to be confronted and taken down for failing to live up to the greater vision of the Bible. Then even more painfully, some hard scientific analysis has to be brought in to take down the fundamentalist "choice" argument. After all that dislocation, a new vision of just what the Bible is will be needed by many.

    The bottom line is that it is very difficult to persuade anyone to change. I am hopeful, seeing the change in America, and around the world, since the birth of the modern gay rights movement in the 60s, that victory will come, but it is hard and slow. It appears we may be set up for the courts to once again finally force the completion of a reform that is well past due. Then, just as churches finally widely accepted racial integration once it was the law of the land for a few years, churches will finally accept gay rights. It will not be pretty or proud, but it will come.

    Churches have a lot of bold language about being on the right side, and on some issues they have been there. However, on many issues, churches are simply followers, not leaders. We have the 19th century example of the many schisms created by slavery to show what happens if a cutting edge issue does emerge in churches. Indeed, I suspect that the failure to unite the Alliance Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship had a lot to do with gay rights.

    So I end with the prayer that this blog will be one more nudge in the direction of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.